My year in Spain was definitely the best year of my life. Yet, towards the end, I really looked forward to coming back to Canada. One of the things that made me uncomfortable in Europe was the negative rhetoric around the issues of immigration and multiculturalism. As a historian specialized in European history and a special interest on cross-cultural contact I understand well the history behind European attitudes towards the other but that doesn’t mean I accept or support them. My feelings about the issues were shaped by my own experiences as an immigrant to Canada and my life here. I’ve been meaning to write a more detailed post about it for quite a while but it looks like Haroon Siddiqui, a columnist from the Toronto Star, beat me to it and said most of what I’d have said so why not replicate it here?
Yesterday I had a good chat with a friend of mine who specializes in Canadian history with an emphasis on immigration history. I spoke of my misgivings about the changes done to immigration law and policies under the current conservative government.
Although I don’t often discuss partisan politics in this blog, I haven’t made a secret that I support open immigration policies and I believe society can only benefit from being open to immigration. And that is precisely one of the reasons I want to see an end to the Harper regime.
For years, the Canadian government worked to design an immigration system based on clear policies that reflected Canadian values and was non-discriminatory and objective. Power was removed from the immigration ministers and passed onto a bureaucracy so as to prevent immigration from becoming a tool in partisan politics and processes to proceed smoothly irrespective of who is in power or changes in government. A set of criteria was established defining the kind of skills Canada wanted from its immigrants and as long as the person fit that criteria, he or she was in.
Under the pretext of making the system speedier or cheaper, the conservative government has been granting more and more power to the minister of immigration who can decide on a case-by-case basis who gets in and who doesn’t. Prospective immigrants can no longer be sure if they will get a visa even if they qualify because under the new rules, if your file is not processed within a year, your case is simply denied and sent back. And now the government is proposing to limit the list of professions that qualify to 38 occupations.
In short, we are going back to pre-1967 policies. To a time when the government could speed up applications or select exclusively immigrants from a particular country or ethnic background because it felt they would “adapt better”. Policies that were racist, discriminatory, and subjective.
Instead of writing a separate commentary about my recent post on immigration and citizenship, I rewrote the original post. Check the revised content.
We watched The Visitor tonight. The story of an Economics professor, stuck in an emotional limbo who gets involved in the lives of two illegal immigrants in NY is captivating, powerful in its simplicity, and leave you feeling like you should run and join an immigrants’ rights NGO or something. It’s not surprising it won many awards and scored 92% at the tomatometer. In Toronto, you can still catch it at the Carlton. Don’t miss it.
Yesterday Canada celebrated its 141st birthday and Canada Day festivities popped all over the city. I didn’t go to any of the main events; rather, we went to our friend HD to visit Fort York and did a bit of cycling afterward. But on the way home, I couldn’t help stopping at Queen’s Park to check out the festivities there. I really enjoy Canada Day. As far as nationalistic holidays go, it’s a very nice one. People are generally in a good mood and it’s nice to spend it in a place like Toronto where we see all the immigrant families and their kids with their flags out, enjoying the day. There are usually big festivals set out everywhere, live music, face-painting, food (nearly free in many places – at Queen’s Park, one could get 10-cents hotdogs)… It certainly beats the military parades with which I grew up. Nothing against military parades, which can be kind of cool, but when that’s all there is to celebrate a national holiday, it’s pretty sad.
Per nosaltres, la nació és una cosa viva, plena de sentit i de cara el futur, i la raça és una cosa morta, pobra de contingut i plasmada sobre el passat.[…] Per nosaltres els forasters que vénen a Catalunya – que sempre acollim amb els braços oberts – i pateixen amb els nostres dols i gaudeixem amb les nostres alegries, i que ens donen fills, que les nostres dones no en pareixem prou, són tan catalans, en la nostra interpretació futurista de la nació, com nosaltres mateixos. No fem absolutament cap diferència.
Rafael Campalans, 1923, founder of the Unió Socialista de Catalunya
We believe that the nation is alive, full of feeling and looking towards the future, and race is dead, a thing poor in substance and stuck in the past. For us, the foreigners that come to Catalunya – and who have always been received with open arms – and share with us our pains and our joys, and who give us children, are as Catalan, in our futuristic (progressive) interpretation of the nation, as we are ourselves. It makes absolutely not difference.
I found this quotation, from 1923, in an article dedicated to the issue of immigration in Catalunya today. Salvador Cardús i Ros argues that immigration had always played a crucial role in the development of Catalunya. This phenomena can be traced as far back as we have reliable demographic information (i.e. the 17th century) as the region has always had a low birth rate. Yet, currently, the issue of immigration is seen in a negative light as a threat to national identity. Cardús i Ros proposes that this situation should be reversed by turning immigration into a place for the collective memory of Catalunya, considering it as a part of the nation. Very interesting.
In the midst of preparing papers for conferences, sitting in various committees, doing Iter work, and attempting to write my thesis, I completely forgot to mark this blog’s second birthday. Its aim was rather simple, as the very first post indicates:
On 22 March 2006 hubby and I will be moving all our belongings into storage and making our way first to Montreal, then to Paris and finally to Barcelona where we will be living for a year. This blog is meant to document our trip(s) and allow us to keep in touch with friends and family in Canada, US, Brazil, and around the world. I’m looking forward to sharing all our photos, reviews of restaurants and bars, and remarks of the many places we’ll visit.
Slowly it grew as I started reading other blogs and became encouraged by them to talk about more than just the places I visited. The more politically-engaged blogs, such as Sindrome de Estocolmo or, to some extent, 42 and Bumblebee & Sweet Potato, led me to talk a bit more about issues that matter to me such as immigration, cross-cultural relations, health care and the environment. The numerous blogs written by people living in adopted countries, such as that of a Catalan in Austria or the US, Americans in Germany, Spain, or even Brazil, the numerous Brazilians in Canada, US, Spain, France, has made me fascinated by the experiences of people across cultures. It is hard to articulate exactly what it is about the process of moving to a new country that fascinates me. Perhaps the mix of wonder, surprise and recognition as people start building bridges between their culture and the culture they have chosen to inhabit. The recognition that the other is not so foreign after all.
Of course, the blogs I read are particularly open-minded and positive, not surprisingly reflecting the tone of my own ramblings here, and thus not necessarily representative of most immigrant or expat experience. But this blog may be many things but it doesn’t claim or wishes to be anything too structured, serious, academic, or scientific. It is basically the space where I can leave the depths of my academic life and be light, often airy, and simply engage in conversation with the many wonderful people I have met here. It is also a space where I can share my passion for people, photography and food. That people I have never met have found it worth reading and some have even found it worthy of awards, is a never-ending source of surprise and delight. Thank you all so much for reading, sharing your thoughts, and allowing me into your lives.
There are many other blogs I read that I haven’t cited, I hope you don’t mind. I’ll be updating the list of links on the side bar shortly to reflect more accurately what is on my bloglines rss-reader.