We are ALL Immigrants

I should know better. Just read the news, dumbass. Don’t read the comments. But a couple of days ago, while reading an article on a visit by a Turkish Minister to Saskatchewan, my eyes fell on this comment: “I would prefer the Sask Party government work with the other provinces to address any worker shortage first before going overseas. Even then it would be better to see if some of our US or British cousins would be willing to move first.”

And I saw red. Just why, exactly, would immigrants from the U.S. or Great Britain be preferable to Turkish immigrants? Well, we all know the answer to that one, don’t we?

I seem to be reading a lot of nonsense lately on Facebook and other forums about how immigrants are stealing jobs from poor Canadians. Along with that is the notion that immigrants these days are not adapting and assimilating into “our” culture the way they did in the good old days. This is perhaps best exemplified by a speech attributed to Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard which seems to get posted to Facebook every few days, even though it’s far older. I have actually never managed to read to the end of that bit of vile xenophobia because it makes me so angry. Why?

Well, first of all, because it’s a hoax. She never said that. This verbal turd was floating on the scummy pond of racism as early as 2005. It was first attributed to then Prime Minister John Howard. No, he didn’t say it either. Jesus, people, it’s the 21st Century. Google that shit before you post it. The fact that you are willing to post this kind of thing says nothing about Julia Gillard, but it says a great deal about you.

But posting hoaxes is only part of the story. Let me explain my anger more completely.

First, let me point out that unless your last name is Weaselfat or Bitternose or one of several hundred other indigenous names, then I’m guessing that you, like me, are an immigrant, or the child, grandchild, great-grandchild, or great-great grandchild of immigrants. In other words, you and I, like the vast majority of Canadians, are the beneficiaries of immigration. So to see immigration as some sort of threat seems to me a very strange attitude indeed, like slipping into a candy store and then turning around and locking the door so others can’t get in. But I realize I’m not going to win anyone over by denigrating his/her position, so let me tell you my story.

I am the descendant of German-speaking immigrants. My paternal great-grandparents and maternal grandparents fled Russia in the advent of the revolution because they feared persecution within the volatile turmoil that was developing around them. In other words, they were refugees who, because of their religion and language, were fleeing a dangerous situation, much like the refugee claimants today whom our Federal Government refuses basic health care. It might also be worth noting that, at some time in their past, they, or their ancestors, had been immigrants in Russia too.

So they packed up their families and embarked on the long voyage to Canada. Some first settled in Manitoba, others in the northern U.S., but in time, all of them made their way to southwestern Saskatchewan. Here, they established little homogenous enclaves where they could enjoy the company and support of their own people. They built churches and schools. And they worked their butts off to eke a living from a hostile – albeit fertile – land.

Theirs was not a unique story. Across the prairies similar communities sprang up: German Lutherans, German Mennonites, German Catholics, Orthodox Ukrainians, Catholic Ukrainians, Scandinavian Lutherans, Russian Doukhobors, … the list goes on. And in each of these communities people clung to their culture while they adapted to this new land. The patterns in cities were not really different. In Winnipeg, for example, certain neighbourhoods were dominated by Jews, Ukrainians, Germans, or French.

In my family’s case, they settled in an area known as Flowing Well. They built Flowing Well Lutheran Church, where church services were conducted for decades in German. Family life and community interaction were conducted almost exclusively in German. A mile from Flowing Well Lutheran Church, they built Meadow School. When my parents arrived there in grade one, they spoke only German. The same was true of all the other families. In fact, of the many families who attended, only one, the Truitts, was English-speaking; the rest were all Germans. My parents used to joke that the Truitts very quickly learned German in self-defense. Language immersion is not a new concept.

Imagine the struggles those little tykes had. After all, speaking German was forbidden in school; guilty parties were given the strap. I don’t judge those poor teachers harshly for that policy. As an educator, I have a great deal of sympathy for someone trying to manage an eight-grade classroom when the entire student body shares their own secret code.

Over time, of course, my parents learned English. And although they had been raised in an exclusively German household, they raised their children in both English and German. Then their children married folks from other cultures, and so their grandchildren knew only English.

I have very few regrets about my life, but I do regret not hanging on to the language of my ancestors. Now that opportunity is gone. Even if I were to take German classes, they would be conducted in literate High German, not the colourful language that I grew up with.

As I’ve said, my family’s story is not unique. It has played out across this country hundreds of thousands of times, in dozens of cultural flavours. People settle in communities with their own kind. They cling to the culture which provides them with their identity. That’s human nature. And this province – this country – are infinitely richer for it.

The story is not unique, but it needs retelling, because so many of us these days seem to forget where we came from.

I’m not sure what other people see when they look at immigrants, but let me tell you what I see.

I see people who had the courage to uproot themselves from their native land on the hope that they would find a better life here. I see folks working at jobs that Canadians are either unable to fulfill or unwilling to move to (nurses, welders, …). I see people working beside Canadian grandmothers at service industry jobs that few Canadians take interest in. And despite the fact that many of these people are tragically over-qualified for the work they are doing, they manage to do it with a smile; they bring dignity and commitment to work we no longer dignify or are willing to commit to.

I see congregants swelling the ranks of previously declining houses of worship – even more, I see them conducting the services in those houses of worship. I see shoppers supporting local businesses. I see taxpayers.

I see people who want the same things from life as the rest of us: a decent life, free from persecution and hardship, and an even better life for their children.

And by bringing their culture and traditions with them, they, like my ancestors, enrich this country.

As for employment, finding a job may be a problem in the rest of the country, but it certainly isn’t in Saskatchewan today. Show me a person who’s unemployed in Saskatchewan, and I’ll show you a person who really isn’t interested in working, or who is unwilling to move to where there is work. If someone in Saskatchewan – or the rest of the country for that matter – is unwilling to move to where the work is while someone else is willing to travel half-way round the globe to find employment, then no one has stolen a job from anyone else.

Will Canada remain predominantly white? I don’t care. Will Christianity hang on as the dominant religion? Why is that important? Christians will have the freedom to worship as they please; that’s important.

So when I see someone posting words that no Australian Prime Minister ever said, words that try to justify spying on houses of worship, words like, “We speak mainly ENGLISH, not Spanish, Lebanese, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, or any other language. Therefore, if you wish to become part of our society. Learn the language!” this is what I think:

Screw you. Screw you and your sanctimony, and your latent racism. And Screw the horse you all road in on.

Guten tag.

10 thoughts on “We are ALL Immigrants

  1. Thanks, Rea. But I’m confused. In MY day, good Mennonite girls didn’t swear. 😉

  2. Although I may take a bit of a different view distinquishing between immigrants and refugees, I do know better than to argue with an old square head.
    And you leave my horse out of this you pervert!

  3. I’ve seen pictures of your horse; it seems like a fine animal. Well, not “fine” in that way. You know what I mean … ah, fuck it. Well, not “fuck it” in that way …

  4. My grandma said it, and she was a good girl so I’ll blame her. She actually said something like “yammer” not “himmel” but my dad and I didn’t know how to write it so we just googled it. (Yet another man who regrets not maintaining his German – that was all he spoke until he started school and now it’s completely gone! Such a loss!).

  5. My kids have had the good fortune of attending an exceptionally multiculural school and have developed friendships with students from all over the world. Given that some of the newest additions to his circle of friends are from Germany, Cole has decided to expand his use of the German language. He has been doing very well; unfortunately (thanks to grandparents, and some great aunts) his verbal prowess and rapidly expanding vocabulary seem to be linked to more colourful words…apparently, his teacher doesn’t mind so long as students use them correctly in a longer sentence and pronounce them correctly!

  6. Loved reading your article. I know you spent some time in India and I don’t know if your time here was fruitful. A friend of mine from Brazil came looking for work here and nobody in the IT industry wanted an immigrant worker. The government pestered him for almost 8 months by not giving him a work visa and he had to eventually leave the country. For a country whose tech sector depends so much on outsourced jobs, the treatment of an immigrant was really disgusting. You have nailed the reasons behind immigration ,and it is only justified that one always looks for a better quality of life, adventure and safety.

  7. Thank you, Ritesh. We enjoyed our time in India very much and would like to return again. Like Canada, it’s a huge country, and one needs so much time to do it justice.

    I find it easier to excuse India’s protectionism than I can excuse those attitudes in Canadians. If there’s one thing India has no shortage of, it’s people. That is its primary resource, so it’s somewhat understandable that the government would want to protect that. That said, there may well be shortages in sectors like IT that would justify opening borders to foreign workers to prevent stifling economic growth.

    As for our government, on most immigration issues, and particularly on refugee issues, they are a cynical, suspicious lot who view every applicant as a potential moocher, only looking to gain access to the benefits of Canadian social programs. They have, however, implemented legislation called the “Temporary Foreign Workers Act” which has significantly eased employers’ ability to bring in people to fill placements that Canadians are either unwilling or unable to take on. I view that as a good thing so long as they don’t later, in harsher economic times, behave like France and start chucking these people out again.

    Part of the impetus behind this post was a recent scandal involving one of our large chartered banks (RBC) which had brought in contract workers from iGATE in India as temporary foreign workers. They then laid off existing Royal Bank employees, but not before they had them train the foreign workers to do the precise work they themselves had been doing. The iGATE employees were then to return to India to perform the work.

    I became frustrated with how quickly the discussion turned to the ills of immigration, as if people were incapable of distinguishing – or unwilling to distinguish – between immigration and outsourcing. Even “respectable” news agencies continued to discuss the two side-by-side, adding to the confusion. Clearly, even though RBC had employed the Temporary Foreign Workers Act to get those workers to Canada to be trained, this was an issue of out-sourcing, not immigration. It was also an issue of a large corporation following the letter of the law to accomplish something which was quite clearly outside its spirit.

    At any rate, that’s my rant for the day. 😉 Thanks for stopping by to read the post.

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