In Between Places

An Immigrant’s Story

(Some disjointed ramblings I had today).

Today marks 16 years since I first came to Canada.

For the most part, since coming to Canada, I have been met with kindness & warmth – however, I have also never been able to forget that I am ‘the other’. From blatantly racist rhetoric, to constant microaggressions from ‘progressive’ & ‘socially aware’ people in my life – as I reflect on the last 16 years, I’ve been thinking a lot about how often i felt that I did not truly belong.

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Lately, with the rise of anti-immigrant & anti-refugee sentiments, even though a lot of people have spoken out against this kind of hate, it has been an eye opening experience. It’s been difficult to see people I consider(ed?) my friends actively supporting anti-immigrant (&/or anti-Muslim) rhetoric, or openly dismissive about my experiences and concerns as a woman of colour, and an immigrant.

For the most part, I have been so blessed to find myself surrounded by a core group of people who love and support me – and I know that I am so lucky. I know that a lot of people have had it much worse than me – and often continue to have it worse than me.

I have heard absolute horror stories from fellow immigrants and refugees – many of whom have faced much more severe discrimination, and often violence.

But I’ve also noticed how my negative experiences have shaped me.

I am constantly anxious, incredibly self-conscious, and sometimes painfully awkward (because i feel like I don’t belong).

I am quick to jump on the defensive, because I am quick to feel like someone is making fun of/being aggressive towards me – it’s a defence mechanism, especially after years of being made fun of/belittled.

I am trying to unlearn a lot of my internalized racism, and as a result, I have spent a lot of time trying to accept my culture, my background, and the colour of my skin – and for the most part, it’s working – but there’s always that moment:

  • when a person makes a joke about things smelling like curry in front of me;
  • when I share some of my favourite foods with them, and make faces, or say it’s gross;
  • when they don’t even bother trying to pronounce or learn my name because “it’s too hard, and [they’re] never gonna learn it”.

It really hurts to hear these things, and it’s a quick reminder that I am just ‘other’ enough, and maybe I will never quite belong.

I know a lot of my (white) friends take pride in the fact that Canada is a welcoming and wonderful place (I too take pride in it!) but it’s also a stark reminder that they might never understand how far we still have to go.

Every day more and more immigrants come to Canada – looking for new opportunities, looking for safety, comfort, wealth, and belonging. And as we are ‘welcomed with open arms’, we are also squeezed so tightly with the weight of societal expectations and beliefs that it is sometimes hard to breathe.

For every person that sponsors a refugee family, it feels like there are 5 more who are “not anti-immigrant, but…” they think maybe the money would be better served being donated to the homeless in Canada (even though they’ve never donated to them before).

For every person who helps to paint over graffiti in a local mosque, it feels like there are 3 more who care more about “freedom of speech” than they care about individuals who are physically & verbally abused and threatened.

When I bring up being born in Pakistan, routinely there is someone who says “I keep forgetting you’re not Canadian!”

…but I am Canadian!

I got my Canadian citizenship over 10 years ago, with the rest of my family. I’ve lived in Canada for most of my life, I pay taxes, I have voted in every election I was eligible to vote in, I eat my weight in poutine, I share buzzfeed articles about how hot Justin Trudeau is – what more will it take for me to be Canadian?!

Being an immigrant is really tough, because you’re torn between two worlds.

The world you left, which you left for a reason – whether it was to find more opportunities, or whether you feared for your safety, you left in search of something more.

The Canadian Dream

You landed in Canada, hopeful for the future, terrified about what was to come, and likely heartbroken at leaving all you knew and loved behind. You came to this country of promise, a place where refugees and immigrants are welcome, there are opportunities for everyone, and the prime minister has a six pack.

You were greeted with minimum wage jobs, your previous qualifications not being enough, managers and bosses who took advantage of you, your accent and culture are made fun of, and a lot of empty promises.

You’ve left almost everyone you know behind, you’ve left your whole life behind. And as you change and grow and adapt to Canadian culture, when you go back to visit, each time you realize that you fit in less and less.

Not quite at home in Canada, and not quite at home in your country of origin, immigrants and refugees are in this weird, grey are, where we often feel like we’re ‘in between places’.

I still remember having a conversation with a family friend – a fellow Pakistani-Canadian, where I discussed how tough things could be for immigrants, and how I still sometimes felt like I didn’t belong – and she said that I should be thankful that I lived here and thankful for all the opportunities I had.

And you know what? For a long time, I was like “you’re right”, and tried so hard not to ‘bite the hand that fed me’.

But now, more and more, I think about it, and I think “why not?”.

I am – and always will be – so grateful for Canada, for the people I’ve met here, for the experiences I’ve had, for the opportunities I’ve been granted.

But, at the same time… is it wrong to want more?

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