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…

Improving immigration

This article was on today’s Toronto Star, I’m off to buy blinds for the new place today but I’ll comment later.

Small step to immigration sanity TheStar.com – comment – Small step to immigration sanity

June 01, 2007


Minister of Immigration and Citizenship Mike Colle’s announcement of a pilot nominee program is part of a positive shift in Canada’s immigration policy.

Ontario, together with Yukon and nine other provinces, will begin to address three persistent problems that have undermined the success of Canada’s immigration policy: long delays in processing applications; the disconnect between the qualifications of immigrants and their success in the labour market; and the concentration of immigrant settlement in major urban centres like the GTA that combine high living costs with often limited employment opportunities.

With an aging population and a low birth rate, increases in the labour force increasingly depend upon Canada’s ability to attract highly qualified immigrants. In competition with Australia, the United States and European Union countries, Canada’s global immigration strategy uses a point system to recruit highly educated, skilled and experienced immigrants who can readily find employment and contribute to economic growth.

However, numerous studies point to the same troubling conclusion: Canada is losing its status as a destination of choice as delays in the processing of applications and growing awareness of difficulties finding employment related to their education, skills and work experience deter highly qualified immigrants.

Currently, applicants for admission to Canada as independent class or economic immigrants – 60 per cent of all immigrants – face an 18- to 30-month processing time. The waiting list is more than 800,000. Once admitted, based on existing trends, slightly more than 50 per cent of the projected 141,000-158,000 economic-class immigrants in 2007 will settle in Ontario, the overwhelming majority in the GTA.

After a brief period of adjustment, many economic immigrants find employment and fulfill their expectations, but despite high levels of education, skill and work experience, the majority face a high risk of unemployment, underemployment and poverty.

The cost of processing delays and unsuccessful settlement is high, both for the immigrant and their dependants and the Ontario economy due to the underutilization of their skills and expertise at a time of emerging labour shortages.

Ontario’s new provincial nomination program will enable employers in the health, education, manufacturing and construction sectors to recruit employees for jobs in 20 occupations, matching job vacancies with the qualifications of prospective immigrants. Citizenship and Immigration Canada will fast-track the admission of nominated immigrants and their families and the program will allocate 50 per cent of nominations to communities outside of the GTA to encourage more balanced immigrant settlement throughout the province and contribute to regional economic development.

Nomination programs have proved very successful in other provinces. In 2005, more than 4,600 economic immigrants and their families (57 per cent of total provincial immigration) settled in Manitoba, 24 per cent outside of Winnipeg. In three years, admissions under Manitoba’s nominee program have increased by 49 per cent. The program addresses labour shortages but, more importantly, it mobilizes community resources to enable economic immigrants to begin working upon arrival.

Hopefully, Ontario’s modest pilot project of 500 nominees will be the beginning of the elimination of the problems which have undermined immigration policy and immigrant success. Initially, nominees will likely be selected from the resident pool of temporary work-permit holders and recently graduated international students, but the pilot project will provide an incentive for employers to adopt global employee recruitment practices and enable prospective immigrants to search for employment and accelerate their admission to Canada.

But the nominee program does not address the plight of the thousands of undocumented workers in Ontario who would readily qualify for the program if not for their illegal status. Ottawa must deal with the contradiction of sanctioning the international recruitment of workers to fill labour shortages when qualified but undocumented workers are now resident and employed in Ontario.


Arthur Ross is a professor in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at Ryerson University, where he teaches a course in immigration policy.
 

Changes caused by immigration

As mentioned in the post below, I’ve recently been asked to participate in a study of Brazilian immigrants in Ontario. It remined me of a very interesting study that I heard of at LAS at U of T on the political participation and civic engagement of Latin American immigrants in Canada. Conducted by Daniel Schugurensky, Gisela Vanzaghi, and Jorge Gimeniewicz, the study focused on Latin American immigrants from Spanish America and didn’t include Brazilians. I thought the questions asked where really good and I would like to answer them here. First I’ll give the questions in the original Spanish and I’ll then translate them to English:

Qué cambios en valores y actitudes ha experimentado desde que vive en Canadá? A qué atribuye estos cambios? i.e. cree usted que a partir de vivir en Canadá tiene una actitud diferente con respecto a personas de otras razas o de otros países, o grupos que en su país de origen son discriminados? Ha cambiado su actitud sobre el medio ambiente, o sobre las leyes y las normas cívicas? Siente esos cambios y valores cuando viaja a su país de origen, o cuando se encuentra con nuevos inmigrantes?

What kind of change in attitude and values have you experiences since you arrived in Canada? To what do you attribute these changes? i.e. Do you think that since you came to Canada you have developed a different attitude towards people of other races and nationalities, or groups that are discriminated against in your country of origin? Have you canged you attitude towards the environment, laws and civic norms? Do you feel these changes and new values when you travel to your country of origin or when you meet new immigrants?

I have definitely changed a great deal since I first came to Canada, particularly in terms of political engagement and civic responsibilities. It’s hard to say exactly what caused these changes. It’s not that I disrespected the law or discriminated against minorities before, but now I’m much more sensitive about these things.

Gap between rich & poor – I now notice, when I’m in Brazil, if a building has a separate entrance and elevator for servants. I probably wouldn’t have paid attention to it before but now it leaves a bit of a bitter taste in my mouth.

Attitude against people who are different – Meeting so many people from different countries destroyed my prejudices one by one and allowed me to see that underneath all the varnish of culture, language, and religion, we are all basically the same.

The environment – In Brazil, I used to vacilate between taking the environment for granted and thinking it was a thing for radical greenpeace activists. I now worry about it and try to incorporate environment-friendly measures into my own life. Granted, this might not have been caused by a change of country but rather by a change in international concerns, but the average person doesn’t seem that worried about it in Brazil. Talking to my family about efforts in Toronto and Barcelona to reduce the number of plastic bags that end up in landfills by reducing the number of bags we take at grocery stores, the attitude I got was of suspicion of the motives behind these efforts. The general idea was that store owners were trying to cheat them out of free plastic bags, as if plastic bags were some sort of God-given right.

Government and the public good – I take more time thinking about to whom I want to give my vote. I am more conscious that the money spent on infrastructure, schools, health, and public safety come from my pocket and therefore I expect it to be well spent. I’ve always believed in political participation, that one needs to vote to be able to complain about politicians and the way the country is being run. But now I think that voting cannot be mandatory. That politicians have to be convincing enough to lure people out of their homes to vote for them.

The list goes on and it includes everything from the inability to mix rice and potatoes to a newfound fear of excess salt and sugar. I don’t always know how to deal with these changes when I visit my family. I don’t want to sound like those people who think they know it all just because they live abroad. So I’m constantly torn between not saying anything about things I object to, and saying something and being considered radical, annoying, or worse.

What about you? Has your experience abroad  changed you in a way that makes you uncomfortable when you go home?

Brasileiros em Ontario

This post will be in Portuguese since it’s directed at Brazilians living in Ontario…

Estudos sobre a comunidade brasileira no Canadá são muito raros e geralmente os brasileiros são estudados como parte de um grupo mais genérico de imigrantes latino-americanos. Pesquisadores da University of Western Ontario querem retificar essa situação e estão buscando informações sobre brasileiros residentes na província de Ontário. O projeto chama Brasil Mostra a Tua Cara e é coordenado pelo Centro de Informação Comunitária Brasil Angola .

Se você é brasileiro(a) e gostaria de participar do estudo, você pode obter mais informações no blog do Gean. Para responder o questionário anônimo click no link direto:

http://centrobrasilangola.org/brasilmostratuacara/chamada.asp

Eu já respondi o questionário! Não sei se há muitos brasileiros ontarianos passando por aqui, mas fica o recado…

Borderless

She’s Brazilian, married to a very talented Afro-German jazz musician, and lives in California where she is raising two very multi-cultural children. Regina Camargo writes poetry and this one describes my feelings very well:

Borderless


I was born with a wondering heart

Thousands of miles away

In a city that never sleeps

Where you cannot see the horizon

But you can buy flowers at three in the morning

Millions of people coming and going

I can easily remember names of airports

Even though they always feel the same

I like watching the long list of destinations go by

Home is just a state of being

I belong to many places

My roots spreading all over

I strive for a world borderless

I have learned to mistrust flags

While stretching my heart

June 2006

Sem fronteiras

Eu nasci com um coração errante

A milhares de milhas daqui

Numa cidade que nunca dorme

Onde é impossível de ver o horizonte

Mas há como comprar flores às três da madrugada

Milhões de pessoas indo e vindo

Nomes de aeroportos

Eu me lembro com facilidade

Ainda que eles sempre pareçam o mesmo

Gosto de ver a lista das destinações a se desdobrar

Home é estado de espírito

Eu pertenço a muitos lugares

Minhas raízes se espalham

Luto por um mundo sem fronteiras

Aprendi a desconfiar de bandeiras

Enquanto meu coração se alarga

—————-

A while ago she wrote this poem, that left me with tears on my eyes…

Institute for Canadian Citizenship

Created by the former Governor General of Canada, Adrienne Clarkson and her husband John Ralston Saul, the Institute for Canadian Citizenship is dedicated to ” assist new Canadians to bridge the gap from immigrant to fully-engaged citizen”.

I’ve recently came across a video o a ceremony of citizenship organized by this institute. The man presenting the ceremony is John Ralston Saul and I recognized in the audience in one scene John Fraser, Master of Massey College, my college at U of T.

A bit of background on the Institute:

Universally acknowledged as revitalizing the office of Governor General, Adrienne Clarkson and John Ralston Saul visited almost 400 Canadian communities during her six-year mandate.  Through community roundtables and discussions with citizen and immigrant groups they gained an unprecedented understanding of Canadians’ views on public policy and social trends. 

As they visited communities in every region of Canada, Madame Clarkson and Mr. Saul saw a myriad of local innovative and cutting-edge community programmes welcoming new immigrants and helping them make the transition to citizenship.  Volunteers in communities around Canada are solidifying and renewing the country as they find ways to help newcomers become citizens.

Over the six years of her mandate, Madame Clarkson and Mr. Saul were increasingly invited to give leadership addresses to receptive and questioning audiences in places where people are struggling with this issue – such as Germany, Holland, Russia, Finland, Australia, New Zealand and at European Union meetings.  Because of their recognized commitment to and knowledge of this area, in the short period since leaving office they have been regularly solicited for their views on this important subject.

Madame Clarkson and Mr. Saul articulate a concept of compassionate citizenship, providing compelling insights into our shared history and engaging Canadians in a spirited dialogue about the common good.  Much of this is grounded in the reality of Madame Clarkson’s own experience as a refugee and immigrant to Canada at the age of three.

As they prepared to leave Rideau Hall, they decided to found the Institute for Canadian Citizenship.  This new national, not-for-profit organization will initiate projects to foster discussion and understanding of the values associated with Canadian citizenship and help to bridge the gap between newly-arrived immigrant and fully engaged citizen.

Since the 1960s the government of Canada has honoured Governors General as they leave office by ensuring that they may continue to contribute to Canadian society in relation to the themes pursued while in office.  Therefore, the Government of Canada has made a financial contribution to enable the establishment of the Institute for Canadian Citizenship, with Madame Clarkson and Mr. Saul as Co-chairs.

Taken from the ICC website, which lists its Canadian context, objectives and activities.

Brazil not such a haven for immigrants

It was on the news: Brazilian students at the University of Brasilia set fire to the student residence where African students lived. The criminals emptied fire extinguishers, piled bricks against the exit doors, waited until the foreign students were asleep and poured gasoline on their doors. Luckily, a student from Guine-Bissau was able to extinguish the fire before it consumed the building and no one died.

I often hear from Brazilians abroad that it’s not fair that they are discriminated against in places like the US and Europe when they are so nice to the foreigners going to Brazil. Sure. If you are a white, blond foreigner, maybe… If you are African or Latin American it seems Brazilians can be just as xenophobic as anybody else…

For those who read Portuguese, check Denise’s very thorough post on the situation of immigrants in Brazil.

Muslims in Canada

In light of world events in the past five years, the Trudeau Foundation is organizing a conference on Muslims in Western Societies. In order to prepare for the conference, the Foundation ordered a poll on how Canadians feel about immigrants in general and Muslims in particular.

A majority (53%) disagrees that there is too much immigration.

Canadians almost unanimously (93%) oppose the idea that non-whites should be prevented from immigrating to Canada.

75% agree that Muslim immigrants make a positive contribution to Canada.

Almost 70% do not think that ordinary law-abiding Muslim Canadians should feel responsible for crimes committed by others in the name of their religion.

For the poll results, click here.

Immigration blogs: future academic sources?

One of the reasons I’ve had immigration themes on my mind lately is the profusion of blogs I’ve been reading lately written by Brazilian immigrants (mostly to Canada but a couple to Spain, France or the US).

The blogs written by Brazilians going to Canada are the most fascinating from an academic point of view. The fact that Canada is a country open to immigration doesn’t mean that the process is as easy as hopping on a plane. The main avenue of entry into Canada is as a skilled immigrant and to qualify as such, the prospective immigrant needs to have a minimum amount of schooling (usually university level), work experience, a certain proficiency in English or French, and enough money to support him for the first few months in the new country. For Brazilians the whole process can take around 16 months. So it’s not easy. It requires a lot of investment in time, planning, energy, resources, etc. All of this planning and organization reflects on the blogs written by those imbued by a Canadian dream.

Most of them start writing their blogs the moment they make the final choice, after much soul-searching, to initiate the process. They are usually couples in their thirties or young families looking for a better quality of life. Most have good jobs and good careers in Brazil but are sick of living a life of fear, locked behind tall fences and electric wires. So career and jobs are not the main motivators, but rather the search for a place where they can be assured of safety, respect and a more organized life.

There are usually three phases in this process of immigration.

1. The prospective immigrants (usually a husband and wife) file the application at the Canadian consulate. While they wait – they know it will take some months before they hear back – they research continuously about life in Canada and what to expect. They join support networks of other Brazilians who have gone to Canada, they read Canadian news and listen to CBC Radio. They also start saving as much money as possible and brushing up on their language skills. They try to pick a city. Most have never been to Canada and choosing between Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, etc without ever setting foot in the country can be quite daunting.

2. Visa arrives, move to Canada. The most fun parts to read are the last posts in Brazil and the first few in Canada. The going away parties with family and friends, the difficulty in trying to fit one’s whole life in two 32 kg suitcases, the excitement and the tears. The flight to Toronto – for some, the first international flight – the arrival, going through immigration, the dreamed-off “Welcome to Canada” greeting by the immigration official when he stamps one’s visa.

3. Settling. The first few months. Getting all the pertinent documents, finding a place to live, opening accounts, registering at special programs offered by the government to integrate immigrants into the workforce. From the blogs I’ve read it seems that people in more technical professions such as ITs, engineers, system analysts, programmers seem to find work within the first 2-3 months in their area. That seems to be particularly the case in Toronto. Others from professions in the humanities and social sciences take a bit longer and often need to work for a few months in a co-op (non-remunerated work) to get Canadian experience in their area of work.

It’s fun to follow their first impressions and their positive attitude. Most give updates every few months evaluating their progress and their decision to immigrate. I notice very few disappointments. I think this is mostly because of the extensive research they do before immigrating and their general open-mindness about the whole process. It makes me wish I knew about blogs way back when I immigrated to Canada so I could have documented my process…
Some of my favourites are:

A Era do Gelo

 Cravo e Canela

 Mikix

 Familia Saltense no Canada

 A Marcha dos Pinguins

 CanaDaBoa

 Meu Cantinho

 Destino: Canada

 Brancas Nuvens

 Maple Brasil

….and many others…

60th Anniversary of Canadian Citizenship

Canada has commemorated recently the 60th anniversary of the first Canadian citizenship ceremony. Up until 1947 Canadians were considered British subjects, but after the Second World War many felt Canada had confirmed its place as a sovereign nation. To mark the special occasion, new citizens were flown in from every part of the country to have their citizenship ceremony celebrated in Ottawa in the presence of Michaëlle Jean, the Governor General and an immigrant herself.

You can read more about it here and watch news coverage of the event