By: Sara Asalya in Toronto, ON
Newcomers to Canada face numerous challenges from the moment they land; most significantly managing their finances and successfully transitioning within their respective careers. In the majority of cases, acquiring a Canadian education or certification can be the only pathway to enter the local job market. However, given their limited financial resources and the various barriers to essential services, they can be in serious risk of losing their savings and wasting years of their life trying to get back on track. Consequently, they find themselves facing two choices: either start from scratch by going back to school, or accept a low-wage survival job to support their families. In many cases, newcomers don’t have the resources and financial means to access education. I was one of the immigrants who chose to go back to school and obtain some Canadian credentials.
But how in the first place did I end up being an immigrant in Canada? If ever there was a day that has been burned into my memory, it is Dec 27th, 2008. The first day of the 2008 war on Gaza and the day that changed my life forever. As a Palestinian, I was born and raised in a war-torn country and thus war was familiar to me. However, a time came when the familiar became unfamiliar—when the bombings destroyed my home at the time I had become a new mother. After witnessing 40 days of war and violence in Gaza and losing my childhood home, friends and family members; I decided that I no longer wanted to live there and raise my children in this nightmare. Brushing shoulders with death left an irreversible impact on me.
Arriving safely in Canada with my family was the beginning of a new journey. I thought all my fears and nightmares were behind me now. But the reality was different. There was a fear and uncertainty of the future. Where to go? How to start? And what do I want? To summarize, what I have learned from my first couple of months in Canada is that it all comes down to your Canadian credentials and who you know to find a job here. With zero connections and no Canadian references or experience, I decided to go back to school and gain some Canadian credentials that might open doors for me.
In 2015, I enrolled in the Community Engagement, Leadership and Development post graduate certificate at Ryerson University. My educational experience here was not an easy one. On my first day of school, I was stressed because I looked different than everyone I saw walking in the corridors. In my classes, I seemed to be the only mother and mature student whose first language was not English. I felt lost and lonely. I nervously spent two weeks preparing for my first three-minute presentation. I finished my presentation in less than a minute and I just wanted the earth to swallow me. I persevered, worked hard, and finished my certificate with a GPA of 3.96 out of 4.
Who was that person who was so insecure to do a three-minute presentation two years ago? In the short time of two years, I went from being anxious about a short presentation to being a leader who moderates panel discussions and accepts speaking invitations from Toronto colleges and local media outlets. This is more like the person I was before I came to Canada and someone I relate to as ‘me’. So why did it take me, then, a new immigrant, this time to navigate this system and return to my former self? There seems to be a fundamental lack of accessible support systems in higher education institutions for people like me, adult immigrant students who need to regain their confidence through adequate information, engagement and empowerment. No one should experience wanting the earth to just swallow them up.
My first-hand experience in a Canadian university campus has prompted me to make changes at Ryerson for the community of new immigrants of which I am a part. I formed the Newcomer Students’ Association of Ryerson (NSAR); the first student group of its kind for newcomer, immigrant and refugee students. I dedicated much of my time to empower this immigrant community with a special focus on their higher education experiences. Moreover, I managed to create the “NSAR Scholarship” for newcomer and adult immigrant students to empower and help them in their educational journeys. One of the biggest challenges I faced as an adult immigrant student was finding a community that I could belong to while re-positioning my identity. Through the group I formed at Ryerson, I aim to build an inclusive community for newcomer and adult immigrant students to help them create their own spaces.
After I enrolled at Ryerson, I noticed the increasing need to create a support and transition system for newcomer and immigrant students at postsecondary institutions. I also noticed the service gap. There was no system in place nor policies or programs to support my community at Ryerson. Even though Ryerson has been a leader in supporting immigrant and refugee communities, I believe it has the capacity to do so much more. In light of the changing landscape, I think Ryerson University can take a leadership position in changing policies and providing programming for newcomers to facilitate their post-secondary experiences.
Education is a core sector for human development and access to higher level of education can have an extraordinary, long-term and far-reaching impact on empowering communities. Universities should, therefore, invest in creating support systems for migrant students to ease their transition and integration process.
NSAR aims to build an inclusive community on the Ryerson campus that promotes community development and involvement. Our vision is of an inclusive society that values the skills and contributions of newcomers, immigrants, and their allies and actively engenders a sense of belonging within communities.
My team and I work to help newcomer and immigrant students make a smooth transition into the Canadian education system by providing peer support, cultural integration, information sessions, and networking events. Moreover, we help them in their pursuits educationally and professionally. My team also works on researching the challenges facing newcomer and adult immigrant students at Ryerson by soliciting feedback from these students to provide recommendations to the school. Most recently, we organized an international students' conference for the first time, that focused on the experiences of newcomers, immigrants, and refugees who had moved on to pursue higher educations. We also collaborated with the Scope radio at Ryerson University to create our own radio show that will host migrant students to learn about the challenges they face and their needs in higher education institutions. We also tend to look at the broader picture and analyze some of the immigration policies that might hinder newcomer integration and prevent them from accessing education.
NSAR has a special focus on immigrant women and that is why we established the “empowering immigrant women club”. The Ryerson club was established when we noticed a large number of female ethnic students struggled to attend their classes because of the lack of an affordable child-care system. Newcomers can’t afford to pay the high costs of childcare and education simultaneously, which results in many of these women dropping courses and eventually withdrawing from university. This club creates a support system for these women by offering free childcare, peer support and professional development. All women in the club work to back each other and build a self-sufficient support system.
Based on my first daunting encounter with the Canadian education system, I would have never thought that I would understand it or navigate through it, let alone flourish and achieve my potential. I made a promise to myself that I will always strive to help make this experience as welcoming and as accommodating as possible for every immigrant and newcomer to this country who has the desire and ability to pursue their passions and dreams.
Sara Alysa is the founder and president of the Newcomer Students’ Association of Ryerson (NSAR) as well as the Vice President of Events and Outreach at the Continuing Education Students' Association of Ryerson (CESAR). Her main interests are in looking at the experiences of migrant students in higher education and what post-secondary institutions offer for these students.
By: Laura Bisaillon in Toronto
It’s World AIDS Day and this year, I am moving beyond remembering loved ones. I am shifting to a forward position and a distinct political hopefulness.
My wish on this World AIDS Day is for Canada to change how HIV is dealt with in its immigration system. Specifically, I would like to see the nation change how it makes inadmissibility decisions about people with HIV who apply to live in Canada.
This would be done through the Department of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. It would involve changing specific institutional practices, including the collection and circulation of HIV-related data from prospective immigrants.
The imperative for my research is to demystify social institutions like immigration so that we can explore and understand how things happen. As an interdisciplinary professor in health and social justice, and as a former social worker in a woman’s sexual health communities, I work to detect institutionally arising inequities.
For the past 15 years, I have been involved in AIDS work. I have worked in the Horn of Africa and parts of Canada in direct support. My life and lives of people I care about, some of whom cannot immigrate to Canada because of their HIV status, are deeply affected by this infection and its unfortunate pernicious social standing. I work with teams to use creativity and critique in equal measure to produce do-able ideas for remedying some of these inequities.
Using creativity and critique
This is precisely what I have done for Canada’s mandatory immigration HIV testing policy. The policy was enacted in 2002, but not ever reviewed until my work.
The policy acts as a filter. It screens for HIV and sorts people with HIV out (with some exceptions). HIV is discovered in the medical examination that all applicants for permanent residency must undergo at regular intervals. Most of these exams happen outside of Canada in contexts that Canada cannot monitor.
My motivation for assessing how this policy functions in everyday lives was because of the disconnect between immigrant people’s everyday social experiences through Canada’s imposed HIV testing, and the official representations of these experiences.
I formed alliances with racialized women with HIV from the Global South coming through the Canadian refugee ajudication system. Through them, I learned of the contrast between what actually happened in their lives with immigration medical processes and what is officially understood to have happened as documented in national government reports.
I set out to understand how this dissonance was happening. All persons aged 15 years and older who request Canadian permanent residence, such as refugees and immigrants, are required to undergo HIV testing. Tuberculosis and syphilis are the two other conditions for which people receive mandatory screening.
I produced the first social science exploration and critique of the medical, legal and administrative context governing the immigration to Canada for people with HIV. I identified both inequities and levers for change by using a feminist ethnographic policy analysis.
An immigration HIV test catalyzes the state’s collection of medical data about an applicant. These are entered into state decision-making about the person’s inadmissibility to Canada.
The good news on HIV policy
As it turns out, the HIV policy and mandatory screening ushers in a set of institutional practices that are highly problematic for prospective immigrants with HIV infection, the Canadian state and what is means to be Canadian more broadly. Avoidable inequities have been happening for 16 years, and they are ongoing.
The good news is that policies can be adjusted.
People with disease and disability, and their advocates, recently met with Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen to discuss and plan a future course of action.
And we have recently learned that Hussen has said current medical inadmissibility rules do not align with Canadian values and need to be reformed.
Canada’s Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen says current medical inadmissibility rules for newcomers are out of touch with Canadian values and need to be reformed. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld)
It was acknowledged that the ways in which medical inadmissibility decision-making is informed and practised are outdated. This certainly applies to HIV/AIDS, a chronic and manageable disease and an episodic disability, in the Canadian context.
We see that HIV infection is scrutinized more and differently than any other health condition through the immigration process, where we see layers of institutional directives, guidelines and practices in place governing HIV/AIDS. A core problem with the HIV testing policy is that it’s not informed by or reliant upon the most up-to-date scientific knowledge..
Democracy depends on how we talk to each other. Research on the social determinants of health shows us that we all live better lives in egalitarian societies. Part of how to achieve such societies is how we talk and listen to each other.
What sort of public spaces can we create to hear and be heard on matters related to the Canadian immigration system and medical inadmissibility decision-making? Opportunities are preciously few.
A roundtable on immigration and disease is needed
I propose a roundtable on immigration, disease and disability in which I bring to the table the most up-to-date scientific knowledge about immigration and HIV. We could invite Harvard’s Professor Michael Sandel to join, because he also asks critically important questions about immigration (and sparks debate to collectively contemplate answers), as well as my colleagues at the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. When can we meet to discuss immigration and HIV?
The World AIDS Day flag flies on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Dec. 1 2016. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang)
Together in class, students and I have used the research record to examine the human rights implications of mandatory immigration HIV testing in Canada. We have done the same regarding the ethical and material consequences of medical doctors being asked to work in ethical problematic ways within Canada’s immigration system.
Just as other immigrants to Canada do, those with HIV will contribute to our society in myriad ways. Having interacted with thousands upon thousands of people with HIV over time and across space and place, they are among the most resilient and hard-working people I have met, which I attribute to the experience of personal suffering and knowledge of the larger social and political history of HIV/AIDS, not to mention their place within it.
This is precisely the sort of immigrant that Canada wants and indeed welcomes.
I am committed to a process in which we can talk with and listen to each other on matters of immigration and disease as they relate to HIV/AIDS. The moment is upon us to work with the most up-to-date scientific evidence to produce a medical inadmissibility decision-making system unfettered by inducing harm.
By: Alpha Abebe in Toronto, ON
Statistics Canada recently released a series of reports analyzing key results from the 2016 Census, including figures on immigration and ethnocultural diversity. The data paints a familiar picture of the Canadian social landscape – a landscape that is increasingly defined by culturally diverse peoples and communities.
The census brief on “Children with an immigrant background: Bridging cultures” captures important data that should prompt us to think critically about the live experiences of this large population segment, as well as its implications for Canadian social, political and economic life.
There were many interesting trends and figures highlighted in the report, including the number of people with foreign born parents, shifts in origin country demographics, family and household dynamics, and linguistic and cultural practices.
For example, in 2016, close to 2.2 million children under the age of 15, or 37.5 percent of the total population of children, had at least one foreign-born parent. The report also notes that children with an immigrant background could represent between 39 percent and 49 percent of the total population of children by 2036.
Further, most people with an immigrant ancestry that were younger in age (under 30s) had origins in Asia and Africa, whereas the older cohort of Canadians with immigrant ancestry (over 30s) tended to trace their origins to Europe and the Americas. This a reflection of shifting immigration trends in Canada over the years.
There were other insights capturing immigration dynamics at the household level. Children born in Canada to at least one foreign-born parent were most likely to live in a multigenerational household, with grandparents, parents, and children under the same roof. In the report, they were interested in how this might affect and drive the transmission of origin-country language and culture.
As with all census data, the information gathered here is limited. While it provides a helpful snapshot and indication of how global migration trends intersect with changes in Canadian demographics, it also leads to some deeper questions that emerge that require further inquiry and debate among practitioners, policymakers, academics, immigrant communities, and young people alike.
How much do we really understand about the social and cultural practices of children of immigrants and their families? Do we account for these lived experiences in how we design programs and services, frame public discourse, and plan for the political and economic future of the country? Are we adequately leveraging the opportunities and addressing the issues presented by these transnational social landscapes?
How do immigration trends and demographic changes intersect with social inequalities in Canada and around the world? Do young Canadians with an immigrant background feel that they belong? How do race, class, and gender further segment immigrants and their children in Canada?
These are complex questions that don’t lend themselves well to simple answers; however, they are worth asking and continuing to ask as we work towards a future where equity aligns with diversity.
The future of Canada is more diversity and it is characterized by social, political, and economic connections to places around the world. Therefore, it is time we move beyond a multiculturalism framework that accommodates and celebrates diversity, and towards an inclusionary framework that acknowledges and works to address the social inequalities embedded within this diversity.
Yes, children with an immigrant background can tell us a lot about their international influences, tastes, and practices. However, they can also tell us a lot about Canada – both what it is today and where it should be headed in the future.
A version of this piece was first published on the Wellesley Institute blog on November 7, 2017, and can be accessed via this link
By: Joyeeta Dutta Ray in Toronto, ON
Toronto has always been a magnet for new immigrants. Some come here to escape bullets. Some come to fill up their wallets. Some are here to breathe in unpolluted air.
Over the last few years however, more and more skilled immigrants have traded their Permanent Resident garlands for a rosy life elsewhere.
The reason is almost always one of the two: Unemployment or underemployment!
This was seldom the case even a couple of decades back.
When Mila Lebuda fled to Toronto from communist Poland in 1991 at the age of 21, the country embraced her with open arms. It did not matter that she did not speak English or that she didn’t have much work experience. The grounds for adopting her were purely humanitarian.
“Canada gave me a new lease of life” she says. This is where she met her future husband, Vlad Lebuda another Polish immigrant like her. She made money as a caregiver. He drove a truck. As finances improved, their lifestyle did too. For Mila, the biggest barrier was language. Once that hurdle was crossed, life was sunshine and tulips.
However, not everyone finds the same success in Canada!
Mila’s tech-savvy Polish friend, Aron* (named changed for privacy) had higher ambitions. He went back to Poland as soon as conditions improved. “There are better opportunities there now. Despite living here for 10 years, he never got his due,” says Mila.
Not surprising! Statistics Canada reports that even after being in Canada for 15 years, immigrants with a university degree are more likely than the native-born to be in low-skilled jobs.
New Immigration Policies; New People
There’s a shift in trends. As new policies replace older ones, immigrants flying in to Canada now, are visibly different than those who came in earlier. They are better educated, better versed in English and better positioned professionally.
There’s a reason behind that. Earlier Canada took in more unskilled workers to meet economic needs. But recruitment efforts for skilled workers, entrepreneurs and investors are the need of the hour now. “Since 2006, the government has made dramatic changes to the federal skilled workers program by raising language requirements, restricting eligibility to specific professions and pre-screening applicants’ foreign credentials”, says the Toronto Star.
Yet, these very skilled immigrants are the ones who are having it rough.
For Roopa Rakshit who moved with her husband and 12 year old son to Thunder Bay (Ontario) from Thailand in 2012, migration was a decision based on being located closer to their daughter who was studying in UBC, Vancouver.
It was an intimidating prospect at a stage in their lives when they were well-settled professionally. But they were confident that their international resumes would open doors. They were in for a surprise!
It took Roopa 4 years to find a job suited to her skills. “I was an environmentalist in a United Nations affiliated organization in my previous life (Bangkok). While my International experience was appreciated, I was made to realize that I fell short of the “Canadian experience.“
In the race to build her “Canadianess”, Roopa sprinted on the volunteering path, networked along the way and picked up a scholarship for PHD at Lakehead University. That was the trophy that gave her the much needed break. “It was my research topic on energy planning with the First Nations people that led me to my current job in a First Nations Technical Services Organization.”
Malak Ahmed, who moved from Egypt in August 2016 with her husband and three daughters, has a similar story. She was a Business Unit Director in a leading advertising agency in Cairo. Despite her fancy title and a McGill Graduate Certificate, no employer was ready to lay out the red carpet for her.
“While I did expect to work my way up, I didn’t expect to stumble so many steps down the ladder in the process. I was surprised that a city that boasted of a high rate of immigration would put so much emphasis on 'Canadian experience'!”
To cross the barrier, her next step was to get an employment agency to rewrite her CV. That’s quite another story.
The Great Canadian Resume
Few countries have elevated the resume to such heights. It’s almost an art form here, based not on jotting down your skills but how strategically you phrase them. No matter how clipped your English, how impressive your name card or how many reference letters you come armed with, it’s hard for foreigners to master this skill.
Only Canadians know the trick! They have ingeniously made a business out of it, creating employment for themselves to help clueless newcomers like Malak.
When the planets finally aligned to bless her with a job, the pay didn’t match up to her qualifications. But despite it all, Malak chooses to stay on. “After the revolution in Cairo, the economy struggled and so did we. But it’s all been worthwhile. We like the cultural diversity here. The kids love their schools.”
Easy to see how soaring cost of living, rising crime and jobs with unscrupulous hours in Cairo make Canada seem like Disneyland.
For Alexa, who came from Honduras (Central America) to North York, the road was as rough. She arrived armed with a Bachelor’s degree in Business, a Masters in Marketing, 5 years at an International Telecommunications company and dreams to make it big. None of these made things any easier!
“I was a Marketing and Sales Manager at Huawei Technologies in Honduras. The biggest challenge for me was to start my career from the bottom up.” But she wouldn’t head back either. “Honduras is a small country where 50% of people live in poverty. There is a high rate of homicides and corruption.” In contrast, Canada offers commuting safety, free education and healthcare. The choice is clear!
Escaping corruption was high on the list for Marcia to move from Brazil as well. She arrived with her husband in Toronto in 2016. “The social discrepancy of wealth makes for very dangerous streets, with thefts happening everywhere” she says. While it’s a dream to stroll around North America’s safest metropolitan “without fear of getting mugged”, the Marketing professional who worked for 9 years in a leading multinational company, found it hard to find a job. It took her 3 months to find full-time employment and when she did, the job was an entry level position in Customer Service that paid less than she expected because of her lack of “Canadian Experience”.
“You feel like your experience in a foreign country is devalued because you haven’t applied it in Canada. Recruiters tend to disqualify you too”, she says.
Canada: More dependent on new immigrants than ever
Canada thrives on new immigrants to bring in the bucks. Estimates from the Conference Board of Canada reveal that if Canadian employers recognized and rewarded immigrant skills, the country would earn an additional $10 million annually.
Instead, every year, Canada loses valuable doctors, engineers, accountants and marketing professionals to the USA, where “American Experience” is an unheard of criterion! While others take up blue collar jobs that don’t do justice to their skills.
Local employers argue that “Canadian Experience” assures understanding of the soft skills essential for success here.
However, it pays for them to remember that the Ontario Human Rights Code (OHRC) has laid down a strict declaration that “Canadian Experience” is discrimination and can only be used in very limited circumstances.
Interestingly enough, smaller cities and rural areas in Canada have set a better example. In 2013, Moncton, New Brunswick ran career fairs that encouraged employers to hire immigrants. In Manitoba the tiny cities of Winkler and Morden have not just drawn newcomers in large numbers with their successful immigration programs, but also helped them settle in to a quality lifestyle.
How can Ontario follow suit?
Roopa suggests, “Employers should be encouraged to accept professional immigrants to maximize on their experience. The integration can include in-house orientation.” Marcia agrees. “There should be more incentives from the government to encourage companies to hire qualified foreigners in appropriate positions. The success of the immigration policy should be measured not by the number of people who come in but by the number of people who stay on successfully in the country.”
For a country that prides itself on being humanitarian, learning from the smaller towns and listening to the less heard voices could be the key to turning things around before an ageing population and shrinking birth rate get the better of the nation.
By: Andrea Elliot in Toronto
“You don’t have Canadian experience.” This is what a new immigrant from New Delhi with a university degree, an MBA and a wealth of prior business experience was told at a recent job interview. In her 40s, the woman had arrived from India, confident she would have greater career opportunities and a better life for her daughters, but was quickly disheartened to find her impressive resume held little weight within our borders.
This is a story that has become all too common in Canada — especially when you consider that we have the highest foreign-born population (20%) of any G-8 country. While most Canadians take great pride in our nation’s rich history of diversity, the sad truth is our businesses are not always so welcoming to people with different names, customs and attire. A recent Canadian employment study proved as much, revealing that job candidates with Asian names (Chinese, Indian or Pakistani) are less likely to be called for interviews than their counterparts with Anglo-Canadian names, even when they have a higher level of education.
In my role at Dress for Success, it’s heartbreaking to see these stats come to life every day. Over the past five years, the number of new Canadians who have turned to our organization for career help has climbed to a point where immigrants now represent almost half of the women we serve. But, while our charitable organization is best known for providing women in need with professional attire, these new immigrants face challenges that go far beyond finding the right outfit for an interview.
Imagine entering a new country as a refugee. You’re a young parent with kids and no income. English is your second language. You don’t have a computer to work on your resume, or a smartphone to communicate with potential employers. You have to go to the public library to access the internet. You have no social network to rely on, and you’re certainly not on LinkedIn. Sometimes, I have to remind our volunteers and community partners of just how difficult an uphill climb our immigrant population faces to find employment.
Then, there are the hidden obstacles, understanding not just how to dress for an interview, but the social cues that could be holding them back (for instance, it might be inappropriate for a conservative Muslim woman to shake hands with a man during a job interview, but an employer may not be aware of this).
Needless to say, the learning curve for immigrants is steep. Each woman who shows up at Dress for Success has her own personal journey and it is our mission to embrace that journey, so they can gain confidence, find a job and earn financial and economic independence. We start by getting to know them through private, one-on-one conversations that last up to two hours and often become incredibly emotional. These are smart women who are desperate for nothing more than a better way of life, and our volunteers can’t help but become intimately involved.
After chatting about their interests and qualifications, we help these women position their experience and education for a Canadian audience, helping remove any hidden cues that may cause employers to be dismissive of their resume or LinkedIn profile. We also have them create “elevator pitches” on why they should be hired, and stage mock interviews to help them prepare. We even hold networking events where they have the opportunity to introduce themselves to executives and managers, and practice speaking in a corporate setting.
When it comes down to it, our mission is to build these women up every day so they not only gain confidence about what they can do, but feel good about who they are as individuals. There are many ways for people to get involved in our cause, but this is really a rallying cry to corporate Canada — I’m calling on our country’s business leaders to examine their hiring policies from the top down and take a more active role in providing new Canadians with opportunities.
For all the talk of a global marketplace, our businesses still act local. The number of women who continue to tell me they feel they’re being judged by their family name is significant and disheartening. It’s also disappointing when qualified candidates who have held great jobs in their home countries are not considered for similar positions here in Canada.
The sad truth is that while many of today’s corporate leaders are concerned with reaching male-female ratios and gender equality, promoting opportunities for new Canadians is not on their radar, even though it would be in their best interests to do so — in 2015, the Conference Board of Canada estimated that if Canadian employers and professional regulatory bodies did a better job of recognizing immigrants’ skills, they would earn an additional $10 billion annually, at minimum.
There is simply no reason or excuse for a “Canadian experience” job requirement to exist in 2017. And, as we continue to celebrate Canada 150, it’s time for our businesses to realize — as our country did years ago — that opening their doors to new immigrants will only make them stronger.
Andrea Elliott is Chair of the Board of Directors of Dress for Success Toronto, and its fundraising committee, Corporate Giving.
Commentary by: William Gee Wong in Oakland, CA
My father came to America from China in 1912, the 30th year of the Chinese Exclusion Act, and somehow he was able to get in legally even though he, uh, didn’t tell the whole truth.
The three generations of Gees and Wongs that are his legacy are so grateful he was able to skirt the dreaded, racist Exclusion Act, and that he didn’t try to come here under the Trump Administration’s immigration proposal.
In his mid-teens, Pop, as I called him, was not well educated. He was not well off. He did not speak English. Those are the principal requirements of what the Trump administration wants our future immigration policy to have.
Another is having a job. Pop would have qualified, maybe. He had work waiting for him as a lowly paid herbalist apprentice in Oakland, California’s Chinatown.
Pop’s immigration story was hardly unique. He and thousands of other Chinese immigrants were able to get into America despite the exclusion law that spanned from 1882 to 1943.
Many used the infamous “paper son” scheme. This was making false birthright claims made possible, in part, by the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and fire that destroyed official records. Without records, the government could not legally counter the birthright claims of immigrants like Pop, who said he was a “son of a native,” a category exempt from the exclusion law.
Pop and other Chinese immigrants wanted desperately to come here, largely to escape the utter political, economic, and social turmoil of China in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries – the fall of the Qing Dynasty, the republican revolution, civil wars, and in the 1930s, the Japanese invasion.
Here in America, because of yellow Jim Crow laws, they were forced to create parallel universes in the many Chinatowns in cities and towns, first in California and the west and eventually throughout America.
Ironically, those enclaves – ostracized, ignored, and targeted for violence as they sometimes were – nurtured self-reliance and survival skills that enabled Pop and his cohort to begin stable and useful lives for their descendants.
Their numbers were teeny. In 1880, just before Congress passed the exclusion law, Chinese were 0.0021 percent of the U.S. population. In 1940, just before its repeal, they were a barely measurable 0.0005 percent.
Supporters of the Trump immigration proposal deny its intent is racist against non-white people, but its effects, if ever enacted, could very well be. Why do the president and the Republican senators pushing this bill want to go backwards to a time when America was much whiter than it is today and going to be in the foreseeable future?
The Congressional debates over Chinese exclusion were blatantly and unapologetically racist. Example: Colorado Republican Senator Henry Teller in 1882 said, “The Caucasian race has the right, considering its superiority of intellectual force and mental vigor; to look down on every other branch of the human family…we are the superior race today. We are superior to the Chinese….”
Some of us descendants of so-called inferior races are worried that if President Trump gets his way on a new immigration policy as offered by Senators Tom Cotton and David Perdue, America will look to the world as returning to the bad old days when white supremacy was thought to be the norm.
Pop probably didn't bother to think much about what American politicians believed. All he wanted was a better life for his growing family. He had three daughters born in China, and three more plus me born in Oakland.
One goal of the immigration bill is to decrease family reunification. A positive feature of the 1965 immigration reform was its family preference provisions that allowed immigrants to bring in members of his or her families. That feature has propelled the growth of immigrant families, especially from Latin America and Asia. Perhaps that is what repels Trump and his backward-looking supporters.
Pop worked hard to provide for his family in Oakland. He learned to speak, read, and write English at Lincoln School, where he graduated from the eighth grade as a 20-something. Besides his herbalist job, he peddled produce in a truck, ran grocery stores and restaurants, and worked as a welder at a Bay Area shipyard during World War II.
Oh, yeah: he ran an illegal business as well, in the 1930s. He sold lottery tickets in Chinatown when such a business was against the law. Many other Chinatown families did the same. After all, this was during the Great Depression, and local police and politicians took bribes to allow the trade to thrive into the 1950s.
To his last days in the summer of 1961, Pop felt he belonged in Chinatown but not in the wider white-dominated society. I, on the other hand, along with my sisters and our extended families feel we are as American as anyone else, regardless of racial or ethnic background.
Let’s hope that what the Trump-backed Cotton-Perdue proposal wants to do never happens, and that wiser and more humane lawmakers create immigration policies that make all of us feel as though we belong here in America.
William Gee Wong is the author of Yellow Journalist: Dispatches from Asian America (Temple University Press, 2001) and is currently writing a book about his father. This article was republished under arrangement with New America Media.
by Tanya Mok (@loqtm) in Toronto, Ontario
The Canadian immigrant experience is often dependent upon a number of different factors. Although our country extends a welcoming hand to a multitude of international citizens, personal adjustment periods amongst immigrants are still unique. As society looks to continue making improvements with diversity and inclusion, it is important to understand which aspects ultimately lead to an internal sense of belonging.
In partnership with Apathy is Boring, New Canadian Media will be posting first-person accounts from the 150 Years Young Project, a campaign that highlights the positive impact youth are making throughout their communities.
Komal Minhas, Owner of Ko-Media and Co-Founder of Dream, Girl
“Entrepreneurship builds a huge amount of resilience, capacity, emotional intelligence, and growth. My advice to young entrepreneurs is to take your time and build a strong group of people around you who can help you down your path- and remember to keep an intentionality to the hustle.”
As a successful young female entrepreneur who is the co-founder of widely viewed documentary Dream, Girl and the owner of her own media company, KoMedia, you may be surprised to learn that Komal Minhas got her start in Grand Prairie, Alberta. This rural city played an integral role in Komal’s story, as she was raised there by parents who immigrated from India. She grew up watching her parents face the many trials and triumphs of new immigrants and was inspired by their entrepreneurial spirit as they created a home for themselves. She also grew up witnessing the effects that patriarchal culture can have on women, and particularly young women and women of colour. She was always taught to dream big and she took this belief with her across the country as she started on a new path in Ottawa to pursue her dream of empowering women and girls.
After completing a degree in Journalism from Carleton University and graduate studies in Social Innovation from the University of Waterloo, Komal fell in love with telling stories through video and documentary and gained an understanding of how business can have a positive impact when led by intentional and thoughtful leaders. Thus came the creation of KoMedia, which aims to create systemic change in how females are treated and does by undertaking projects that tell the complex and empowering stories of women and girls from around the world. Soon after, she connected with fellow entrepreneur Erin Bagwell, who had the innovative idea of creating a documentary that showcases the stories of female entrepreneurs, giving a voice to this underrepresented segment. Komal became a co-founder of the project, helping to create the documentary from pre-production, to production stages in New York City, to premiering across the world. The film has had many successes, from a sold-out public premiere at the Paris Theatre in NYC to a premiere hosted by Sophie Gregoire Trudeau in Ottawa. Komal is currently working out of Ottawa, a city that she continues to call her home-base despite having worked in many thriving cities around the world.
Christo Bilukidi, Entrepreneur, OCH Ambassador, and Former NFL Player
“I just want to show youth that you are not limited to anything in this world because of your upbringing, your circumstances, or your environment. You can do anything you set your mind to. A lot of people might tell you this, but I believe this because I have lived it, and that’s why I am an OCH Ambassador”.
Growing up in Ottawa Community Housing (OCH) and coming from a single-parent immigrant household, Christo Bilukidi was taught the values of hard work and perseverance. These came in handy when he found himself playing football for the first time in the twelfth grade and having a natural affinity for the sport, beginning a journey that he never imagined himself undertaking. By pushing himself through trainings, try-outs, and SAT tests, Christo earned a full-ride scholarship to play football at Georgia State University. Soon after, he was drafted into the NFL and played for the Oakland Raiders, the Cincinnati Bengals, and the Baltimore Ravens.
After five seasons in the NFL, Christo decided to take his retirement and follow a different passion: entrepreneurship. He is now a co-owner of a successful tailored suit business, Idlewood, and uses his free time for volunteerism. Christo decided to return to Ottawa, where he felt a strong sense of community in his home city and wanted the chance to give back. He is an OCH Ambassador, using his experiences growing up and in the sporting community to be a positive role model to youth. He cites that he will take part in as many community outreach opportunities as he can get his hands on, and is often engaging in public speaking at high schools or community centres in OCH neighbourhoods. On top of this, Christo is working on organizing a football camp for youth that he hopes will feature current NFL players and local Ottawa players to help empower young people through athleticism. He believes that sports are a great tool for youth empowerment, as they teach discipline, hard work, and motivation.
The 150 Years Young Project: In celebration of Canada's 150th birthday, Apathy is Boring is teaming up with community organizers and city ambassadors to recognize positive contributions by youth. Follow the hashtag #150yy for more!
Commentary by Justin Kong in Toronto
On June 22, members of the Chinese-Canadian community and allies gathered at Toronto City Hall to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Canadian government’s redress of the Chinese Head Tax and the 1923 Exclusion Act, legislations which had been used to prohibit Chinese immigration to Canada.
The mobilization for redress against these racist laws represented an important moment in Canadian history where a combination of Chinese community organization and political advocacy was able to secure a redress and apology from the federal government.
In other ways however, the redress remains incomplete. Most immediately, families of many Head Tax survivors have noted that their calls for an inclusive redress along the lines of "one certificate one claim" have gone unheeded.
As a consequence, only 1% of the 82,000 families directly affected by the Head Tax have been able to actually receive claims.
Redress is also incomplete in the sense the injustices faced by early Chinese and Asian migrants continue to prevail in today’s Canada.
Continued practice of economic exploitation of migrants
To recognize this failure is to understand that Chinese exclusion is not an isolated incident in Canadian history. It is a much longer and enduring practice in Canada where migrant labour is coveted, but the humanity and rights of those who provide that labour, denied.
The Chinese railroad worker, who has become etched into the national imaginary, exemplifies this practice. Conducting the most dangerous tasks that no white man was willing to do for the most meagre of wages, Chinese migrants built the railroad that brought the Canadian nation from conception to reality.
While the bodies of these migrant workers (estimates ranging from 600–1200) lined the railroad, Chinese migrants would continue to be denied citizenship.
Today, the exploitative relationship that constituted the experience of the Chinese railroad worker continues under new forms. Migrant workers now come to Canada from all over the world: Central America, the Caribbean and Asia.
These migrant workers are often bound to their employers, work in dangerous conditions, and denied protections and health care and — like the Chinese and Asian migrants of the past — denied status.
A commemoration of the legacy of the Head Tax and Exclusion Act must also be a commitment to standing with those that have followed in their footsteps: today's migrant workers. This means supporting their call for protections, and pivotally, their demand for status on arrival.
Head Tax history in immigrant communities
Asian exclusion and Head Tax were the legislative manifestation of a prevailing climate of racism, violence and economic exploitation, conditions which first confined Chinese migrants into Canada's very first Chinatowns.
Segregation created a disconnect between early migrant communities and the mainstream, with profound effects and enduring consequences for immigrant workers that persist to this day.
Nowhere is this more visible today than in the issue of labour law enforcement.
The findings of a recent report by the Metro Toronto Chinese and Southeast Asian Legal Clinic, which surveyed Chinese restaurant workers in Toronto, provides us with a glimpse of just how irrelevant labour laws (such as minimum wage and overtime) can often be for immigrant workers.
Such abject conditions are part and parcel, the legacy of Head Tax and Asian Exclusion.
Addressing the plight of immigrant workers means getting behind mobilizations such as The Fight for $15 and Fairness, which call for proactive enforcement, laws that protect workers, and a system that allows already marginalized immigrant workers to make employment violation claims.
Mobilizing upon the legacy of Head Tax and Asian exclusion
To commemorate the legacy of Head Tax, we must address the unmet demands of the families of Head Tax survivors, but also the struggles of the migrant farmworker, the Chinese restaurant worker, the Filipina careworker and the Tamil grocery store worker of today’s Canada.
This also means making a commitment to fight against the injustice faced by today's immigrant and migrant workers.
Organized labour in Canada, which was actually a key advocate of Asian exclusion, must not repeat the mistakes of the past; it must stand with migrant workers. Among other things this means making cross racial solidarity and anti-racism a core component of the labour movement. Such a direction represents the only path forward for a powerful labour movement in the 21st century.
When we connect the struggles of migrants past with the continued struggles of migrants and immigrants today, we break free of the isolation and insularity produced by a class-unconscious multiculturalism. In turn, we move towards a future of economic and racial justice for all.
Until this is achieved however we must tell Mr. Harper and all Canadians who believe these laws are part of the past, that there can be no 'turning of the page' on this chapter of Canada’s history.
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Commentary by Fred Maroun in Ottawa
“Immigration played a role in the Brexit campaign”, reported The Wall Street Journal.
Since there were only four percentage points between the winning side (to leave the European Union) and the losing side, it is likely that this factor was decisive.
Concerns over immigration have lately been widespread across the West. They seem to have played an important role in Donald Trump’s success in the Republican primaries, and seem to be fuelling the growing popularity of hard right-wing parties in Europe.
These concerns represent a mixed bag. There is undoubtedly some xenophobia, but there are also valid concerns about the risk that immigration places on our liberal values.
I emigrated from Lebanon in 1984. My main motivation was to live in a society that shared my liberal values, where women and gay people are treated more fairly, and where freedom of expression is guaranteed.
Sharing liberal values
Many of the newcomers do not share the West’s liberal values and do not easily change their outlook once they arrive. As reported in The Guardian in 2009, a Gallup Poll found that “None of the 500 British Muslims interviewed believed that homosexual acts were morally acceptable”.
France fared better in the same poll, and “35% of French Muslims found homosexual acts to be acceptable”.
Both Britain and France have since then legalized same-sex marriage, a step well beyond simply tolerating homosexuality. If Muslims were in the majority in Britain and France, it is unlikely that same-sex marriage would have become the law.
Canadian Muslim reformer, Raheel Raza, wrote in reference to the niqab, “In the 25 years I have called Canada home, I have seen a steady rise of Muslim women being strangled in the pernicious black tent”.
Another Canadian Muslim reformer, Farzana Hassan, wrote in her book “Unveiled”, “To live strictly according to sharia is the goal of conservative Muslim families in Canada. These are the values they are imparting to their young children”.
Equality of cultures
Interestingly, our liberal values often discourage us from fighting back against attacks on these very same values. The politicians who raise concerns about immigration tend to be demagogues, such as Trump and hard right-wingers such as France’s Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National.
If those politicians come to power, however, we cannot trust them to protect our liberal values. Demagogues pander to whatever political stand will get them elected, and hard right-wingers do not favour equal rights for minorities, a core principle of liberal values.
A claim often made by some liberals is that all cultures are equal and, therefore, we have no right to impose our culture on others. Even assuming that this claim is true, it only means that we should not forcefully go into other countries and impose our values there.
It does not take away our right to protect our own culture.
For example, extreme conservative Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia expect visitors to comply with their cultural practices, such as women covering up in public, yet we allow visitors and even immigrants to our countries to disregard our values by wearing the niqab in public.
This is not a relationship of equals. It is a relationship of subservience.
Cowering on the sidelines
Moderate Western politicians must protect our liberal values by taking reasonable measures that respect human rights. For example, many Syrian refugees have been welcomed in the West and many more are expected to arrive.
Yet, as noted by Amnesty International, “Gulf countries including Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain have offered zero resettlement places to Syrian refugees”. The West should demand more participation from rich Muslim countries to ensure that refugees find homes that match their social values.
Another reasonable measure might be screening potential migrants based on their existing values and their ability to adapt to Western norms such as respect for LGBT rights and women’s rights. Once they have immigrated, there should be restrictions on some cultural practices.
Those of us who believe in liberal values have a right and even a duty to protect them. Centrist and left-wing politicians should be at the forefront of this battle rather than cowering on the sidelines, leaving the floor to illiberal politicians.
Defending our values is important not only for the West, but also to potential immigrants who wish to leave oppressive societies. Refusing to fight for our values is dangerous for us and a disservice to new immigrants.
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. He writes at http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/author/fred-maroun/ and http://www.jpost.com/Blogger/Fred-Maroun.
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-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit