by Glenice Lilje
The Immigrant Experience
My family moved to Canada in the early 1990’s when I was but the wee age of 10. We stayed with family in the beginning and didn’t know too many people outside of our circle. Classmates at school had difficulty pointing out the Philippines on the map but had an eagerness to learn more about my heritage and didn’t shy away from asking question. Adjusting to a new country and way of life was difficult at first, even lonely at times. Slowly, our community grew as well as our social circles and in turn, so did the level of support we received.
Sure, there were times where I still felt like my sister and I stuck out, especially during lunchtime when we would bring dinner leftovers of fried fish and rice while everyone else had PB & J’s. I still remember having to ask friends to take their shoes off when entering my house or explaining the various religious statues on display. I had different personas where I would be a one person when I was with my family and another when I was at school or around friends. It wasn’t that I was embarrassed of my culture, which was hardly the case, it was just my sister and I wanted so badly to fit in.
Looking back now, I would hardly say that my experience was unique. Like many other immigrant families who come to Canada, we were in search of more opportunities and for a new way of life. As a newcomer, it made it difficult to realize which cultures I identified with and how my “labels” would fit in with society. Today, we are fortunate that Canada is a melting pot of many diverse ethnicities and communities where different cultures are welcomed and celebrated. Regardless of the hardships and obstacles we faced when we first moved to Canada, I am forever grateful to my parents for leaving everything they knew so that my sister and I are able to enjoy the life we have built for ourselves today.
Here are some titles of other stories similar to mine:
Ever wonder why there is a Chinese restaurant in every small town? Author Anna Hui took a drive across Canada to find out why and ended up learning so much more. Hui grew up in Vancouver but had always wondered about small-town Chinese restaurants and the families who run them. It was only after this book was published that she came to know that her own parents could have been included in her story. Like many of the owners, her family spent generations living in impoverished areas of China and moved to Canada for more opportunities. By the end of her trip, Hui comes to learn and appreciate the perseverance, entrepreneurialism and deep love of family that drives these owners, her parents included, have to make a better life, the significance of these restaurants in our country’s history and why chop suey cuisine should be recognized as quintessentially Canadian.
We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir by Samra Habib, 2020.
Samra Habib’s coming of age story recounts her childhood as an Ahmadi Muslim in Pakistan, hiding from Islamic extremists, seeking refuge in Canada where her and family face new and different obstacles. When Samra discovers that her mother has arranged for her to get married, she must hide her identity again until she can’t take in any longer. So begins her journey to find herself first in Tokyo, where she comes to terms with her sexuality, and then to a queer-friendly mosque in Toronto. Along the way, she uncovers others with similar life experiences and that she wasn’t as unique as she thought she was: her community had always been there-the world just wasn’t ready for them.
The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho, 2014.
The story of a young Spanish shepherd boy, Santiago, who longs to fulfill his dream to see the world and the many lessons he learns along the way. Throughout the story, Santiago meets many people who help him achieve his “Personal Legend” and teach him to read the “signs” or “omens” the universe provides to help him on his quest. What starts off as a journey to visit and see new places ends up being a discovery of the powers we hold within. This book provides a charming and inspiration message to follow your heart and with some ambition, everyone has the potential to recognize and achieve their own personal dreams.