Immigration


English: Dira Square (also known as Chop Chop ...

English: Dira Square (also known as Chop Chop Square by expats), Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Taken by BroadArrow in 2007. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve referred to myself as both expat and immigrant but think that perhaps I have been mistaken about the “expat” self-reference. An expat is someone who still largely identifies with his/her country of origin. It is who they are. Even with permanent residence/green card status or even dual citizenship, the land of birth still trumps. But an immigrant is someone who wishes to assimilate and take on the new country as his/her identifier. They acquire first residence and then the second citizenship with an eye toward becoming a part of the new land.

In the United States, people bemoan “immigrants” who do not seem to want to be Americans. I would argue that this so-called immigrants are really expats who’ve come to America for political, economic, career or education reasons but who see themselves primarily as citizens of their native land. In that way, how are they different from Americans who pursue work opportunities in other countries for short or long periods of time but consider themselves always American – not bothering to learn the language or make friends locally and living in enclaves of other Americans?

The answer, of course, is that they are not different. But it is a very white versus not so much kind of prejudice that is not attractive or admitted to. Brits, Americans, Europeans, Australians and Japanese refer to themselves as expats but consider Eastern Europeans, Asians, Latinos and Africans immigrants.

In my opinion, if one leaves his/her nation of origin to settle permanently in another country that person is an immigrant. Even if he/she stubbornly refuses to mix, learn local customs and language and generally remains an elitist snob about the whole thing. When you leave to live forever somewhere else, you have emigrated and are therefore an immigrant. This state of being is further compounded by marrying locally, producing children and obtaining legal status up to but not always including dual citizenship.

Expat, really, has this sort of British colonial taint to it. It reminds me of stories of colonials living in India or Africa during the days of Queen Victoria and later under King Edward. Privileged white people enjoying semi-royal lifestyles at the expense of a local population who was considered second-class and expected to appreciate servitude in exchange for pathetic monetary “reward”. All quite Kipling minus the adventure.

It’s important, I think, to know who you are. Expat or immigrant. It informs others as much as it forms your purpose. Given that, it’s time for me to drop the expat and go full on immigrant. My ancestors left Sweden and Ireland to become Americans. They were proud, I am sure, of their heritage but I highly doubt any of them referred to themselves as hyphens. Irish-Americans or Swedish-Americans. They were just Americans (although before the Civil War, I guess that state would have trumped country). Therefore, I am a Canadian in the making. No hyphen.

 


British Passport, Canada, Thailand

British Passport, Canada, Thailand (Photo credit: dcgreer)

An experience doesn’t have to be perfectly unique to be worthy of sharing. – Chelsea Fagan

Came across a link to Thought Catalog today and read a post by an American expat, trying to quantify the experience of living aboard. She writes about “fear” and “longing” and the inevitability of finding ex-pats huddled together in bars discussing home and the leaving of it.

Maybe it’s a European expat thing because there are certainly enclaves and gathering holes a plenty for immigrants around the area of Alberta where I live. Ukrainians. Dutch. Scots. Brits. Quebecers. Hutterites. But I have yet to find Americans hanging out. Maybe it’s because we blend in so well despite our decidedly non-Canadian accents? You just don’t see American expat groups and among those of us who are making this or that part of Canada our home, there is a feeling of having narrowly escaped a lifetime of … it’s hard to put into words that don’t come off as elitist or lefty liberal or even Eduardo Saverin traitorous.

Much of the article rang no bells for me. I am not in Canada pursing an education, career or some “eat, pray, love” quasi-spiritual artist way quest. I came here the modern-day equivalent of a mail order bride of the virtual variety. And I am not even unique because I know at least one other widowed mom who crossed the border to marry a Canadian within roughly the same time frame as I did under circumstances that are more similar than not.

The only fear I can recall was that of not being allowed to cross over the border or be allowed to stay once I did. The Canadian government casts a less jaundiced eye on marital immigration than does the United States (so long as the bride isn’t from the Philipines) but the process for sponsoring a foreign born wife teems with tedious amounts of paperwork and barely intelligible rules, which no one who works for CIC (Canada Immigration and Customs) is eager to go on record explaining, confirming or denying. It blessedly doesn’t require a public bedding or stained sheets but more than once, we wondered if the photographic evidence of our union they demanded wasn’t just a thinly veiled request for porn.

I confess that I am still fairly nervous about the border. We’ve never had a problem with a crossing but with the United States ramping up to what amounts to entrance and exit checks and Canada unnerving quiet about what American paranoia it will or won’t enforce, I worry.

Maybe life in Paris or London or Abu Dhabi is just so off the charts unusual in its breadth and scope that Americans need to decompress in groups. Touch familiar bases. Talk about DWTS or Game of Thrones. Plot exit strategies if the GOP theocracy comes to full power in the fall.

Canada is just like home.

Except it’s not.

Rob assured me that living here would be just like living in Iowa.  Rural backwardness and all. Okay, maybe the shopping wasn’t as good. Alright, the shopping part would suck. But otherwise, it would be just the same. And a tad bit colder.

The western prairies are nothing like Iowa, and Canada is not the United States of America or even a wanna-be.

Even five years on, I am still struck near daily by the reality that I am an immigrant in a foreign country. And mostly, I don’t think about having left the U.S. as much as I think about how to get it to quit me. There is so much about being an American that clings like the haze around the perfume counters in department stores. No matter how cleverly you think you’ve avoided the sample girl, the scent follows.

The devil is in the definitions. The United States government sees me as an expat, an American living aboard, but I see myself as an immigrant. Someone who has chosen to leave my old life as an American to build a new life as a Canadian . Could this explain my lack of need to huddle and cuddle with other Americans?

I don’t miss America. Not really. Okay, maybe Target. Sure, they are coming here but won’t be the same. Nothing retail translates well into Canadian.

I miss my friends. Not that they have ever numbered many. I wish I had better access to certain members of my family. I wish I could spend a holiday in my hometown long enough to actually enjoy it rather than cramming reflective moments between taking care of my mother and working around the work schedules of family and friends.

Life has gone on without me. But life has always gone on without me.

Moving from one school to another and made and lost touch with countless co-workers. As I moved from this apartment to another couple to a house and then another, I met and discarded neighbors and city regions. Changing groceries, pharmacists, jogging routes, gyms and coffee shops. Every job or living arrangement entailed a certain amount of readjustments.

I met a husband. Buried a husband. Met another husband. Both came with family, friends, co-workers and accessories unique and not necessarily over-lapping.

Has emigrating been any more or less change than any other change I’ve experienced over the course of my life? Was it more of a growth experience than university? Taking my first teaching job? Marrying. Infertility treatments. Pregnancy. Giving birth. Navigating the underbelly of what passes for the safety net via Social Security and Medicaid. Divesting myself of twenty years, packing everything I still owned in a U-Haul and heading to the Great White North, which has to be a metaphor for the long winters because Canada is not as white as Americans think it is in terms of people, customs, cultures, languages, politics and spiritual diversity.

Every experience that is requires leaving something or someone behind to make room.

And in an age of social media on a planet that is always awake somewhere, leaving is a bit of a first world problem because it is a choice.

Have you left if you’ve only brought only a suitcase while the rest of your stuff waits for you in a storage locker somewhere or your parent’s basement?

Are you living or just visiting when you dine alone? If alone means trolling Facebook and texting with your friends on the other side of an ocean or international border.

What happens to you when you leave the land of your birth? Whatever you want. Intentions and the actions that back them up are what matter. Catching up on the latest gossip from the old country with people who possess a similar vowel inflection? Probably shouldn’t read too much into that. It’s the choice between being a tourist for employment or educational purposes and resolving to put down roots that counts.

What happens when you live as an expat? You eventually become an immigrant and then a citizen, or you go home.

 


Biometric United States passport issued in 2007

Biometric United States passport issued in 2007 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was about the age of my daughter, I saw a television movie called The Man Without a Country with starring the late Cliff Robertson. A deadly dull teleplay in retrospect and I suspect wasn’t incredibly thrilling at the time, but it appealed and appalled my little girl sense of fairness in a way that I can still vividly recall today.

Cribbed from a short story written by Edward Everett Hale, who intended for it to stir patriotic fervor as the Civil War dragged on, it is a tale about a young Army officer, Nolan, caught in the treason trail of Arron Burr and impetuously shouts out at his trial, “Damn the United States! I wish I may never hear of the United States again!”

Maliciously, the sentencing judge grants the young man’s wish and effectively renders him stateless by ordering that he spend the rest of his days as a prisoner on various Navy vessels, forever deprived of his homeland by word or deed.

I remember the last scene of the movie vividly. A young officer finds the dying Nolan in a cabin decked out in United States flags, maps and other symbolism. He grants the old man the dying wish of hearing about “home”.

It was very sad but my ten-year old self as incensed by the cruelty of the sentence. One impetuous outburst during a treason trial that was more of a political witch hunt (though at the time I didn’t know enough about Burr to really understand the politics in play) and this man was banished from his home while people who bore more guilt were not.

I didn’t know the story was a fiction or that the fiction was a propaganda tool to ignite Union sentiment at a time with the United States was more a collection of states than a country. I just know that it wasn’t fair. Regardless of where a person choose to live or the criticism he/she might have for his/her government, depriving someone of the place where they were born as punishment was wrong.

Because I am currently in the process of becoming a Canadian citizen, the idea of “home” is much on my mind. How does one have two homes? When push comes to shove, where lies loyalty?

And then the news of Eduardo Saverin broke via the recent IPO unveiling of Facebook and the fact that Mr. Saverin, as a co-founder, stands to collect billions more in profit. Saverin is a Brasilian who became a U.S. citizen when  as a child – probably through his parents much as Dee will attain Canadian citizenship through my application. With news of the IPO, it came to light that Saverin, who hasn’t lived in the U.S. in several years and who has obtained citizenship in Singapore where he lives, had renounced this U.S. citizenship. For purposes of avoiding taxes was the media assumption though as any ex-pat knows, relinquishing citizenship can carry a hefty exit tax for those whose assets exceed specified amounts.

Given the bitter and unrelentingly negative press about ex-pats (American citizens who live abroad) of late, the outcry in the comment sections of news websites was predictably jingoistic and devoid of much by way of actual facts.

“Love it or leave it!”

“America doesn’t need traitors anyway!”

As if anyone who has ever left the U.S. has only done so because they are dodgers of some sort with a sketchy grasp of loyalty.

Most of what has been written lately about those of us who make our homes outside the United States has been decidedly scathing and rather loose with the interpretations of why some of us seek citizenship in other places, often choose to never return and sometimes relinquish our accident of birth derived American citizenships.

America is and has been mostly always about money and the acquisition of it and the stuff that can accompany having wealth. Being so, it makes sense that those who buy whole-heartedly in the myth of the America Dream would see those of us who leave as being money/stuff traitors. What other reason than wealth would propel us to leave the richest most bestest nation on the planet? Nothing is as important as dinero and toys after all.

It could well be that Saverin was motivated to renounce because the hassle of yet another citizenship obligation – including taxes – got to be a bit much. My personal guess is that someone who has lived in more than one country has a world view that allows him to see that America is not the only desirable place in the world to call home and therefore doesn’t see the loss of legal status as a tragedy. It’s not like he is poor Nolan, stateless and barred from contact or news. I am sure he still has his Facebook account to keep him in touch and if not, there is always Twitter.

I have never been under the illusion that the United States is the only nice place in the world to live. It’s not the only democracy or the only place with indoor plumbing. Though some of those in my native land fervently believe otherwise. Canada is not the armpit of the Americas nor is it some red-haired step-child longing to be like its geographically smaller sibling to the south.

While I admit that those who renounce due to the onerous filing obligations to the IRS have a valid point, I am financially insignificant enough that my husband can still navigate my taxes every year, but that’s not the case for many others. It’s especially onerous, and not fair, to expect dual citizens to file taxes when they owe nothing – as is the case with many dual U.S./Canadians and the expectation that those who are married to non-U.S. citizens hand over their spouses private financial information can’t be considered okay no matter how the U.S. government tries to spin it.

Saverin’s case though prompted an additional slap at ex-pats in the form of a bill introduced by two Democrats called the Ex-Patriot Act, which would de facto label any U.S. citizen who renounces as a tax cheat and bar them from ever stepping foot on American soil again. The IRS will be the final arbitrator as to the whether or not the renunciate has a “good reason” for leaving (apparently marriage, children, having a life will not count) and everyone who lives in another country, whether as a permanent resident or a dual citizen will be treated as some sort of traitor to Uncle Sam. At least that’s my understanding. And given the comments of my fellow Americans, most of completely fine with this idea.

I came to Canadian because the man I loved, and was planning to marry and spend the rest of my life with, is a Canadian. Our life, quite frankly, trumps all other considerations including my birth on Plantation America.

I became a landed immigrant not quite four years ago and am eligible to apply for citizenship now. My reasons for becoming a Canadian came home to my quite clearly during the last provincial election here in Alberta. I want to vote. This is my home and I want to have a say in what happens. In fact, when I read about the special ward election coming up, due to our ward councillor being elected as an MLA, I realized that only my lack of citizenship stood in the way of my running for that office.

Not long after Dee started school, she asked me about a line in the anthem that they sing at the beginning of each new week.

“What does it mean to ‘stand on guard for thee’?”

I have known this was coming for a long time. A day when I felt my loyalty lay more with my adopted country than the one I was born in. It doesn’t pain me to begin to take the steps. It does irritate me that I am wrongly attributed base motivations for doing so. It probably pisses Eduardo Saverin off too, but as I don’t know him anymore than Sen Schumer does, I won’t cast him the villain. Of course, I don’t have a reason for grandstand pandering like Schumer does because I am not a politician. Yet.


Garage sale

Image via Wikipedia

Spent some time purging drawers and closets in anticipation of the hamlet-wide garage sale later this summer.

Dee has outgrown nearly everything, which caught me off guard because normally I shop for her every other year. She’s put on exactly zero pounds but shot up an inch-ish or better. It’s all legs. Devilish hard to fit the child’s waist. Girls’ clothing these days are vanity sized and reflect the chunkier body types that have resulted from our processed food/low-level of energy lifestyles. Dee is not the shortest kid in her class anymore, but she’s got a Scarlett O’Hara waist compared to nearly all of her peers. Tiny waist and coltish legs spells difficulty in sizing her, so just about every pair of pants I got her back in late February are now floodies and still a tad too big around her waist. Hobbit-legged and thick-middled, the girl ain’t.

I rummaged and purged my own rather meager collection of apparel myself, sticking slavishly to the rule that “if it hasn’t been worn in a year, its history”. I continue to pride myself on the fact that every article of clothing I own could be neatly packed into a large Rubbermaid tote should the need arise.

All this pro-activeness called to mind the agony of purging and packing for the move to Canada before Rob and I married back in June of 2007. In fact four years ago yesterday, we left Des Moines behind.

I sometimes miss the idea of that house.  The openness and space. Some of what we’ve done in our recent renovations replicates it in a way, but we are far from done and even farther from achieving liberation from boxes of packed away stuff that is never thought of much less in danger of every being used again.

Over lunch today, Rob ruefully expressed what he called his “buyer’s remorse” about the renovation project that never ends. Selling and buying new, however, was never an option. Real estate around here is overpriced and much of the newer stuff is poorly constructed. For a little bit of debt, we can create spaces in our existing home that will more than suit as opposed to taking on the monumental debt of a brand new mortgage for what amounts to overvalued real estate on a prairie that is downwind of various petrochemical plants. It’s somewhat of a no brainer.

It’s doesn’t make the process less cumbersome or tiring.

The last time I purged a house, it was slash and burn. Goodwill, friends and friends/relatives of friends benefited tremendously from my zeal to simply lighten my load. I gave away more than I sold and simply threw away everything else. And with only the occasional exception (it would have been nice to have kept that Pampered Chef pizza cutter because the one I have now bites in comparison), I haven’t missed anything.

That’s the thing about stuff that most people can’t wrap their minds around – it honestly won’t be missed once you are able to pry your fingers loose of it. In all likelihood, you will never waste another thought on it again.

I toy with the idea of just getting a waste-bin  delivered and just have a chuckfest. But, of course, I won’t. A lot of what constitutes clutter isn’t mine, and though I am convinced that it would be years – if ever – that anyone would ask after the departed items, I respect the fact that what I deem useless and spent embodies something important for others.

Accumulation of stuff seems to be a condition of life – unless one is a monk of some kind. Renunciates are what they are called in yoga. Renunciates eschew things in an effort to seek the balance between living in a physical world without placing too much attachment on it while Householders do the opposite while still being expected to rise above it all. I think the latter is the more difficult. Having fewer things, as I have learned, spoils a person. The more room I acquire the less I want to fill it up. The more stuff one has, the harder it is to decide what’s necessary and the greater the likelihood that one won’t recognize the tribble like nature of stuff. Stuff breeds because it feeds want.

Too much stuff blinds us as well because it fairly demands that we attach value – monetary and emotional – to it, making it harder to get rid of and easier to let pile up in one way or another.

I suspect I will spend the better part of the rest of my life waging a quiet war of attrition with clutter and accumulation. Most days I am zen about that but today it’s raining and cold and my hair is frizzy. Not that this has any bearing, mind you, and I have just been thinking  – again – about how to lighten Rob’s load without any success. Maybe banana bread and cookies? At least that’s not permanent clutter.


The Emperor's new clothes

Image by Al_HikesAZ via Flickr

Why? Because they don’t like the truth either.

Especially when it challenges their assumptions, illusions, delusions or the outdated and/or unsustainable fantasy lands they prefer over reality.

Take health care for example.

No, really, health care.

Among the many things I am envied for now that I am a “Canadian” is the fact that we have a quasi-universal system whereas my nearest, dearest and somewhat acquainted with in the U.S. are at the mercy of a hodge-podge of plans and coverage that rest largely on one’s ability to have a really good job or be old enough to have finally grabbed the golden Medicare ring.

But it’s not for all its universality and it’s not equitable really because each province is free to fund or not a long list of health care perks to which they can attach user fees – though they tend to be ridiculously modest in light of what the average American pays per month for similar coverage.

The system is also insanely expensive. According to recent numbers if Canadian Medicare was a business, it would be among the largest corporations in the world.  Based on 2009 revenues, it earned$183.1 billion which would earn it the number three spot on Fortune 500’s list between Exxon Mobil and Chevron. It would also be the talk of Wall Street for its poor business practices, and the fact that despite raking in revenue, it’s expenses still manage to eat up most of its “profits”. If it were a business, no investor in his/her right mind would touch it.

Canadians are used to hearing that their much-loved system is in deep do-do. So used to it that their defense mechanisms are well-honed and anyone who dares to point out the Emperor Healthcare is wearing a hospital gown with a decidedly exposed rear end is likely to be shamed at best or called out as Republican in Maple-leaf clothing.

I wrote a post for Care2 the other day – at the urging of my editor – citing a very well-known (if you bother to read the news) fact about how the current conservative government is quietly hanging their share of Medicare funding out on the line in hopes, it seems, that no one will notice what they are doing until it’s too late.

Judging from the roasting I personally received from the Canadian commenters, it would appear that the Harper government‘s stealth abandonment of its obligations is going well. NO ONE believed me. And this in spite of the fact that I linked to the article – chock full of facts – that showed I was correct.

The post I wrote focused mainly on the funding issues and the fact that Canada’s much-cherished system has some issues. Some of them big. And some of them getting bigger.

What did everyone zero in on?

Well, that I am an American. More than a few of the comments seemed to think I was living in the States and writing fiction about Canada’s health care for the Tea Party.

They also didn’t like that I wasn’t enamoured of my health care and called my personal experiences (and I didn’t even share the horrific ones) out as lies. Bald-faced and in the service of Rush Limbaugh.

Shudder.

Which bring me back to this posts title.

People are idiots. And they are rude and they can’t read very well. But mostly, they don’t want to hear truth unless it is their version of it.

The truth is that Canadian healthcare is okay when compared to the nothing  that exists in the States. But there are countries in the world – more than a handful really – that have much, much better, cheaper and more user-friendly systems.

Canadians spend a lot of money for rather average care and for service that would probably get a person fired if they worked at McDonald’s.

I hesitated to share my own experiences because I am met with enough stern looks from people I actually know when I do. It’s always “you should be more grateful”, but why? Just because illness doesn’t have the same capacity to destroy my life as it did down south (though it’s not venom free), I don’t understand being grateful for a system that knows it can be better and refuses because it would be more work than resting on its big fat superior smugness.

And here’s the thing that really eats at me, Canadians are just as complacent as those in the U.S. who have insurance are because they don’t want to be inconvenienced by reform that would make the system better for those forced to deal with it the most (elderly and chronically ill) and those who aren’t lucky enough to have supplemental insurance through an employer. Because they exist like the Ignorance and Want under Christmas Present’s velvety petticoats but they don’t show Canada in the rosy coloured glow that allows folks here to look down their noses at America.

Lefties? Righties? I am beginning to think the world would be better off without either group. Perhaps those of us in the middle could work on getting something real accomplished if they weren’t mucking things up with their hysteria.


At least that’s the advice the Huffington Post’s Ryan McCarthy had forreaders yesterday because while the United States is mired in the economic equivalent of the Biggest Loser, Canada put on a hefty 93,200 jobs last month.

And our housing prices do nothing but rise!

Plus we have free universal health care, gay people can legally marry and unicorns roam wild on the prairies.

Okay, maybe we don’t have unicorns.

Maybe.

But the rest? True. Except that health care is not really free when the tax rate is put under the microscope, Canadians could care less about marriage in general as the majority live in common-law relationships for the most part, housing prices are so outrageous that the average person can’t afford home ownership and all those jobs? Service sector. Think Wal-Mart greeters and working the drive thru at Timmie’s*

I emigrated to Canada just a tad over three years ago. I met a Canadian on the Internet. We fell in love. The U.S. had way more archaic immigration rules and he had the better paying job anyway, so I moved north.

Since then, I have heard nothing from my liberal left-behind friends but how lucky I am to have escaped the imploding American Dream for Canadian Utopia.

And Canada is great. Don’t misunderstand me. I love it here. But in many ways, it’s no different from the U.S.

The government is conservative and more interested in business interests than people. Money is the driving factor behind public policy. Education is being savaged when it’s not just overlooked or neglected. Health care hangs on by its teeth but only because the average Canadian would riot in the streets if the provincial governments did away with it, so they nickel and dime it to death in the hopes that people aren’t really paying attention (they aren’t). Our housing is ridiculously over-priced and long overdue for a sharp correction.

Even though some Canadians like to promote the idea that Canada is the anti-America, the reality is that Canada is much more like America than it realizes.

It’s just lucky. For now.

Luck. That’s all that separates us from being you.

People here in Alberta, where I am, live dangerously on the idea that the oil in the sands will last forever and that the damage done by the foreign companies exploiting our resources won’t leave us with polluted fields and undrinkable water.

The spice oil must flow, eh?

My husband just rolled his eyes at the thought of Americans sneaking across the thousands of miles of largely unprotected border like Mexicans in Arizona.

Canada has a points system immigration system which basically has no use for anyone over the age of 42 who can’t speak English and/or French and isn’t skilled and/or a college graduate.

I actually squeaked under the wire on the points thing but fortunately marrying a Canadian meant I was able to get into a completely different immigration line – one that was no less tedious, incomprehensible and arbitrarily humiliating – but it was faster.

But I still can’t find work in my field – education – because the government has slashed funding and there are no teaching jobs to be found just about anywhere a person would want to live and work or anywhere they would die first before considering.

So I write for a blog that pays me peanuts and is, ironically, based out of California, and I teach yoga – not exactly Fortune 500 paying gigs.

Yes, there are jobs. Canadian Tire (think Kmart) is perpetually hiring as is the local Wal-Mart. You can wait tables just about anywhere and the 7-11 in town can never keep night managers. Hotels need housekeepers and if you are really a go-getter, you can probably hobble together two or three part time jobs which will just about pay the outrageous rents with enough left over to eat, pay utilities and cloth yourself. Just yourself. Try not to marry and especially don’t breed because daycare is scarce to non-existent and quite expensive.

But … you love Canada … right?

Yep, I do. But I am not average. I wasn’t an average American either. I live in the upper edges of the middle class. I am skilled and have two university degrees. My husband is an engineer in a field where more of them are retiring than entering.

And I didn’t come here for any reason other than being in love and wanting to spend my life with a guy who happened to be Canadian.

I know some people would regard that as something akin to winning the lottery, but life can be livable anywhere as long as your expectations are aligned with your reality and you don’t make the mistake of believing that salvation lies outside yourself.

*Tim Horton’s. Think fast food but waaaaay better than anything in the States. Seriously.


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