Life as an Immigrant

Until this last weekend, I hadn’t worked for pay since moving to Canada nearly two years ago. Before coming here I was a high school English teacher. I worked with at-risk and ELL (English language learners) kids primarily. The majority of my students were disengaged from the formal education process. A sizable portion had drug or other criminal issues to deal with and about a quarter of the girls were dealing with pregnancies or abusive home situations and, of course, there were the non-English speaking kids with their immigration ordeals.

I was always struck by the fact that I had colleagues who were all too eager to hand these “defectives” over to my program because they believed there was no hope, or never had been, for these teens who would become my kids. I never once ran across a student who didn’t have potential or couldn’t be at least partially plugged back in. But it was the immigrant students who impressed me the most, coming from distances which would have rendered my finicky co-workers bug-eyed with fear and overcoming language and cultural barriers which would have left those same adults curled up like fetuses.  They had learned so much already and most of it on their own. I admired them. I reminded them often that they were amazing and miles ahead of their American peers, most of whom couldn’t speak English properly, let alone a second language.
I was a typical American who had little sympathy for the plight of immigrants before I met them, but I didn’t gain a true understanding of the “lifestyle” until I became one of them.

The process for entering and gaining residence in a country not of your birth is a bit like navigating the social safety net programs set up in the United States. I have had more than my fair share of experience dealing with Medicaid, Social Security and Medicare, and I know first-hand that the initial barriers in any program run by the government are to discourage people early and often from continuing. It’s a cost-effective measure to keep the number of participants low.

Immigration was not dissimilar. It involved a mountain of paper from application forms to documentation, and followed a rule book that was written with a fuzzy sort of clarity that even those who worked in the immigration system were reluctant to interpret with certainty.

And it is a long process which can take a year or far longer depending on a person’s situation and their value as a contributor economically and socially. It was seven months before I was granted a work permit which I have used only once when I recently gave a workshop on blogging at our public library. It was ten months before I was officially “landed” which means I paid my final entrance fees, was instructed in my obligations as a permanent resident and handed the papers which allow me to live here and travel back and forth to the United States without fear of being denied re-admittance to my home.

Because Canada is my home now. It’s funny. I was reading Neil Gaiman’s blog recently, and he wrote about the slippery term “home”. Home is where one grows up and wherever one is currently living so that we are constantly in a state of returning home whether we are coming or going. That is what it means to be an immigrant too.


This is an original 50 Something Moms post by Ann Bibby 

8 thoughts on “Life as an Immigrant

  1. Very well put – more Americans should try and understand the difficulties of immigration, and there are really so many – some that you can imagine and some that you can’t, the worst one of all being left in this no man’s land of not quite belonging anywhere.

    Isabel Allende’s “My Invented Country” recounts the story of how she finally came to accept America as her home, and realized that the Chile she left behind only existed in her mind, hence the title. Really great book.

  2. Thanks for writing this. PunditGirl had a teachers years ago who was going to move to Canada to marry her fiance. She called it off, partially because she knew she did not want to move to another country.

    And I’d love to hear more about your students.

    1. LDR’s are notorious for forcing someone’s hand.

      I write about the former students to illustrate points, but I am very aware that they are not my children and it’s not my place to splash their stories on the web.

  3. Annie,

    Just checking in on you and Rob! I can’t believe that your second anniversary is less than a month away! Ours is right behind yours by about 3 months. Jordan and I just 3 weeks ago received our PR cards and on Monday applied for our SIN’s so I guess we are officially Permanent Residents of Canada. I’ve always felt like a permanent resident since the day I signed the deed for our home! I love your piece on “Home”. Funny enough, I too taught “immigrant students” on a younger level and found them to be resilient, determined and and strong as well.

    Keep in touch. We’d love to get together sometime.

    1. Laurayne, wonderful of you to drop by. Glad things are going well. It would be fun to get all the “Canadians” together. Our country though is not as compact as the U.S.

  4. Funny how we don’t think of moving to Canada so much as immigration. But it can be hard just moving to another part of one’s own country, so I can’t imagine the little details involved in a new country.
    I too, have worked in a high school with immigrant kids. They are strong and resilient and face many obstacles. They never ceased to inspire.

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