by Dr. Gina Valle in Toronto
Children of immigrants learn to live in two worlds. As a first-generation Canadian, I learned to maintain and modify my Italian culture in order to make it valid and workable in Canadian society. There is some consolation in knowing that many children of immigrants share this feeling and practice.
As a woman raised in an immigrant home, I travel daily between the rural, southern Italian culture I acquired inside my home and the urban, mainstream Canadian culture I live outside. Each day, I build bridges of understanding, as I create a new culture. This new culture straddles the ‘old’ world in which I was raised and the ‘new’ world of contemporary Canadian society. There is no doubt that the contrast between these diverse realities has allowed me to live a more full life.
My parents were post-war immigrants to Canada from Calabria. My father, Domenico Valle, arrived at Pier 21, in Halifax, in 1957. My mother, Giuseppa Ziccarelli, came in 1960. My parents had been neighbours in their hometown of Lago, Cosenza. My father was the eldest of his family, and shortly after his father died, he went to France, Germany and eventually Canada in search of steady work.
While in Toronto, my father held down three jobs and lived with his cousins, Luca and Sofia Perri, until he decided it was time to get married. He wrote his neighbour in Lago, Antonio Ziccarelli, and asked for his eldest daughter’s hand. A few months later, in the spring of 1960, my mother boarded a ship in Napoli, bound for Canada. (A wedding picture at left)
Two years after her arrival, I was born. Three years later, my brother Antonio Nicola was born. In the early years, my father made donuts, washed cars, and sold vacuum cleaners. My mother made clothes for dolls and took care of boarders, to help support her family. As my parents worked around the clock, my grandmother, Luigina Valle, cared for us in our home. Nonna had come to Canada, to live with her eldest son, shortly before my baptism.
Although my father’s love of building new homes was where his real interest lay, he went on to start a business as an insurance broker, with my uncle Domenico Groe. They worked hard at this business, until they finally retired and closed their doors in 2002.
Richness of two worlds
I attended public schools, and in keeping with my parents’ strong work ethic, I began working as an 11-year old by delivering newspapers, babysitting and stocking shelves at the local drugstore. From time to time, I would adopt a ‘Hollywood’ version of life, but otherwise, I instinctively knew that everything in life would require hard work.
Language and culture shape me as they weave their way through my life as a daughter, mother, wife, granddaughter, friend, and professional. Creating a new culture, one that straddles the old world that my parents understand, and the new world of contemporary society, has always been a very complex process for me. As a child of immigrants, I often tried to reconcile the irreconcilable — home and school — my private and public worlds. Many children of immigrants feel that they have to choose between family and school, and this inevitably became a choice between belonging to an ethnocultural community, or succeeding as an individual. This reality caused part of the alienation I have known as a first-generation Canadian. Having said that, however, it also has allowed me to experience the richness of living in two worlds.
Over time, as I learned to accommodate Canadian culture, I quietly abandoned my Italian culture. I believe that this is the reality of many first-generation Canadians, as we struggle to merge two cultures. Immigrants in a new homeland often know only one way of viewing the world. Children of immigrants always know two. Very subtle negotiations became part of my daily decision-making, as both cultures competed for my allegiance. As a teen, I told half-truths and half-lies to get by, like when I wanted to attend the school dance, go to a sleepover, date a boy, wear make-up or travel outside of Toronto. (Picture — family Christmas circa 1970)
The tensions between two cultural systems remain inside me to this day.
It is this conflict that fuelled my professional work, as I continue to search for ways in which bicultural, multilingual children in our classrooms can accept and wholeheartedly believe in their contribution to education and ultimately our society. Ever since I was a child, I made every attempt to be recognized as an impeccable member of Canadian society, which inevitably consisted of closing off my private life when I closed the door behind me and went to school. I became resourceful, as I adjusted my behaviour to respond to the expectations of Canadian culture.
I had to become creative to cope with realities like why there was no summer camp, but rather my holidays consisted of hanging out with Nonna on the front porch. When classmates departed for the cottage, my excursions were limited to the park down the street. I attended university in Toronto rather than moving out and living in residence. Often, I try to make sense of the choices my parents have made, and the lives they have led — dislocated from the old world, alienated in the new. In the end, however, living in two cultures has made me a more flexible, open-minded and resourceful person.
As a woman raised in a traditional culture, I was only expected to wed and embrace motherhood. The added accomplishment of higher education and a profession were niceties. I was often caught between my first culture’s expectations and my own needs and aspirations as a woman. I have had to work twice as hard as the men in my culture, only to receive half the recognition.
In the same year I was accepted to do my doctoral work, I also became a wife. Guess which garnered more celebration? As such, I have lived in a sea of crushing pressure to conform and limit my expectations to that of wife and mother. In other words, I was expected to accommodate marriage and motherhood. Although deeply connected to my culture in many ways, I quietly chose to rebel against the same culture that can devalue our contribution as women. I opted to walk away from the ‘script’ that others had written for me. It seemed, at times, that few of my accomplishments in life were worthy of discussion around the kitchen table.
According to my southern Italian culture, success as a ‘real’ woman is measured by how well I tend to the hearth, and not in academic terms. In the home, I clear away the table and make coffee for my uncles. Outside of the home, I challenge people’s biases and teach immigrant women about their rights. At times, the dissonance between the competing images of womanhood is difficult to shoulder. There is no doubt that many young girls from traditional cultures are attempting to resolve the same dilemma. They need to face their dragons one by one, and with time their courage will surface. Having grown up feeling that few choices were available to me, outside of a traditional female lifestyle, my hope in my professional work is to create a space for young women to consider they have more choices.
Persevering with French
In 1994, I married David Chemla (see picture below) and moved to Montreal where my husband articled and then worked as a lawyer at Stikeman Elliott. We lived there for several years. Prior to moving to Quebec, I had made few attempts to understand the complexities of that province. I quietly settled into my life in Montreal, and went about my business, naturally assuming that Montreal was like everywhere else in North America. I decided that my ‘practical’ commitment to the Canadian debate about Quebec would be to speak French as often as my energy and goodwill would permit. I persevered to gain proficiency in the French language. Over the years, my studies in France, work projects in Quebec, and French-speaking friends and family members all brought me closer to the language.
I arrived in Montreal shortly after the Meech Lake Accord and just before the 1995 Referendum. As a newcomer to the province, how could I possibly grasp the complexity of the cultural and linguistic debates simmering in the province? Gradually, my social identity began to shift. I was now categorized as an Allophone and not an Anglophone, even though I communicate most efficiently in English. For the first time ever, my native origin was questioned by strangers. “I hear a tinge of an accent,” they would say, trying to determine where I was from.
I worked, shopped, entertained, assessed arguments and sent e-mails in French and English. I read, socialized, attended meetings, negotiated car repairs, accessed services, took courses and returned phone messages in French and English. Everything about my life in Montreal was becoming increasingly bilingual. In essence, what is most unique about the city is its inherent bilingual nature.
Our first son, Gabriel was born on a blistery cold January day. It seemed that it would take forever before I would love being a mother. But as routine set in and our son smiled and made us laugh, I fell in love with him and with my new role. My husband David’s work commitments, as legal counsel for a multinational engineering firm, took him to far off places. This meant that I was often alone with a newborn. Loneliness set in and I longed for the days of family gatherings around the kitchen table.
I asked David if he could request a transfer to Toronto. He said he would make the request, but he was concerned that our children would not be raised in a French-speaking environment. As a Francophone Canadian, whose family was from France and Tunisia, this was very important. I gave him my word. If we moved to Ontario, I would speak to Gabriel, and then also Alexandre, only in French. I continue this to the present day. Add to that the fact that they attended French schools – their books, television and family chit-chat was in French – and somehow in a sea of English dominance, David and I were able to raise two bilingual Francophone children.
Voice for the community
At some point, their French surpassed mine and it was time to focus on Italian. Gabriel and Alexandre always spoke Italian with my parents. They also attended summer camps, sing-along classes, read comics and watched soccer games in Italian. They developed a strong sense of being Italian, which meant spending time with family, helping the grandparents in the garden or in the kitchen and connecting with their cousins in Italy.
After the defence of my doctoral thesis, which was at the same time that I was carrying our second child Alexandre, my precious Nonna fell ill and it was time to complete the circle of care that she had started when she arrived in time for my baptism in 1963. With two children in diapers, my Nonna bedridden due to a stroke, my husband travelling more than ever since his portfolio had expanded in Ontario, and looking for a decent home in an exaggerated market, my professional goals needed to be put on hold.
They were for a while, until we settled into a routine, in our own home. With the kids in school, given that my doctoral work had focused on Teacher Education and Multicultural Studies, I turned my efforts to working in the field of diversity. I launched Diversity Matters Inc. and went on to publish several books, curate a photo exhibit that has travelled to Scandinavia, Asia and the Middle East, produce and direct a multi-faith documentary, develop curriculum resources and deliver workshops.
Life seemed manageable, and as decent as it should be, given the storyline we are fed in our noisy world, until the sudden illness of my father. At the age of 74, he was diagnosed with stage four cancer. Dad was the eldest in his family, the caregiver, nurturer, relentless worker who loved his home-made salami, trips to Florida, bocce games, lunch at the Mandarin, and above all else, his family. He died within a matter of weeks, and everything I knew to be true and real, shattered. I grieved longingly for the person who had been such an inspiration in my life, and an exceptional role model for my sons. He left us too soon. (See picture of Domenico and Giuseppa Valle with their grandchildren, in 2004.)
So, instead of having quiet dinners at home or buying a new rug that matches the living room furniture, I participate in a host of Italian Canadian initiatives, from documenting the stories of Italian immigrant women for the Multicultural History Society of Ontario, to providing feedback on the Italian Canadians as Enemy Aliens national project, or being a board member of AMICI Museum, the Association of Italian Canadian Writers, Italian Heritage Month and most recently Villa Charities. I am a voice for our community as OMNI Television restructures its programming for ethnocultural communities.
I help with homework, prepare dinner, carpool to soccer practice and go to a meeting in our Italian Canadian community (or to Lifeline Syria, Multifaith Toronto, or the Canadian Race Relations Foundation). I do this for my parents, and I do this for my children. I do this for Domenico and Giuseppa Valle, as it is my small way of honouring my parents’ love and commitment to us and to this country. And I do this for my sons Gabriel and Alexandre, as it is my way of teaching them about the past, and giving them a strong sense of belonging to a place we all call home.
Gina Valle, Ph.D., is a diversity trainer, speaker, author and the founder of Diversity Matters, where she challenges Canadians to think outside the black box when it comes to pluralism within our borders and beyond. This first-person account first appeared in Transformations Canada
Commentary by Binoy Kampmark in Melbourne, Australia
While the shattering Brexit vote of June had a deservedly chilling impact in Brussels and other European capitals, the grey suits have been busy pushing various lines on the consequences Britain faces for leaving the European Union. The technocrats in Europe will be making sure they make things as difficult as possible.
Back in London, rhetoric and deflection is in heavy supply. Canada may offer a model, especially in the area of immigration.
Various multinational companies find the notion of uncertainty certain economic death. Japanese and U.S. firms, for instance, have sought clarity on what passporting arrangements will exist in a post-Brexit order. So far, they have gotten little other than poorly minted assurances.
The defect of those assurances lies in the inability on the part of officials in London to know exactly what the EU will do. The EU, in turn, is also wondering what that position will manifest. To make war, it is always wise to know the strategy of your opponent.
As the Economist reports, the view in Europe on Britain’s logistical quandary has become “the sexiest file in town”. It is daring, it is challenging, and it seems to some, near hopeless. The hopeless element is not incurred because of pessimism; it merely seems that all sides are having each other on, mixing the bag of seduction with that of indecency.
Everyone is accusing the other of feeding uncertainty. EU officials have been accused of creating it for not clarifying the position of British expats in Europe; Donald Tusk of the European Council has said in kind that the British decision to leave the EU was the cause of all the headaches, in turn causing EU expats in Britain troubling concern.
“Would you not agree,” he claimed supremely in a note released on Twitter, “that the only source of anxiety and uncertainty is rather the decision on Brexit?” When officials need a worthy scapegoat, the unruly outcome of the democratic will always be there.
Theresa May’s government has been telling the British public that there will be no “soft” or “hard” Brexit, but a “red, white, and blue Brexit.” That particularly statement, made during a visit to attend the Gulf Co-operation Council, was a weak retort to the mooted idea that a “grey Brexit” was circulating as an idea.
The idea of a more ambiguous greying Brexit has its roots in the offices of the chancellor, Philip Hammond, and Brexit secretary, David Davis. (The May cabinet these days is an uncertain one.) In what started looking like projections from a set of colour crayons, variants of Brexit were being thrown around from the lightest form (“white Brexit”) which would supposedly not defeat the referendum’s aim while keeping Britain in the EU market system, to that of the darkest (“black Brexit”), which would terrify those providing financial services.
The greyer variant would entail an analogous arrangement with that of Canada: limits on immigration favouring skilled migrants would take place alongside access to various parts of the free zone.
May’s response to the crayon version of Brexit was to steer the cause back to the bromides of false patriotism, and perhaps false hope. “I’m interested in all these terms that have been identified – hard Brexit, soft Brexit, black Brexit, white Brexit, grey Brexit – and actually what we should be looking for is a red, white, and blue Brexit.”
Such flag-driven terms are meaningless, vacuous, even silly. The consistency of what May’s version of Brexit is vague, and again suggests a different message for a different audience. There is no need to define the strategy, merely the outcome. “That is the right deal for the United Kingdom, what is going to be the right relationship for the UK with the European Union once we’ve left.”
On that score, the Labour opposition did, at the very least, secure a promise from May that her government publish the Brexit plan before the formalities of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty are triggered. That plan is bound to spawn a new industry, creating specialists on how to evacuate from a tightly bound, financial and social compact.
The plan, for the moment, remains shrouded. As Italy’s Europe minister, Sandro Gozi, explained, the case in London seemed “far from clear”. As was the starting basis for negotiations. “It seems there are disagreements and divisions within the cabinet. There are many uncertainties.”
May’s message to Michel Barnier, charged with the task of Brexit from the EU side, will be a different one from that directed to British audiences. There are few choices on the table, with Barnier insisting that “time will be very short” for the negotiation period. “It’s clear that the period of actual negotiations will be shorter than two years. All in all, there will be less than 18 months to negotiate.”
Barnier’s promises have verged on threatening, though they have been delivered with tepid calm. For one, he is busying himself identifying a common position with all of the 27 remaining members in the EU towards Britain. This should be completed by the end of January.
The unmistakable emphasis here is that of inferiority: the British decision to leave, Barnier promises, will be saddled with consequences, placing the country in a position worse than it would be if it remains. “Being in the EU comes with rights and benefits. The single market and its four freedoms are indivisible. Cherry picking is not an option.”
Barnier might have also reflected on the other side of the European problem: the populist challenge to grey, bureaucratic technocracy; the need for institutional reform that does more than utter financial messages and praise the God Market or Civil Servant King. The May government may well be struggling with its strategy on exit, but the mandarins on the continent should be equally troubled by a strategy that is failing to curb a far deeper, inner rage.
Dr. Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Commentary by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
Though I have family’s roots in B.C. going back a century, I stumble when cataloging the “unique” values underlying Canadian culture.
The default list reads like a dating ad: Canadians are compassionate, polite, enjoy nature. These, however, are hardly unique to Canada and when stirred together in our post-national pot, the parts fail to congeal into a distinct culture, complete with unwritten rules on family and community interactions.
The sad reality is that Canadians are increasingly a world unto themselves. According to the 2011 census, for the first time ever there were more households of people living alone than there were of couples with children.
If there is a social fabric in this country, it is a giant sheet of bubble-wrap stretching from sea to sea, as both young and old increasingly live, consume and exist in their own disconnected worlds.
Kellie Leitch, a Conservative MP from Ontario, however, disagrees with these cold statistics and trends of social fragmentation. For the former labour minister and minister for the status of women, there is one Canada with one set of distinct values.
The aspiring candidate jockeying for Stephen Harper’s vacated office as Conservative leaderwants to test all immigrants for “anti-Canadian views that include intolerance toward other religions, cultures and sexual orientations, violent and/or misogynist behaviour and/or a lack of acceptance of our Canadian tradition of personal and economic freedoms.”
The statement reads so smoothly it is difficult to discern any sinister edges, such as whether one can wear a burkini at a beach or paddle a canoe in a turban. The ambiguity, however, is reaping rewards for Ms. Leitch.
The dark-horse MP has surged ahead of the Conservative Party leadership pack and into the eye of the news-cycle. The media attention has already started pulling the leadership contest to the right – Tony Clement is now also calling for “enhanced screening” as part of his national security platform.
Ms. Leitch’s policy position, however, is flawed on many counts, starting with redundancy. New immigrants are already subject to numerous checks through an arduous process that can take years. In addition to this, the immigration process intensely screens for any links to criminal or terror groups.
Once an application has been approved, immigrants swear a citizenship oath to uphold Canadian laws – again duplicating Ms. Leitch’s statement.
A robust values-screening test would require exhaustive probes, interviews, possibly polygraph tests and yet, these measures may still fall short in detecting thought crime. Of course, a practical shortcut would be to racially profile applicants but that would be distinctly un-Canadian by Ms. Leitch’s standards.
Based on an orthodox interpretation of Ms. Leitch’s statement, few of Canada’s 300,000 annual immigrants who currently are admitted as entrepreneurs, investors, tech workers, caregivers, grandparents and so forth would make it into the country. Any followers of a faith that does not endorse same-sex marriages, for example, could be labelled as an “intolerant,” including not only Muslims, but also Jews and Christians.
Suddenly the Mexican farm worker or the Filipina nanny are potential pariahs because of their Catholic faith. The Indian or Pakistani IT engineer may not be welcome given the practice of female infanticide in those countries.
This absurdity cuts to the heart of the flaw with Ms. Leitch’s proposal. Placed under a microscope, every culture across the globe will reveal underlying streaks of intolerance.
Ms. Leitch has conflated cultural values with Canada’s secular ideals. Her formula for Canadian values is a mission statement for the modern secular state – it is not a living, breathing, organic culture.
But the Conservative MP’s intent was never a sincere effort to strengthen our sense of national unity as much as it was to divide it. Her statement was an act of feigning concern for national security to wink at Mr. Harper’s power base of “old stock” Canadians. This is Part II of the Conservative Party’s “barbaric cultural practices” tip line.
Across the West, candidates with far greater ambition than scruples are skillfully wielding tools invoking fear to carve out voting blocks. Ms. Lietch is not the first Canadian politician to cloak discriminatory aims under the guise of a benevolent policy.
But when Ms. Leitch’s subterfuge is rejected for a serious candidate, she may be the first to learn the one true Canadian value is that we can all be one and yet be different – without having to be different in the same way.
Jagdeesh Mann is executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post. This comment has been republished under arrangement with the Post.
Canada's Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, John McCallum is touting Canada as the go to place for Asians, especially Filipinos and Chinese nationals, saying the country needs them.
On a recent tour of China and the Philippines, the minister said that before he can 'substantially increase' Canada's immigration levels beyond record levels, he will have to take his plan to cabinet and convince Canadians it's the right thing to do.
Pointing to an aging population and looming labour shortages, McCallum made the pitch in Manila during a speech to the Canadian Chamber of Commerce in the Philippines, the CBC and Manila media reported.
The Trudeau government is already seeking to admit between 280,000 and 305,000 new permanent residents in 2016 — a record increase from the 260,000 to 285,000 newcomers the previous Conservative government had planned to welcome by the end of 2015.
In Manila, McCallum promised to cut the processing time of the applications of sponsored spouses, partners, and children, given that it is "way too long" at present.
The usual two years will be shortened to reunite families more swiftly, with the target to be announced in the fall.
For Express Entry, which covers experienced professionals, skilled workers, and international students, McCallum placed the processing target at six months. Such "economic immigrants" are given points based on having a job offer, a good education, language skills, and others.
Although this was not a bad system, it could be improved, he said.
One of the improvements involves removing the labor market impact assessment for many of the applicants. Usually, economic immigrants have to prove that no Canadian can do the job that they have been offered. Removing this requirement will make it easier for them to go to Canada.
Another improvement is giving more points to international students since they are "very valuable contributors" to the country and would make "very good Canadians" in the future, McCallum said. Certain other restrictions will also be removed for such applicants. Doing so will bump up the proportion of students going to Canada under Express Entry compared to other applicants.
He added that he was talking to Canadian officials in the Philippines to approach students and encourage them to study in Canadian universities, instead. Thus, they will have a better chance to work and stay in Canada if they wish.
"Our general desire is to increase the number of immigrants," McCallum said. He added that they wanted to attract "the best and the brightest" from around the globe, making Canada "a better place".
According to McCallum, Canada welcomed more than 50,000 new permanent residents from the Philippines last year – more than any other country. He added that there are over 700,000 Filipinos living in Canada, and that their contribution to society is appreciated.
"It doesn't matter how newcomers first arrive in Canada – as refugees, as family members, or as economic immigrants – we know from decades of experience that they, their children, and their grandchildren, will inevitably make positive contributions to our country," McCallum said.
"Experience shows us that immigrants' contributions to Canada result in jobs, innovation and growth – newcomers tend to be highly motivated to be part of a larger society, to be accepted, and to achieve economic success. With an aging demographic and challenges retaining young people, immigration is becoming critical in certain communities and provinces," he added.
This year, Canada targets to welcome 300,000 immigrants, the largest projection by the government recently.
"This reflects our deep belief that immigration is critical to our country's future," McCallum said. "It also reflects our determination to open Canada's doors to those who want to contribute to our country, and to those in need of our compassion and protection, and to welcome everyone with a smile."
According to a transcript of his remarks obtained by CBC News, Canada seeks to double visa offices in China to attract more high-skilled workers.
Earlier, McCallum was in Beijing, where he sought to open more offices where Chinese can apply for visas, in the hope of attracting more high-skilled workers.
He is also reviewing what is known as a labour market impact assessment (LMIA) — a document all employers need to hire foreign nationals over Canadian workers — and could do away with it in some instances.
Businesses have said it is the biggest flaw with express entry, a requirement the previous government borrowed from the temporary foreign worker program.
"Now, we have to convince Canadians of this. But I think it's a good idea."
The Liberal government also tasked a parliamentary committee with a review of the controversial foreign worker program, but Parliament adjourned before the report was tabled. It will now be made public in the fall.
McCallum, who worked as a chief economist at one of Canada's Big Five banks and a professor of economics before he entered politics, also acknowledged he has his work cut out for him.
"Not every Canadian will agree. But I think with our mindset of welcoming newcomers in the beginning, with the facts of the labour shortages, aging population, we have a good case to make, and I think we will be able to convince a higher proportion of Canadians that this is the right way for Canada to go."
Published under arrangement with the Asian Pacific Post
by Elvira Truglia in Montreal
The stories in the Best of All Worlds represent seven of the most commonly spoken immigrant languages in Canada’s largest cities.
“When children see their heritage languages in books, they instinctively understand that their languages are valued and their cultures are important in Canada,” says Gina Valle about a collection of multilingual children’s stories which she brought together in The Best of All Worlds.
Published in 2015, the illustrated book features seven stories in their original languages — Arabic, Farsi, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish — as well as in English and French translations.
The stories were selected from the winning and finalist submissions from the Multilingual Kid Lit Award competition organized by Toronto bookstore Rainbow Caterpillar. Valle initiated the project to mark 15 years since the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) established International Mother Tongue Day “to promote diversity and international understanding through multilingualism and multiculturalism.”
Multilingual stories, multicultural perspectives
Questions are to children what texting is to smartphone touting teenagers – second nature. The Best of All Worlds provides many opportunities to tap into children’s inquisitive nature as it exposes them to culturally-specific symbolism, such as the Japanese kappa, and various writing systems including the Latin alphabet, Arabic script and Chinese characters.
New myths grounded in Canadian history, such as the ‘Tulip Fairy’ who helps keep the Tulip Festival alive in Ottawa, and original stories about what it means to be human and Canadian in today’s world, can spur a flurry of questions as young children read along with a parent, grandparent or teacher in their language of choice or ability.
And if the stories don’t pique a child’s interest, the vivid illustrations will stand in, each with a unique style.
Kings, giants, fairies and fables
The Best of All Worlds has something for all tastes. From fables to fairy tales of kings, giants and other fantastical characters, each story has elements that make children’s books fun to read for children and adults alike.
My 11-year-old daughter Sabina’s favourite story was “The Happy King,” originally written in Portuguese, because it was “weird, in a good way.” Cursed with being sad by a wizard who wasn’t invited to the royal party, love is what broke the curse and made the King happy again, explains Sabina.
But her interpretation of the “message of the story” was an afterthought. What kept Sabina’s attention was the quirky King who reminded her of the curses, wizards and witches she read in tales as a younger child.
“The Happy King” and other stories are filled with familiar tropes and original twists. The internal struggles and choices of the characters mirror lifelong and universal quests.
Sabina is an avid reader in English and French and is starting to read in Italian and Spanish – her first languages. When reading The Best of All Worlds on her own, she zig-zagged between all four languages and eventually stuck to one of Canada’s official languages.
Reading a book in multiple languages is tricky. Like many children growing up in Canada, she needs some priming to continue speaking and reading her heritage languages.
Keep talking your mother tongue
Krista Byers-Heinlein, an associate professor of psychology at Concordia University, specializes in language acquisition and early bilingualism. She spoke to Panoram Italia Magazine about the three-generation rule: “In the first generation, the language is strong – it’s how people communicate. In the second generation, there is a solid understanding of the language, but the writing or reading is weak. By the third generation, the language is at risk."
When it comes to language, you either use it or lose it. Passively watching TV won’t do the trick, but reading together and having conversations about what you’re reading is a great way to interact in your mother tongue.
Schools are an important audience for The Best of All Worlds and a great context for validating first languages. According to Valle, some 20 library systems across the country have ordered the book and a curriculum guide for Ontario teachers is currently in the works.
Making multilingualism a new norm
Valle says the book reflects who we are as Canadians.
“We can speak many languages and live with many cultures and be at ease with each,” she says. “We can speak Mandarin at home, French at school, English on the soccer field and feel that no matter what we speak or where we come from, we can be full citizens in this country.”
The Best of All Worlds was put together over 18 months with a team of writers, illustrators and translators who originate from some two dozen countries.
“There are bilingual books but there are no multilingual children’s books in Canada,” says Valle.
For that, The Best of All Worlds, is an important and new contribution to Canada’s literary scene.
Elvira Truglia is a Montreal-based journalist who writes about the intersections of culture, politics and social issues. She has recently written for New Canadian Media, The Huffington Post, and the social justice radio program, Making Contact. She is also an emerging photographer whose documentary photos have recently been published in New Canadian Media’s online library. Elvira has worked in the non-profit sector for more than 20 years, focusing on communications, education and human rights.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
THE Government of Canada is asking Canadians about what they think immigration means for Canada, and how we can continue to grow our nation through immigration. Starting Tuesday (July 5), until August 5, Canadians can get involved by providing an on-line written submission. Other consultation activities include cross-Canada round-table discussions led by John McCallum, Minister of Immigration, Refugees […]
by Beatrice Paez in Toronto
July 1, 2016 marks 93 years since the Chinese Immigration Act came into force, which marked the culmination of a decades-long initiative to limit Chinese immigration to Canada.
The Chinese head tax already existed to discourage immigration. By 1903, migrants were required to pay a $500 head tax, equivalent to two years’ worth of wages, to gain entry into Canada.
In the second half of the 19th century, many young Chinese men were sent to Canada with the hopes of earning enough money to support families back home and, eventually, to send for them. Though the head tax stemmed the flow of immigration, almost 100,000 still arrived from 1885 to 1923.
“The 19th century was highly mobile, perhaps as mobile as now. Chinese migrants would work overseas and regularly go back to visit,” says Henry Yu, a history professor at the University of British Columbia.
In order to stop the influx, the government passed the Chinese Immigration Act, which limited entrance to only merchants, scholars, diplomats and Canadian-born Chinese returning after educational pursuits abroad.
It would take 24 years for the Act to be lifted, a period during which only 15 Chinese immigrants were allowed into Canada.
Initial Chinese immigration to Canada
Famine and economic deprivation propelled many in China to leave in search of opportunity, or head to Gold Mountain, as British Columbia’s gold rush came to be known, says John Atkin, co-chair of the Chinese Canadian Historical Society in B.C.
They eked out a meagre living — relative to their white counterparts — working on the railroad, in fishing, forestry, among other industries.
Still, the prospect of steady employment far outweighed concerns about racial discrimination and hostile attitudes toward them. Villages cobbled their resources together to cover the head tax so that one of their own could emigrate, says Atkin.
“A lot of these workers would try to bring their families over,” says Jan Ransk, a researcher at Pier 21.
Growing hostility and the Chinese Immigration Act
With the head tax deemed an ineffective deterrent, Canadians demanded that the federal government end Chinese immigration. The “nativist response” originated in B.C., the front lines of immigration, where many felt their economic livelihood was under threat as they sought employment in the same trades as immigrants, says Ransk.
Their perceptions were largely coloured by “notions of immigrant desirability,” with Asians being deemed inferior, he adds.
“It’s from a period of time that, from our perspective, is so hard to comprehend how normal it was just to discriminate automatically against a whole class of people,” says Atkin.
The Chinese Immigration Act was enforced on July 1, 1923, coinciding with Dominion Day, which commemorated the formation of Canada as a Dominion in 1867. But for Chinese-Canadians, what was marked with parades and fireworks was a stinging reminder of their second-class status, and they called it Humiliation Day.
They abstained from participating or holding celebrations that day, until the act’s repeal in 1947.
Effects on the Chinese-Canadian community
Yu’s maternal grandfather settled in Vancouver in 1923, just before the implementation of the Act.
It was only in 1965 that Yu’s family could be reunited in Vancouver, but even then his mother, as an adult, needed to apply for special consideration.
This sort of exclusion perpetuated what had become a “bachelor society” in the Chinese-Canadian community. Census data from 1911 reveals that there were 2,800 Chinese men for every 100 Chinese women, as reported in Arlene Chen’s book “The Chinese in Toronto from 1878.”
“Exclusion had a devastating effect because for those already here, those generations after generations were cut off,” says Yu. “If you weren’t married already before 1923 and you had no family, it was harder both to create one and to bring family members over.”
The community was also forced to wrestle with the prospect they would be deported. “The immediate effect was that the folks that were here didn’t want to leave — they might not be allowed back in,” says Atkin.
What emerged in response were Chinese schools to educate children on their heritage and to prepare them for life in China should they be forced to return.
The repeal of the Immigration Act and the necessity of remembering
Apart from the efforts of community leaders, what ultimately paved the way for the lifting of the Exclusion Act were Chinese immigrants’ wartime contributions. They were one of the largest purchasers of war bonds during the Second World War, notes Atkin. Despite not qualifying as citizens, about 600 Chinese enlisted in the war.
“[Their military service] brought their efforts to the fore,” says Ransk. “The fact that they’re seeing women donate time, selling baked goods, made [Canadians] realize that pre-war notions of exclusion and thinking this community was unpatriotic, was complete nonsense.”
On June 22, 2006, the Harper government issued a formal apology to Chinese-Canadians who had paid the head tax; their survivors or spouses were given $20,000 in compensation.
For Yu, the apology was bittersweet and long overdue. “By 2006, it didn’t do those who actually paid the head tax any good,” he says. “Most of those people had long passed away.”
Suk Yin Ng, a librarian at the Toronto Public Library, immigrated from Hong Kong as a student in the 1970s. She is now leading an effort within the library to collect and establish a physical Chinese-Canadian archive, from 1878 up to today.
Ng will be collecting a range of ephemera, from diaries and old photographs to head tax certificates and grocery bills.
“It’s difficult for them to part with their [family documents],” says Ng. “But they realize that this is the right thing to do before they disappear. I think they’re happy to find a good home, to let people know the contributions of their grandparents.”
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
by George Abraham in Ottawa
I must confess that I came to Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (To Everyone) and Kamal Al-Solaylee’s thesis as a skeptic. Growing up in India, everybody around me was brown – some lighter-skinned than others – but brown-ness has been a lifelong given.
Moving to Canada, I developed an appreciation for the tension between “white” and “black,” and then a little later, consciousness about indigenous people. Recently, #Blacklivesmatter and #Nativelivesmatter became popular Twitter hashtags, emblematic of a struggle for equality and justice.
The author of this book adds another group to the list of the aggrieved, perhaps calling for a #Brownlivesmatter movement.
Picking up Brown I asked myself, why does Al-Solaylee have to harp on yet another colour distinction?
He seemed to be calling for a new consciousness, “a challenge to white and black hegemony.” What baloney, I told myself. I sensed yet another author adept at milking victimhood for all it’s worth.
That would have been the essence of my take but for happenstance.
I read the main sections of Brown during a visit to India, which at the time was roiled by a rather bizarre series of attacks on African nationals staying there for university studies or business. While the political class appeared to be in denial, the national media were unsparing, labelling the attacks “pigment-based discrimination” and brazen racism.
I was shocked to read an African diplomat in New Delhi quoted as saying, “I realized after a while that the taunts of ‘monkey, monkey’ were aimed at me . . .” He was recounting how a group of youth would make primate-like sounds while he was jogging at a public park.
Not just black and white
The exhaustive reporting and commentary in India around these widespread attacks told me that we “brownies” were also capable of racism.
Secondly, it opened my eyes to the possibility suggested by Al-Solaylee: “[W]e are not as privileged as whites but not as criminalized as blacks.” There might be an in-between.
There is no denying that if whites form the top-tier of the world economy, browns and blacks occupy the bottom rungs. However, there is not enough in this book by the widely-published Ryerson University journalism professor to clearly distinguish between the fates of those born brown or black, although he goes to extraordinary lengths to support his basic point that skin colour is destiny.
Brown, he says, serves as a metaphor for a distinct political experience that might include the following: a hyphenated immigrant identity (unlike the Irish and Italian, for example); suspicion at border crossings (perceived as “shifty”); a feeling of disenfranchisement and belonging to a new “global servant” class.
As an immigrant himself, Al-Solaylee pays particular attention to the internationally mobile brown folks who wish to leave the developing world, thereby “browning” the population of countries such as the U.S. and Canada.
The Yemen-born author is at his best when he hews close to the journalism for which he is most known. He cites data to show income disparities based on skin colour in societies such as Brazil (where browns or blacks earn 42.2 per cent less than whites), Sri Lanka and Trinidad.
This book also took him to the Philippines, Hong Kong, Qatar, the U.K. and the U.S. – all in an effort to demonstrate how being born brown inevitably means a life of modern slavery, dim economic prospects, and an endless effort to appear fairer through whitening creams and lotions.
There is, though, no effort to explain brown-on-brown discrimination in countries such as Qatar, where the Asian labour class and local Qataris share a common skin tone. Similarly, the notes from Britain most certainly discount the possibility of a Muslim brownie of Pakistani heritage being elected mayor of London.
The author applies the same woe-is-me-because-I’m-brown outlook to Canada. Jumping off some of the overheated rhetoric from the Conservative campaign during the October 2015 federal election, the author infers that “an anti-brown feeling has been gaining momentum, even in liberal Canada.” This, when he himself concedes that immigration to both Canada and the U.S. is predominantly brown.
Al-Solaylee’s observations and conclusions throughout his travels can be rather facile and foregone, and lack the rigour one expects from a stellar journalist. This one stuck out in particular: “Two black friends have suggested to me that the relatively light skin tones of Syrian refugees explain why Canadians have opened their wallets and homes so generously.”
I’m not sure if the author proves what he set out to demonstrate – that being brown predicts your life trajectory more than any other circumstance.
My own career has taken me to some of the very same countries that Al-Solaylee visited. I know first-hand that skin colour can be defining and shorthand for a “pigmentocracy,” in which white and fair is viewed as competent, while everybody else falls short.
I’d say Brown is a good read for those who are convinced they will never catch a break because the deck is forever stacked against them.
For everybody else, it is yet another thesis in search of a convincing argument.
George Abraham is the founder and publisher of New Canadian Media.
by Howard Ramos in Halifax, Nova Scotia
In a country where over one in five people are immigrants and far more are children and relatives of immigrants, questions of who gets into Canada and how decisions are made on immigration matters are of central concern. For instance, does the immigration system profile people from particular countries or specific ethnic or racial backgrounds? How is family sponsorship evaluated? And why do some people get visas to visit while others don’t?
Questions like these are tackled head-on by McMaster sociologist Vic Satzewich in his prize winning book Points of Entry: How Canada’s Immigration Officers Decide Who Gets In. He offers a comprehensive overview of Canada’s immigration system by looking at the overall social and political context driving immigration, the organizational structure of the Immigration department, and most interestingly, how immigration officers on the ground make decisions on individual applications and prospective immigrants. [We have excerpted a section of the Introduction to give readers a flavour of the kind of dilemmas visa officers face.]
Biases in the system
The professor visited 11 visa office abroad between 2010 and 2012 across all regions and also met with officials in Ottawa several times. In his visits he tagged along with visa officers to see how they do their jobs, reviewing field operating notes and discussing with them about how they make their decisions.
He was particularly interested in examining the discretion that immigration officers have in their decisions, and their role as, what he calls, street-level bureaucrats. Their discretion and ability to make on the ground decisions have led some to question whether there are biases and hidden agendas in Canada’s immigration system.
Satzewich found no direct evidence of discrimination in approval and refusal rates across visa offices around the world, nor did he observe it through the practices of immigration officers. In fact, he found little variation in rates across regions and source countries, with officers very aware of the need for consistent application of policies. He drilled down into specific visa categories by looking at decisions made around spousal and partner sponsorship, decisions on those applying under the skilled worker program, as well as those seeking visitor visas.
His analysis of the family pathway offers important insights on the Canadian government’s concern with marriage fraud. His analysis is vivid and colouful, with descriptions of what goes into case processing and an explanation of how immigration officers identify anomalies they want to investigate and then ultimately the interviews they conduct with prospective immigrants and their sponsors.
His analysis of skilled workers offers a similar level of insight.
During his field research, Canada’s immigration system was in a period of rapid and constant change. Former immigration minister Jason Kenney tweaked how the system worked on a regular basis, ultimately leading to fundamental changes to the immigration system. Satzewich tracked those changes and how it affected the system and on the ground decisions by immigration officers.
One significant change documented is the increased importance of visitor visas over permanent residency with the introduction of a super visa for parents and grandparents, the rise of temporary foreign worker applications, and a move towards attracting more international students.
Another important change was the previous government’s move to rationalize the processing of immigrants and speed up the processing time.
Rather than finding overt bias and discrimination in the immigration system, what Satzewich found was an increased pressure on immigration officers stemming from a move towards immigration processing targets, faster deadlines, increased use of impersonal evaluation criteria, the auditing of their decisions and a move away from interviews and discretionary autonomy.
Despite all the changes, Satzewich did not find a nostalgic longing for “old times” among the immigration officers he spoke with. In part, this is because of generational turnover, with fewer and fewer officers having worked in the immigration system when their on-the-ground decisions carried more weight in the evaluation of files.
His research ultimately shows that Canadian immigration officers are highly dedicated to their jobs and recognize the weight of the decisions they make on a daily basis.
CLICK FOR EXCERPT:
Brenda points to the telephone on the wall and gestures to Maria that she should pick it up. She welcomes Maria and introduces herself as “the visa officer responsible for your case.” She asks Maria in English if she can understand what she is saying. Maria nods in agreement, but Brenda asks her to please say “yes” or “no.” Maria says “yes.” Brenda needs a verbal response because she has to document her decision-making process by keeping notes of the questions asked, Maria’s replies, and her own assessment of the answers. Brenda then asks if she is comfortable conducting the interview in English, and since Maria lived in the United States for several years, she says “yes” but asks that Brenda “speak slowly.”
Brenda already knows a lot about Maria and her circumstances from the spousal application for immigration that she and her Canadian sponsor submitted eight months ago. Maria’s husband wants her to join him in Saskatoon, and as part of the application, couples are asked to tell the story of their relationship. Brenda reviewed the application about a month ago, but something about the couple’s story did not add up. Her program assistant contacted Maria to schedule the interview so that Brenda’s concerns could be addressed.
Visa officers do not interview every applicant for admission to Canada. In fact, headquarters in Ottawa likes them to keep the number of interviews down and encourages them to make their decisions solely on the basis of the information in the application. Interviews take a lot of time, and time in a visa office is in short supply. Officers are trained to make their decisions to approve or refuse visa applications relatively quickly. Brenda has two or three dozen files stacked on the corner of her desk and on top of two filing cabinets in her office. Her program assistant is working on a couple dozen other files at various stages of processing. Globally, there are thousands of applications in what Citizenship and Immigration euphemistically calls its “inventory,” which is its code word for “backlog.” The more time Brenda spends on one file, the longer other applicants must wait for a decision.
Officers must also meet their yearly visa issuance targets. It is early December, and Brenda’s office has not yet met its target for family class spousal visas. If Brenda fails to meet it, this will reflect badly on her and on her boss, the immigration program manager. Headquarters in Ottawa will also be unhappy because it will have to find another visa office to pick up the slack. All the other offices are also working hard to meet their own targets, so a last-minute request to increase a target because another office has not met its own quota means that something has gone awry. If no other office manages to fill the gap, the overall target for family class admissions will not be met, and the immigration minister will want to know why. The minister announced the targets the year before in Parliament and will be held accountable by the Opposition if the number of visas falls far below, or far above, them. Since politics are politics, Opposition colleagues can be rather unforgiving in their assessment of a cabinet minister’s performance and will relish any opportunity to cast the minister as incompetent or as failing to control his or her department.
In a family class spousal sponsorship case, such as that of Maria, Brenda must be “satisfied” that the relationship between Maria and her husband in Canada is “genuine” and that its primary purpose is not for Maria to gain permanent resident status in Canada. Upon reviewing the file a month earlier, Brenda suspected that this might be a marriage of convenience. She uses the interview to figure out whether the relationship is real and whether its primary purpose is immigration.
After asking a few simple, factual questions – Maria’s full name, date of birth, and other matters that already appear on the application – Brenda starts to focus more closely: “It says on your application that you lived in the United States for fifteen years and that you returned to Guatemala three years ago. Why did you return to Guatemala after living for so many years in the United States?” Maria explains that she missed her family and returned to Guatemala to be closer to them. This sounds odd to Brenda, who thinks to herself, “Why would someone voluntarily leave the United States to go back and live in Guatemala?” She suspects that Maria is concealing something, so she pointedly asks, “Were you deported from the United States?” After pausing for a moment to reflect on her answer, Maria admits that she was slated for deportation but chose to leave before the American authorities put her on the plane. She does not explain why she was going to be deported, but Brenda puts two and two together and surmises that Maria probably overstayed her original visa and then somehow caught the attention of US immigration authorities. For Brenda, Maria’s original evasive answer to the question of why she left the United States confirms her concerns and prompts her to dig deeper.
She moves on. “How did you meet your husband?” Maria explains that they first met at the birthday party of a mutual friend when they were both living in Los Angeles. They dated a few times, but nothing really came of the dates. A few years later, they met again at another birthday party of a mutual friend, this time after she had returned to Guatemala.
Brenda also knows a fair amount about Maria’s husband. She has access to the Field Operations Support System database, which contains information about the application history of everyone who has applied for admission to Canada in the past several years. Before the interview, Brenda pulled up the file for Maria’s husband, which told her that he, too, is from Guatemala and that seven years ago he submitted a successful refugee claim in Canada. He had lived in the United States for several years but then crossed the border into Canada at Surrey, British Columbia. She suspects that he, too, was scheduled for removal from the United States and that rather than return to Guatemala, he decided to take a chance with the Canadian refugee determination system. When he crossed at Surrey, he must have uttered words to the effect that “I am a refugee.” As soon as Canada Border Services Agency staff heard the word “refugee,” a complex refugee determination process came into play. Ultimately, Maria’s husband convinced the Refugee Protection Division of the Immigration and Refugee Board that he was genuinely in fear of his life in Guatemala, so he was granted permanent residence status in Canada.
After this, he returned to Guatemala to visit some old friends, where “by chance,” he met Maria again. Since he planned to be in Guatemala for a month, they started dating, and this time they fell in love. Within two weeks, they were married at a small civil ceremony. A few close friends attended. Though his mother and two brothers lived in Guatemala, they were not at the wedding. Maria explains that they lived “far away” and could not travel to Guatemala City for the wedding. She adds that her mother and sister stayed away because they thought that her husband was not “good enough” for her.
As Maria explains the circumstances of how she met and married her husband, Brenda looks through a pile of thirty or forty photographs that the couple included in the application to support the story of their relationship. The photos show the marriage ceremony and the small reception that followed it. One shot shows about twelve guests seated at a large restaurant table, all happily toasting the bride and groom.
The other pictures are of the wedding night and the honeymoon. The wedding night photos show the couple in the bedroom. She is wearing lingerie; he is in a bathrobe with his chest exposed. They are lying on a bed, smiling directly into the camera and toasting with champagne. Brenda looks at these pictures and cracks a barely visible smile. She thinks to herself, “Why on earth would they have a photographer in their bedroom on their wedding night?” The honeymoon photos show the couple on a beach in Panama. Maria explains that they chose Panama because they got a good deal on a package offered by a local resort. Shortly after their honeymoon, Maria’s husband returned to Canada and began the process of sponsoring her for permanent resident status.
Brenda then turns to the issue of children. “It says on your application that you have a child in the United States.” “Yes, she is grown and goes to college.” “Were you ever married before?” “No, this is my first marriage.” Finally, Brenda moves on to questions about Maria’s relationship with her husband. “It says on your application that you talk to your husband every day for about twenty minutes.” Also included in the file are a stack of phone cards that Maria says she uses to call her husband in Saskatoon. The cards provide no information about the numbers that were dialed or the length of the calls. Since, in themselves, they are not evidence of much, Brenda asks, “So what do you talk about with your husband when you call?” Maria says that they talk about how much they love and miss each other, and how they can’t wait to be together again. Brenda smiles, but then asks, “Okay, but you can’t talk about love all of the time. What else do you talk about?” “We talk about our lives and our future life together, things like that.” At this point in the interview, Brenda starts to drill down, to look for specifics. In her view, real couples talk about more than just love: genuine partners have some knowledge of each other’s past and everyday lives and circumstances.
“Where does your husband work?” “A trucking company; I think its name is On Time Trucking, or something like that.”
“What is the name of your husband’s boss?” “I don’t know.”
“What are the names of some of the people he works with?” “He does not really have any friends at work.”
“What are the names of his non-work friends?” “He sometimes talks about a guy named Sam, who lives in the same apartment building.”
“What kind of apartment does he live in, and how many bedrooms does it have?” “I don’t know.”
“What is his favourite meal?” “Hamburgers.”
“What does he like to cook for himself?” “Hamburgers.”
“What was the last movie he saw?” “Friday the Thirteenth.” “So, he likes scary movies?” “Uh huh.”
This back-and-forth about Maria’s knowledge of her husband and his life in Canada lasts about ten minutes, and then Brenda asks, “Are you looking forward to moving to Saskatoon?” “Yes, very much.” “What is Saskatoon like?” “I don’t really know, but it seems it is a lot like California.” Brenda, visibly surprised by this answer, says, “Really? What makes Saskatoon like California?” Maria pauses for a moment and replies, “There is shopping there, it is clean, things like that.” “Have you ever seen any pictures of Saskatoon in the winter?” “No.”
The interview lasts for about an hour, and after the last question Brenda takes a few minutes to review the overall application and digest Maria’s answers. She then tells Maria that she is not satisfied that her relationship with her husband is genuine, and that she believes that the primary reason for her marriage is to gain permanent resident status in Canada. She details the “concerns” that have led to her assessment. Maria listens with apparent surprise that her story is not believed and spends the next few minutes trying to address each of Brenda’s concerns by repeating what she has already said. After listening intently, Brenda says, “Thank you, I am ready to make my decision.”
In the end, what decision do you think Brenda made? Did she grant Maria her family class spousal visa, or did she refuse the application? Was Maria in a real relationship, or was it a fake? Did she get married primarily because she wanted to become a permanent resident in Canada or because she loved her husband and wanted to start a new life with him?
Canadian visa officers must answer these kinds of questions every day. They make decisions about who should, and should not, be issued a visa to enter Canada, both as permanent and temporary residents.
Excerpted with permission from Points of Entry: How Canada’s Immigration Officers Decide Who Gets In, by Vic Satzewich, 2015, UBC Press, Vancouver and Toronto, Canada.
Howard Ramos is a Professor of Sociology at Dalhousie University. His research focuses on issues of social justice including the non-economic elements of immigration and examination of family and non-economic streams of immigration to Canada.
by Florence Hwang in Regina
Skilled immigrants are more likely than Canadian-born citizens to be their own boss, according to the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.
By the late 2000s, 19 per cent of Canada’s immigrants were self-employed. The report from the Metcalf Foundation and Maytree examines the challenges and opportunities immigrants face with regards to self-employment and entrepreneurship
While in the past Canada has used immigration to fill its labour market needs — Chinese migrants who helped build the railway, temporary foreign workers to supplement the agricultural industry — creating their own businesses also allowed many immigrants to bring family over from their homeland.
Riding the wave of Italian immigration
Ever since Ralph Chiodo was young, he has loved cars. His dream was to open his own autobody shop. He now has 72 franchise locations in Ontario.
When Chiodo was 12, he worked in a blacksmith shop in Italy. He shoed horses, repaired wagons and plows for farmers. But what he really wanted to do was fix cars.
At 14, he landed at Pier 21. In 1959, he started working at a gas station in Toronto — getting the job was the easy part.
In the ‘50s and ‘60s, thousands of Italians immigrated to Canada annually. Many were sponsored by family members already in Canada, including Chiodo.
Once he got his mechanic’s license in 1965, he opened his own garage and auto repair centre. By 1972, he opened an autobody shop, followed by a Chrysler Dodge dealership in 1980.
His advice for new immigrant entrepreneurs: “Treat people fairly. This includes not only the customers, but the suppliers, landlords and everybody [else]. There’s no substitution for treating everyone fairly.”
Iranian engineer starts own business
Mahboob Bolandi, who came to Canada from Iran in 2008 on a student visa, keeps himself motivated by not losing the big picture about the future of his business, Texers Inc.: “I always think of the objective and the success I will face and I will achieve through hard work. It has helped me to do and go forward.”
He started his ceramic materials business after he took the Entrepreneurship Connections program ACCES Employment in June 2014. Texers specializes in technical ceramics used in high technology, engineering or medical applications.
Starting his own business meant a lot of work because he was the only person running it: “I was doing everything by myself [. . .] doing accounting, doing a website, doing social media [. . .] Now I have enough time to focus on real business and growing the business.”
Bolandi gained valuable insight into contributing to Canadian society by serving as a board member on non-profit organizations, particularly those that were serving newcomers.
“But I’m thinking out of box now […] that being useful to your society, to your community, to serve your country does not necessarily mean doing something related to what you studied,” he notes.
Hire yourself if no one hires you
When Rene C. Berrospi first came to Canada from Lima, Peru in July 2011, he had more than a decade of international experience in immigration law, but he couldn’t find an entry-level position.
His solution was to start his own consulting firm: A&R Global Consulting.
There weren’t any programs to help immigrants with starting their own business, Berrospi says.
Luckily, he was able to get a business plan in place: “Because I have a legal background, I did my research … people without a legal background … have no idea … what kind of legal structure they need,” Berrospi says.
Another challenge is adapting to marketing in North America: “The marketing is different in North America than other countries so you have to adapt to that too and what kind of market you will have.”
“I [started] with two clients from two different countries. Now I’m helping a lot of different people from different backgrounds and nationalities. The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council chose me because part of the business I’m running [is] an internship program for young Canadians,” he says.
In addition to securing clients from all over the world — Korea, Ireland, Indian, Hungary, Romania, Brazil, Argentina — four of his interns have found work in legal or consulting firms.
Berrospi warns that entrepreneurship is not a nine-to-five job: “I’m very busy. I cannot complain.”
He advises new immigrants looking to become entrepreneurs not to be scared. As history has shown, he thinks there are a lot of opportunities to do business in Canada: “This is the advice I also give my clients: If no one wants to hire, hire yourself.”
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit