Celebrating immigrants

According to Regina, June 25th was Immigrant Day. In her blog, she wrote a very poignant account of her own experiences as an immigrant and how immigration made her a citizen of the world, more open to new cultures and influences. She inspired me to pencil down my own thoughts on the subject since I too feel that immigrating to Canada ultimately made me feel like a citizen of the world.

Although I have undying admiration for immigrants, I have to admit that I never really thought of myself as one. Of course I am one. An immigrant is usually defined as a person who leaves her country to permanently settle in another country. I did that. It’s just that I never consciously defined myself as an immigrant. I don’t really like labels, I find them too constricting and I usually think of myself as…just myself… I don’t think of myself as a woman, or a Brazilian or an immigrant. But of course I know I am all of these things and am not denying it at all.

I can definitely understand why would someone conceptualize himself as an immigrant. I mean, most people have immigration on their minds for a fairly long time before they actually move to a different country. They spend years planning their move and thinking about immigration. Many fret about how they are going to be received in the new country, what sort of opportunities they’ll find, how hard the cultural barrier will be….  It’s only natural that when they finally arrive in their new destination, they are sensitive to their condition as immigrant.

During my first few months in Montreal, I took advantage of intensive French classes for immigrants. I hadn’t met many immigrants before then since most of the people I knew I had met through Alan and they were either Canadian or people who had been in Canada for so many years that they didn’t even talk about that process anymore. But the French school in Montreal really broadened the way I saw the world and the cultures that inhabit it. My views of the immigration process and immigrants in general were shaped by that experience. At the school, I spent five hours per day with immigrants from all over the world – China, Korea, Yemen, Sri-Lanka, India, Holland, Russia, Romenia, Colombia, Peru, Argentina, Iran – there were people from all over! Becaused we were there from 9-3 every day, we had lunch at school; we would usually sit together in large communal tables and talk about our lives while sharing our homemade foods.  I was fascinated to learn what people ate at home in places like Korea, Peru or China. I also became quickly aware at the amount of sacrifice people had to make to immigrate to Canada. Most of them had stable, good jobs in their home countries but decided to leave because they didn’t feel that conditions in their countries were good enough to guarantee a modicum of quality of life to their children. It made me realize that most of us in the world are quite similar – we all want regular meals, a job, health and a future for our children. All the preconceived ideas I might have had of people of different nationalities collapsed one by one.

At the same time, I didn’t feel I deserved to be called an immigrant. I hadn’t sacrificed enough. I had merely met someone, fallen in love, and moved to where he lived. This place happened to be in a different country and we had to go through a bit of a bureaucratic loop to get my situation as resident cleared, but to me it didn’t feel much different than all the many other moves I had done within my own country. Brazil is a very large country, with very different regional flavours, accents, and customs. I had grown up having to adapt to new environments. At 6 years old I moved with my family to the US for a year. The experience marked me very deeply. I loved speaking a different language and my whole life, after the day we came back to Brazil, I dreamed of living abroad for a while. I didn’t really think of immigrating, I just wanted to travel the world (still do!). So, moving to Canada wasn’t particularly hard or different for me. Sure, I was away from my family. But so was I when I lived in Brasilia and my parents lived in Recife, one brother in the Amazon and another in Rio. Thousands of kilometers separated us then and I spent 2 years without seeing my older brother. I didn’t have a structured life in Brazil yet when I met Alan. I was attending university in a degree I didn’t particularly enjoy. I graduated but took the opportunity to start afresh in Canada.

In Canada, I never really had to think of myself as an immigrant. With the exception of passports and voting rights, there’s no distinction made in Canada between permanent residents and Canadian citizens. I entered the same line-ups as Alan did, had the same ID cards (health care, social security, etc), the same access to education… My professors treated me the same as any other student and gave me every opportunity to succeed. Both as an undergrad and as a grad student, nobody ever thought I knew less because I wasn’t educated here. I had the same opportunities as my Canadian friends and got support for my studies from many Canadian institutions long before I acquired Canadian citizenship. In Canada I was made to feel I was an individual that depended only on myself to succeed. I felt all my efforts were recognized.

Before anybody contradicts what I’m saying, I don’t want you to think that’s the experience of every immigrant that comes to this country. I know there are flaws in the system and many immigrants go through considerable hardship. Particularly if they had an established life and career where they lived and want to transplant that here. I’m just sharing my own experience.

While I had a positive adaptation and felt welcomed in Canada, I still hadn’t thought much about immigration until I moved to Spain last year. Canada is a country that for better or for worse has adopted the concept of multiculturalism and immigration as part of its own core identity. Immigration itself is never perceived or talked about as a problem. The problem is often how to better integrate immigrants into the workforce, how to simplify the immigration process, etc. In much of Europe all hears is how to prevent or control immigration, how to deal with illegal immigrants, etc. One hears clear distinctions on the street between “them” and “us”. I was shocked to see that even European citizens, from countries on the EU, who had their legal residence in Spain, were differentiated from local citizens. Their ID card was different – while Spaniards had an ID card with the word “España” on it, other Europeans had an ID card of a different colour with the word “Extranjero” in big letters. They also had to go through different line ups to apply for social security numbers and the like. I’m not making any judgment on Spanish or Catalan attitude towards foreigners – I was always welcomed and treated well – but this sort of institutional differentiation (don’t want to use the word “marginalization”) left someone like me, who has studied ethnic conflict for a while, with a bad taste in the mouth.

In Barcelona I met people from every continent and I made close friendship with people from various countries. Being there also made me think of how our world is in an interesting spot right now. People are moving like never before – although they have always moved a lot – and immigration will probably mark the future for all the wealthiest countries in the world. You can’t fight it. For as long as the world has been inhabited, people have moved to where they can find a better life. And when they move, they build and invest in their new homes with renewed energy. I think the key to stability and growth in the future will be for governments to teach their citizens that immigration is a positive contribution to the improvement of their own society. Maybe as people travel more and are exposed to different cultures they’ll realize that nationality, religion, even language, is nothing more than a varnish that cover common human values, and that one can often have more in common with people born in the other side of the world than with their own fellow countrymen…

Forgive my long, twisted ramble… And please, let us not get into discussions along the lines of “Canada, the Good vs Europe/US, the Bad”. Different countries have different histories, different stages of development, and different contexts for the policies they adopt. I merely wanted to share with you my experiences as an immigrant and my views of immigration…

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Dyke March & Church Street

Yesterday we checked out the Dyke March. Smaller and less commercial than Sunday’s Gay Pride Parade, the Dyke March is a fun event. The women come out in huge numbers. After the parade we went for a walk along Church Street, the main street in the Gay Village to check what was going on there. There were stalls of all kinds set up – food, beverage, information, stores, you name it. Even the Police, the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) and the Armed Forces had recruitment tents there, which is something I find really amazing since where I come from the police forces and the military are very anti-gay environments. I’ll talk more about the events of the day later, I just wanted to leave a few pictures. The first 45 or so are of the Dyke March and the remainder are of people on Church St. Just click on the image and you’ll see the slideshow.

Update: It’s 5:30 pm on Sunday and we just came back from Church St. We tried to check out the parade but it was way too crowded and hot on Yonge St. so we went to Church and shot some pictures of the people who were coming back from the parade. I’ve added the pictures to the slideshow.

Click here for slideshow

Pride Week

This Sunday is the Gay Pride Parade here in Toronto. The event is one of the largest in the world, the third largest in North America. Alan and I love Pride Week – yes, here it goes on for a week – the festive mood in the community is such that one can’t ignore it! It can be crude, wacky, commercial, but it’s filled with a good and happy vibe. The next three days will be of non-stop partying – Church St, at the corner of our street, is already closed for cars and there are stages set everywhere. There will be free concerts all day tomorrow and Sunday, and two parades – the Dyke March tomorrow afternoon and the Gay Pride Parade on Sunday. What I love the most in these events here in Toronto is that many straight couples come and bring their small children to watch. They feel they should be exposed to it from an early age. I applaud those parents.

On the Toronto Star yesterday, Andres Laxamana wrote a nice tribute:

Gay Pride something to celebrate TheStar.com – comment – Gay Pride something to celebrate

June 21, 2007


“Mom. Dad. I’m gay.”

In retrospect, Christmas Eve dinner may not have been the best time to tell my family, but at that point I felt that I just needed to get it off my chest.

My decision was not arrived at hastily. Like many gay men and lesbians, I had amassed a multitude of reasons to stay in the proverbial closet. What about my family? What will my friends think? What about my career?

These reasons, whether justified or not, suppressed what my gut had always told me was the right thing for me to do.

Sadly for many, these fears are realized after coming out. The loss of family and friends is a real consequence suffered by many gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.

There is a feeling of isolation that starts way before coming out of the closet. Although on the outside, I was a well-adjusted kid, I knew very early on that I was different from all the other boys in the neighbourhood. It was only until puberty that I began to realize just what this difference might be.

The message in our society was clear. Different meant wrong. It took 27 years for me to finally feel comfortable in my own skin and to realize that different was not wrong – just different. At that point, I was tired of living a big part of my life as a lie. At that point, I needed to tell my family and friends who I really was. It just felt right.

I am truly fortunate that my family, even after my not-so-subtle delivery of the news, has been wonderfully supportive and open-minded. They have welcomed Adam, my partner of 10 years, with open arms into the family, just as his parents have welcomed me. The in-laws even love spending time together. How many straight couples have that luxury?

And although I can’t say coming out has not resulted in any losses, it has been a good litmus test for determining who my good friends are and exactly what in my life is truly important.

So, as summer begins, Adam and I are preparing to celebrate Pride on June 24 with our annual tradition of attending the parade with our close friends and both our mothers (our fathers don’t do parades).

For us, beyond the floats, bare skin and glitter, the day represents family, whether these families are biological or, out of necessity, chosen. Pride also represents community, acceptance and belonging.

Thinking back, I remember asking my mother on the Christmas Day after I broke the big news why she had broken down into tears the night before. “Were you upset about who I am?”

“That’s not the reason at all,” she smiled. “I cried because you felt you couldn’t tell us sooner. You must have felt so alone. I feel horrible that we couldn’t be there to support you as a family.” I knew at that point that I wasn’t alone anymore.

Nearly a million people attend Pride Day celebrations every year in Toronto. It always amazes me as I gaze over the massive celebrating crowds knowing many of these people have gone through the same experience I have.

It’s truly difficult on that day to feel alone.

My street early this evening

 

A Horse?

 

Cute little old lady waves at the horse

 

Will have more pics over the weekend…

 

Instant noodles with a twist

I like instant noodles. Not the ones that come in cups that you add boiling water and wait a few minutes before eating. I like the ones that you have to cook for a few minutes on the stove. Of course, they are often bland, and despite the seasoning packet that comes with it, it always looks a bit like hospital food. So I always dress up my instant noodles. Alan’s favourite is one I make with tomato sauce (or tomato soup), mixed herbs and shaved parmesan cheese. I always keep some instant noodles at hand for those nights when I don’t feel like cooking or going out. But I try not to make it too often because most instant noodles on the market seem to contain palm oil, which is not very good for you. Recently I discovered some Thai instant rice noodles that are not fried and therefore contain no oil or other nasty ingredients. They are VERY tasty.

So, what do you get when you mix

Thai noodles

with some sliced garlic, a tsp of turmeric, a couple tbsp or green onions, couple tbsp of thinly-sliced celery, and a couple grated carrots? And after you put the soup in some nice bowls, you add some sun dried tomatoes?

you get this lovely soup:

soup

Update

We got our iMac and my iPod yesterday. More on that later… all I can say is… Holy cow, the screen is HUGE! I guess 24 inches was a bit of an overkill, but hey, we do lots of graphic work…

On another note, I’ve discovered I really can’t do much academic work at home. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the messiness of all the moving boxes that distract me, all I know is that I’ve been procrastinating writing a report about my research for the past two weeks. I finally decided to go out to the local coffee shop and write there. In one hour I had written two reports and a newsletter blurb! This morning I came to the library and in a  couple of hours I typed my reports, edited them, sent emails to my committee, fellow conference-organizer JP, the administrator of CRRS about a possible fellowship, and my department about a misplaced tax form… Suddenly, after a month and a half in limbo, I feel productive again!!

Hope the feeling lasts because I just received notice that my abstract was accepted for an international conference in Chicago next April. It will be my first big conference and I’m not even sure my paper is do-able… Hope so…