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…

Author: guerson

Born and raised in Brazil, a Canadian stole my heart and took me to Canada in 1999. After seven years between Montreal and Toronto, we then moved to Barcelona, Spain, where I did research for my PhD thesis. This blog began as a chronicle of our adventures while living in Barcelona and exploring the old world and has acquired a life of its own after we moved back to Canada.

25 thoughts on “Celebrating immigrants”

  1. Excellent point of view, by the way. This is exactly how I fell and I hope my daughter will be able to experience this when we move to Canada (hopefully soon…!!). Thanks for sharing it with us!

  2. Excelente perspectiva! Especialmente quando você fala que há pessoas que acham mais pontos em comum em meio àqueles nascidos do outro lado do mundo em comparação aos nascidos no mesmo país de origem. Eu certamente sempre fui uma delas e foi justamente o que me trouxe até aqui.
    Aliás, você tem um excelente texto. Opinião de jornalista que adora escrever e ler bons textos como os seus.
    bjs
    Paula

  3. Alexandra,

    “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.” Excellent! I agree with you 100%.

    It was very interesting to read about your experience as an immigrant/citizen of the world. I went through something similar in my ESL (English as a Second Language) classes where I met people from all over the world.

    I found it quite moving when you said that you didn’t deserve to be called an immigrant because you did hadn’t sacrificed enough.

    Once I became a resident I was also treated like a citizen except I was not allowed to vote. I have since become an U.S. citizen to be able to vote for the next president.

    Nevertheless, although I speak English well I have an accent, which immediatetly reveals my status an immigrant. It doesn’t bother me though. I never want to lose my accent because it is part of my history and of who I am. Do you speak English with an accent?

    In addition, I am mixed (I don’t look European). I cannot say that I have been discriminated against, but it is obvious that I am not from here. I stand out, especially if I am in a more homogeneous community, i.e. suburbs. In addition, when people hear I am from Brazil I can count on their projections, steriotypes, etc.

    I know you can only talk about your own experience, but I wonder what the experience of foreign born people of color living in Canada is like. I also find the idea of integrating multiculturalism at the core of Canadian national identity fantastic. However, I also know – forgive my pessism, that sometimes it takes some time for ideals to shape society. Anyhow, just wondering…

    In any case, thanks for sharing your experience. I always enjoy reading how traveling and immigration have changed peoples’ lives.

    Much love,

    Regina (an accidental immigrant too!)

  4. Andrea, Paula, Regina, e Thelma,

    Muito obrigada pelo carinho de vocês! I often feel a bit self-conscious when I write here about my positive experience. I don’t want to sound Pollyanish or that everything is perfect for everyone.

    Regina,
    You touched an important point. I don’t look particularly foreign and I don’t have an accent (since I learned English as a child). So it’s always hard for me to talk about discrimination. But accents don’t really matter as much in Canada because even Canadians of a traditional English or French background might have an accent. Their family might have been here since the 17th century but they might still speak English with a French accent (remember our Prime Minister Jean Chrétien?) or French with an English accent. It doesn’t really bother people.

    I do know many people who are visible minorities (black, Chinese, Latino) but have had a similarly successful story. I also know others who feel discriminated. Although I know there is real discrimination out there, I find there are also cases that are brought upon by the person’s own feelings or sensibilities. It’s almost as if some people expect to be marginalized and ready to interpret anything negative as a case of discrimination. For example, one of the things most immigrants have to do when they move here is retake a driving test to get their driving license. When I was at the French school in Montreal, one of my Korean friends went to do the test. He failed. He had driven for twenty years in his native Korea so he and other students in the class were quick to conclude he was being discriminated against and theories started emerging that “if you are an immigrant, they always fail you the first time” and bla bla bla. I disagreed. The test is very hard in Montreal, they are very picky about making sure you follow EVERY rule in the book and I can see a person who has driven for 20 years and has possibly acquired a few bad habits not passing. Alan’s daughter also didn’t pass even though she had taken a really good course and had been practicing driving for a year. In her case she obviously couldn’t say she was discriminated against, so her excuse was that the driving official scoring her was “a jerk”. My point is that racism and discrimination are really serious issues that need to be treated as such. It masks the real cases if we are too ready to brand anything racist. To me it’s like going to Paris, sitting in a very busy café and after being served by a rude waiter, coming back home and telling everybody that “the French are SO rude”. It’s misinterpretations and generalizations like these that lead to many of the ugly situations we saw in the movie Crash.

    That’s why I don’t like labels. As soon as you think of yourself primarily as an immigrant, a woman or a person that belongs to a certain minority group and not simply as a human being, you start setting internal limits. “Oh, I can’t apply for that job because I’m……… and they won’t choose me”. It’s self-defeating. I’m not saying at all that you can’t be proud of your heritage or who you are. Although I could easily pretend I’m Canadian and that I come from Quebec, I’m always open about my Brazilian background. I always mention it. As an undergraduate I had a Brazilian flag on my knapsack. My legal name here is Alexandra Guerson de Oliveira. I never had a problem. Even in Spain, a country awash with Brazilian prostitutes and illegal immigrants, people never treated me differently. I did have an accent in Spanish, although it wasn’t a Brazilian accent for some reason. So people were just confused and never knew quite where to place me ;)

    I think a big part of it is what you project. if you are open and accepting of other people, they’ll be open towards you. Unless they happen to be US custom officials, but that’s another story….

  5. “That’s why I don’t like labels. As soon as you think of yourself primarily as an immigrant, a woman or a person that belongs to a certain minority group and not simply as a human being, you start setting internal limits. “Oh, I can’t apply for that job because I’m……… and they won’t choose me”. It’s self-defeating”

    Concordo em gênero, número e grau. Sem generalizar, porque preconceito e entraves existem em qualquer lugar do mundo, muitas vezes as maiores barreiras na vida somos nós mesmos que criamos.

    Bjs

  6. Raquel,

    Gostei muito. O quarto nao era muito grande – geralmente nao sao na Europa – mas era super limpo e com um banheiro enorme. O cafe da manha era em sistema de bufet e era bem basico – pao, frios (presuntos, queijo), sucos de garrafa, yogurt, cereal… O cafe nao era muito bom comparado com o maravilho cafe que se encontra em qualquer boteco de Lisboa, entao eu tomava cha no hotel ;) Mas por 50 euros a noite estava de muito bom tamanho! O pessoal do hotel foi super profissional e educado e o hotel esta bem no centro. Recomendo.

  7. Alexandra,

    I don’t see immigrant, woman, latino, citizen of the world, etc as labels. These are all layers that are attached to my identity and to who I am. I think it would be naive on my part to ignore the “labels” because whether I ignore them or not many people will perceive me through those lenses and society will make sure to remind me. It is also political for me. Many times I choose to wear one of my labels, if you will, in order to articulate an specific issue or to express my solidarity to a group.

    I do agree that being open and accepting to other people goes a long way. I am usually like a social chameleon. I can get in and out of pretty much any environment, and I do so by being receptive, graceful and respectful. However, I think that people who interpret almost anything as being racist don’t arrive at their position out of nowhere. Most likely they have already experienced a long list of incidents which have made them more weary. I have not had many bad experiences, therefore I can afford to be more trustful.

    Nevertheless, I have had incidents happening to me completely out of the blue. I have had at least four incidents of people cursing at me for no reason. In one occasion, calling me a f**** immigrant and in another a f**** Mexican. These were not white people, by the way. Before anyone says that this is typical of the U.S., I believe this could happen with a different set of players anywhere in the world, even in Canada. Now, of course, I interpreted these incidents as a twisted and unacceptable behavior coming from people with serious problems. I never generalized and started thinking that everybody from that race/group thinks like that because it is precisely this kind of thinking that feeds racism and xenophobia.

    I also agree with you when you talk about the generalizations one can make based on a single experience in one country/city (Paris). I have also been to Paris several times and I find it ridiculous when people go off on how rude parisians can be. But I also think that we can make generalizations based on our good experiences.

    With all due respect and my admitted lack of knowledge about Canada, I do suspect that the fact that you can easily “pass” for Canadian born and the fact that you speak English without a Portuguese/Brazilian accent makes a difference in your experience. When we don’t stand out we can afford not to think about labels. Please, don’t take offense at this remark. It is not my intention. People can only talk about their own experience and you do so with great eloquence and sincerity.

    I’ll give another example. I have two close friends from Brazil. One of them is blond and blue-eyed and the other looks more like the Latina mix. They were standing in front of the house the one who is blond had just bought. A neighbor came by to introduce herself. She said to my friend, the blonde: Ah, you must be the new neighbor. She then turn to my other friend and said: Are you the nanny?
    I don’t think it was a coincidence at all. This interaction would never have happened the other way around.

    Because I speak English well, because I have traveled a lot and have had access to higher education I can easily move through different circles even though my looks are not European. But I attribute many of my “good experiences” to the privileges mentioned above rather than the tolerant San Francisco Bay Area.

    I am sorry for the loooong comment, but it has been great to discuss all of this.

    Beijos,

    Regina

  8. Alexandra,

    I forgot to tell you. I put a link to your post on my post about Immigration. By the way, dia do imigrante e’ na verdade uma data brasileira inventada por Janio Quadros (imagine that!). Eu descobri a data outro dia. Depois escrevo mais sobre isso.

    Beijocas,

    Regina

  9. Regina,

    I loved your comment! I was deeply aware of many of the “holes” I was living as I wrote the post and the comment. Particularly the part about labels and the fact that I feel very self-conscious talking about discrimination when I’m a white, educated, and look European.

    I will answer your comments more fully but right now I need to dash – Alan is pacing waiting for me ;) – I just wanted to post this quick note to let you know I’m not at all upset with anything you wrote and I’m dying to comment.

    Talk soon,

    Alexandra

  10. Hi girls :-) As a “Latino” immigrant woman and Canadian citizen, I don’t feel exactly that I was discriminated here…I did not learn French at the University…I did not have money for it, when I arrived here with my husband, and as he used to teach French, he let me know that it would be the worst alternative… to improve my French. I studied at home, and five months later I found a “job” in a store, where I was able to practice and even to learn French, one year later when I received my residence I had my admission for a Ph. D. accepted. I think that in Canada, it really depends on where you live…if in a big and multicultural city or not…Of course I have an accent in French, a double accent, because of my Portuguese and because of the “quebequer” accent that is not “standard” French…In Quebec City, you don’t feel discriminate, but at the same time immigrants are not actually integrated…And of course if you are black is completely different if you are from Spain, Italy, etc. Even if I am living here since 1999, “some” people say that I have an accent…however when I teach in English in Ottawa nobody let me know that I have an accent, because there everybody has an accent…

    Another element I would like to add is that immigration by marriage with a “local” is a completely different experience than to decide to immigrate with you family … or alone…Me and my husband we usually spoke Portuguese in Brazil, but when we moved we start speaking French. When I arrived here I didn’t have Brazilian friends (and actually I didn’t want it), but if you come if your Brazilian family this can be totally different. Anyway even as Brazilian, I always felt as gaucha, this just to say that identity and identification is something very complex…I never felt that it was necessary to be part on Brazilian associations, and Brazilian groups, indeed all “Brazilians” I met in Quebec City were very boring, my Brazilian friends live in Toronto…

    Have a nice weekend !

  11. Regina,

    I don’t see immigrant, woman, latino, citizen of the world, etc as labels. These are all layers that are attached to my identity and to who I am. I think it would be naive on my part to ignore the “labels” because whether I ignore them or not many people will perceive me through those lenses and society will make sure to remind me. It is also political for me. Many times I choose to wear one of my labels, if you will, in order to articulate an specific issue or to express my solidarity to a group.”

    I didn’t express myself well. Of course we all have different facets of our identity and will choose to highlight a specific one depending on the situation. I am a woman and I am an immigrant and depending on the situation I will assume primarily that identity – as, for instance, in a discussion about women’s rights, the pro choice movement and things like that, I will be participating on the discussion from a female point of view.

    What I meant about being against “labels” is the restrictive use some people make of it and the act of labeling done by others in order to place you in a self-contained box.

    people who interpret almost anything as being racist don’t arrive at their position out of nowhere. Most likely they have already experienced a long list of incidents which have made them more weary. I have not had many bad experiences, therefore I can afford to be more trustful.”

    I was thinking about that the other day. Of course we can’t expect that a person who has been discriminated against time and time again be open minded and trusting of others. But how many people have not had, personally, those experiences but have had the weariness passed on to them by their parents? I was thinking of that in terms of cross-cultural adoptions or multicultural families. Can a white couple who has had a life of privilege properly prepare their African child to deal with racism & discrimination? Would it actually help that the parents don’t have this baggage? Or would they actually handicap their children because they can’t really pass this on? You probably have thoughts on this…

    Of course I know that being able to easily pass as Canadian has shaped my experience here. And as Ana Lucia has mentioned, having immigrated as a spouse of a native citizen has also made my experience much easier. That’s why I have always said that I don’t see myself as the typical immigrant. When I came, I was able to easily slip into my husband’s large circle of friends. Eventually I made my own friends at university. If I had any doubts about a certain procedure, a cultural difference, all I had to do was ask my husband or my friends. That’s why when people ask me “how is it to immigrate to Canada?”, I often say “I’m not sure, my experience was a bit different from the average,” and I proceed to talk not only about my own experience but most importantly about the experiences of other immigrants I’ve met.

    My husband and I speak English at home. He doesn’t speak Portuguese. During my first 4 years in Canada, the only time I spoke Portuguese was when I called my family, which happened about once a week. In Toronto I met a Brazilian girl at my university and we have become good friends – she’s the only person I know here who speaks Portuguese. And we often speak a mix of Portuguese and English since conversations about academic stuff is always easier for us in English since that’s the language that governs our academic life. All of that made it a lot easier for me to integrate and an immigrant who’s willing to integrate is always better treated than someone who is not. I’m aware of that.

    But then I look around me and see women like Adrienne Clarkson and Michaëlle Jean, both of whom arrived in Canada as refugees belonging to visible minorities – Adrienne is Chinese from Hong Kong and Michaelle is Afro-Caribbean from Haiti – and were very successful journalists and communicators before they were chosen to be Governor General.I see visible minorities as anchors in the main tv news, in high positions in the corporate world, as professors in distinguished universities… So I don’t think my experience is so unique… Of course there’s still discrimination and that white people will have a better chance, but I do feel we are making progress… From a country that 40-50 years ago had quotas for the number of immigrants it allowed from Asia, Africa and Latin America, who limited the number of Jews who could attend high profile universities, and who infamously assumed the position of “none is too many” when asked how many Jews Canada was willing to receive from Nazi Germany, I think Canada has come a long way. But there’s still more ways to go…

  12. Alexandra,

    Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

    I agree with you about how labels can be restrictive. Furthermore, I also refuse to allow myself to be reduced to one aspect of my identity.

    Regarding international or interracial adoption. No, I don’t believe caucasian well-to-do parents can fully prepare children of color to deal with racism. I don’t think even I, even though I consider myself a person of color, can fully prepare my children to deal with racism in the U.S. simply because it has not been my life experience. However, I do believe parents can educate themselves and stay involved in their children’s lives to help them cope with discrimation should it occur.

    In my daughter’s class there is a little girl from Nepal who was adopted into a caucasian middle-class family. Her parents are very committed to staying in touch with her birth culture and are constantly educating themselves on how to deal with issues of race/ethnicity in their daughter’s life. I think that is the way to go.

    I think to adopt a child from a different race/culture/ethnicity and completely disregard their heritage is not fair with the child. I saw a documentary a while ago called The Daughter from Danang (http://www.daughterfromdanang.com/about/) about a caucasian/vietnamese little girl who was adopted by a family in the U.S. She was raised mainstream American in a predominantely caucasian environment. She longed to go to Vietnam to reconnect with her birth culture and her biological family. When she finally went to Vietnam and visited her relatives it was a total disaster. Without a clue about her heritage, not being able to speak the language and at the same not completely fitting in the U.S. mainstream this person was caught between two worlds. Of course, her adoptive family never meant any harm. However, caucasian parents cannot adopt children of color and pretend they are caucasian.

    I agree with you that some parents may pass their mistrust and their hurt onto their children. I don’t find it healthy. Some of it has to do with their personal baggage, but some of it is simply reality. My kids are for the most part very open and trusting. We often talk about classism, homophobia, racism, etc. I usually wait until the questions come from them. We talk about the intersection between race and class when we visit the studio space their father rents in a rundown neighborhood where most people are African-american. They obviously see the difference between the neighborhood where we live(middle-class and predominantely white) and that neighborhood.

    I often struggle with the issue of how to best prepare my children to deal with discrimination. My daughter had her first encounter in pre-school. I have to say I was completely shocked when it happened. I had never experienced something like that, especially at such young age.

    So far, I deal with issues as they come. I do not want my children to grow up already expecting to be discriminated against and mistrustful of white people. At the same time, I always use their questions as the example above as an opportunity to educate them about racism and the legagy of slavery in this country (and in Brazil as well).

    I guess, there is not a right answer. We create the answers along the way. I think the most important thing about parenting is to remain open and attentive, regardless if you belong to the same race/ethnicity/culture of your child or not.

    PS: Ana Lucia and you mentioned a very important point about immigration. It is indeed very different if we move to another country with a spouse or not. I did not come here with a husband, but I had a boyfriend and his family was very supportive in the begining. I was also very young, adventurous and did not have a family of my own. In addition, I already had a B.A. and learned the language very quickly.

    Beijos,

    Regina

  13. Alexandra
    Clap, clap, clap!
    As always your point of view is very “Canadian”, very politicaly correct. I don’t think you’re being pollyanish(sp?), but you just have a positive attitude towards life :)
    This is my first of many visits from now on..
    Happy Canada Day!

  14. Hey,

    This is such an interesting discussion! I’m glad I got to read it! I’ve been brewing over Alex’s post since it came up on Goggle Reader, and only now realized I was missing out on all the fun discussion!

    Regina has touched on many of my points of concern. As a Brazilian on a visa that “could pass as Canadian” on looks and accents and etc, but not on paper, I didn’t feel Alex’s account reflected much of my experience in Canada (even though we have so much in common: lived in same places in Brazil, immigrated to Montreal the same year, are both now doing a PhD at the University of Toronto, etc).

    Of course the discussion was about being an immigrant, and the difficulties that may or may not attach to that label. But there are also those who, for whatever reason, are deemed unqualified for that label (i.e., your humble writer). And this happens not only because of lack of qualifications, work ethics, adaptability, etc: sometimes you may have all of this, but still lack some of the little labels that seem insignificant, but that do make a difference (the “job label”, the “sponsor label”, the “education label”, the “application fee” label). Sometimes all that is lacking is being in the right place at the right time. But sometimes it’s a bit more than that.

    Last year I think it was the National Post that had a series of articles on illegal workers in Toronto. There was one story that really stayed with me, about a construction worker from Honduras who had been here for like, 20 years, and would never qualify for landed immigrant status because he didn’t have a university degree. Yet, if he had been allowed landed immigrant status and worked legally, not only would his own salary increase (and all the security that comes from working legally), but he would generate for Revenue Canada something like $200/month in taxes. Not to mention the fact that Canada desperately needs construction workers (something that the surplus unemployed PhD´s are not able or willing to do). So he loses, Canada loses, and all because he didn’t have all the right labels.

    So, I don’t know. I’m not a pessimist, I don’t think, nor am I so terribly bitter as I sound. But it’s like describing how the lottery works by looking only at the winning numbers: though they’re certainly part of what makes the game what it is (“wow, they get all this money, that’s so great!”), that’s not representative of the whole thing (“how about all those who don’t win?”).

    I’m not at all criticizing Alex´s writing or perspective (on the contrary, I love how articulate you are, and your posts are always so enjoyable and/or thought provoking!). I’m just giving the losing number a voice here… :oD And I’m looking forward to that pão de queijo com goiabada amanhã!

  15. Regina,

    I have a deep admiration by the way you raise your children. I’m constantly telling you that in your blog. They are special children but I think a big part of that is due to the work you and your husband do.

    I read a lot about interracial adoptions and follow blogs of people who have chosen that path into parenthood. I think you are right when you say “caucasian parents cannot adopt children of color and pretend they are caucasian”. Parents need to keep themselves constantly informed and, if possible, even trained, as to how best to deal with situations of discrimination when they encounter it. Dealing with situations as they appear might be the best approach. There’s no point in getting children worried about things that haven’t happened…

    I think there should be classes on tolerance and conflict resolution in schools. Have you seen the movie Freedom Writers, with Hillary Swank? The movie is based on the true story of a teacher from a well-to-do background who teaches tolerance to at-risk children and manage to bridge the ethnic divides btw her hispanic, african-american, & white students. Of course the movie is romanticized but some of the tools she uses in class to teach very important lessons can certainly be brought to other classrooms. Really amazing.

    bjos
    Alexandra

  16. hey everbody, meet my friend Ester – she’s the one Brazilian friend (other than blogging friends I’ve been making recently) I have around here! ;)

    Ester,
    That’s exactly why I’m against the way the system works. In the Middle Ages, anybody who lived and worked in a city for a year uninterruptedly would automatically become citizen of that city, with all the liberties that enticed. So, if he was a runaway serf, he would be declared free. Maybe we should have something like that. If someone was able to find a job and was able to live honestly in a country for a certain amount of time, he should be entitled to permanent resident status. If you get involved in crime, you are out. No question. I think any country would only gain from that.

  17. I give one example – in Spain, people were always complaining about illegal immigrants from Africa coming on boats. There would be hundreds of them coming in boats every day. Many would die during the crossing. But I came out of watching this with a few interesting remarks:
    – I found the Spanish government’s answer interesting: instead of just setting up barricades to keep these people from coming, the government proposed Spain – and the rest of Europe – should invest heavily into helping these countries to develop and create the conditions that would allow these people to stay in their countries. It would be the best longterm approach to deal with the issue
    – despite the fact that people complained so much about the African immigrants, what I saw on the streets of Barcelona was very different. All the African immigrants I saw were selling products at make-shift stalls along the streets. That is, they were trying to make a living pursuing an honest occupation. The people pickpocketing in the streets of Barcelona were European migrants from Eastern European countries that are now part of the EU and were there legally…

    I wanted to make some other points but Alan is pacing up and down again as we have to leave to meet someone… talk more later…

  18. Hola!

    this discussion is indeed very interesting. I’d like to comment on this: “In the Middle Ages, anybody who lived and worked in a city for a year uninterruptedly would automatically become citizen of that city, with all the liberties that enticed.”

    The term citizenship is very problematic when used in context with europe’s medieval society. I suppose the legal status you’re mentioning is the citizenship of a “free” or “immediate” medieval city. There were quite a lot of them in the Holy German Reich or Italy (Florence, Siena, Genua, Venice …). These cities were “free” in the sense of being only subordinated to the central power instead of being subjects to a local count or lord. The modest liberties and rights to participate in the municipal self-government of the inhabitatnts of medieval european cities depended upon citizenship or “Bürgerrecht” (german). This entitled to participate in what could be characterized as urban parliament, owning land and buildings, wearing weapons, learning a trade or attending special ceremonies like coronations. In Frankfurt, where I live, as well as in Hamburg, Nürnberg, Basel or the medieval italian cities citizenship was hereditary. Besides being born into it people could become citizens of a free town by marrying a citizen or applying for citizenship. In almost every medieval european city jews had a special legal status and were excluded from regular citizenship. Furthermore gaining citizenship was a question of wealth.

    All this does not mean, only citizens could live and work in medieval cities. There were significant minorities sin “Bürgerrecht”, who lived there without enjoying the typical “urban liberties”.

    Of course there was development and social change in the centuries we got used to call “middle ages”, but it was slow and medieval thinking wasn’t aware of dynamic processes. Which doesn’t imply the absence of mobility and migration in medieval europe, but has to be kept in mind when comparing past and presence.

    “Nations” formed or were “invented” rather late in european history. Nineteenth century historians applied national thinking on medieval history longing to define “national identitiy”, justify social structures and systems, claiming territories or constructing traditions. Their ways of defining who is “native” and who is “foreign” unfortunately remain standard.

    In medieval europe most people would have considered a person from 100 kilometers away a “foreigner”. On the other hand the (clerical) intelligence had a common language (latin) all over europe and christianity was a strong common bond.

    Anyway, I do consider migration being a serious political issue too and I appreciate your open-mindedness about it. I agree with you that you can’t stop it. But today’s ideals of tolerance and multiculture were unknown in the middle ages. Medieval society, mentality and thinking was in the first way completely different from today’s and not “better”, “more tolerant” or “open”. Compared to modern times it was extremly limited in a lot of ways. In the (questionable) common interpretation of european history the discovery of the “New World” is often used to mark the end of the middle ages. And this is meant to be the beginning of globalization.

    Alright, what inspired my posting was the thesis of european medieval urban societies being permissive and “open”. I still doubt that.

    Nevertheless, your blog is great and of course you certainly are an expert for the middle ages. Therefore you’ll know that periodisation of history implies creating and using “labels”, too.

    Best

    Frank from Frankfurt, Germany

  19. Hi Frank,

    Thanks for the comment! I think you misunderstood me. I didn’t mean to imply that medieval society was more open or tolerant. Tolerance was not a concept that existed in the Middle Ages and it would be anachronistic to apply it to that period. When I talked about citizenship, I meant only what you rightfully described – the absence of the notion of nationalism as it was conceived in the 19th century and the stiffening of borders in the late 20th-early 21st centuries. I could have alluded also to the more open notions about immigration applied to North and South America during the massive migrations from Europe in the late nineteenth century.

    Btw, there were quite a few free cities in Medieval Spain as well…

    Alexandra

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