I am a daughter of immigration. For four generations, the women in my family have been born in different countries – Russia, Paraguay, Brazil, Canada. From my great-grandmother, to my grandmother, to my mother, I am the first woman to have my own daughter in the country in which I was born. From great wealth to great poverty to great stability, we have built, fled, worked and rebuilt for generations.
As a first generation Canadian who blends in with the visible majority, my experience of the immigrant mindset has been different than that of many. But what may not be visible on the outside has shaped me profoundly on the inside. I know who I am. I know where I come from. I know the choices that have been made, the sacrifices that have been made, the lives that were lost, to bring me here. From Russia to South America and onward, I have grown up aware that when people flee their homes, it comes at great risk and great cost, but for the sake of great hope.
A WELCOMING COUNTRY?
Unlike our melting pot neighbours, Canada is known as a mosaic. Growing up just outside Vancouver, I learned that we don’t demand uniformity, rather each new culture and wave of immigration adds a new piece, a new colour, a new shape, to the picture that is who we are as Canadians. As we grow and change, we shift and make room for one another.
This hasn’t always been done well. There have been times that we have sought to stamp out the individuality of cultures we don’t understand. There have been times we have rejected others in fear. Often out of a desire to protect from a specific danger, we ban anything that even reminds us of said danger. As a Christian, I choose to embrace. I choose to welcome and to practice hospitality, extending friendship while lifting up in prayer, asking God to bring about a saving knowledge of Himself.
Western Canada has been defined by different waves of immigration. Like so many Canadians, I live in a very ethnically diverse city. We are equally known for our borscht, bahn-mi and butter chicken. Sandwiched between the Coast Mountains to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west, Vancouver is one of the most ethnically diverse cities in our country, with over half the population speaking a language other than English as a first language. There are beautiful parts to this and challenging parts to this. My city lights up with celebrations from around the world, as we come together to dance, share food and embrace one another. Yet others choose not to welcome. The city that celebrates together is also littered with gang wars and drug violence, often split along racial lines. This is devastating. This must devastate us.
I remember sitting in our family cabin as a young girl, listening to my great grandmother share the story of when she and her family fled Russia. She spoke of the brutal things she saw as a young teenage girl. My grandmother shushed her and said I was too young to hear such things – I would later learn they spared the hardest details.
To be raised by an immigrant is to be raised with the knowledge that living in this land is not a given. Many would have given much to stand in the place we now occupy. This land is not to be taken for granted.
Immigration is what makes many of us Canadians. It’s what makes Canada.