Monday, March 5, 2007

The Immigrant Experience

Emigrant, a person who leaves one's own country to settle in another.

Immigrant, a person who comes to reside permanently in a country other than one's native land.

The fact is that the emigrant and the immigrant are the same person.

The one departs from his homeland with great sorrow and regret, leaving behind family and friends. For whatever reasons he leaves, the sorrow and regret are felt, for this is the land of his birth. No matter that perhaps life there has become intolerable. No matter that perhaps the reasons for leaving are happy ones: to join a loved one in another country; to take advantage of a better job; for a better business opportunity; better education opportunities. There is still sorrow and regret.

The other arrives with great hope and expectations for a better life, or at least a different life. New challenges have to be met, involving jobs, housing, cultural differences, religious differences, language difficulties, maybe even racial differences. To be met with hope and excitement.

Yes, this is one and the same person, an emigrant as well as an immigrant who feels both the sorrow and the hope.

I am an immigrant.
I am the daughter of an immigrant.
I am married to an immigrant.
I am the mother of an immigrant.
I am the mother-in-law of an immigrant.
I was the daughter-in-law of an immigrant.
Ninety percent of my friends are immigrants.
For more than 45 years the immigrant experience has been my world.

I, the Australian daughter of a Scottish immigrant to Australia, immigrated to Canada with my Australian husband, whose father had emigrated from New Zealand to Australia. We came so that he could take a position as a university professor. We really hoped to return to Australia after two years, however we stayed here instead. We had none of the difficulties faced by so many immigrants. Yes there were minor cultural differences and we used different words for some things, like petrol for gas, but still English words. We settled in immediately.

Luckily for us, since Vancouver is such a young city, even the Canadians we met were from the Prairies or Eastern Canada. Very few people our age had family here, so we became each other's families. We had no one else and we relied on each other totally. The most incredible bonds were forged, maybe even stronger than familial bonds because we didn't have the emotional baggage that many families carried. My family has celebrated Christmas with the same Scottish family for more than 40 years. My friends are Scottish, New Zealander, Hungarian, English, Welsh, Spanish, French, Chinese, German, American, Russian, Czechoslovakian, Japanese, and yes, even some Canadians.

We all left our homes and families and settled in Canada. Here we established new families and new friends. Yes we are proud Canadians, but we'll always be Australian, Scottish, New Zealander, and so on. But to my mind, the greatest thing that has come out of this immigrant experience is the tolerance we have learned to have for each other.

Sixteen years ago, my daughter left Canada to do graduate studies in the USA. Ten years ago, she married an Italian who had come to do graduate work there, as she had. They have settled in the States and have a daughter. Where will she finally settle? She has three citizenships, American, Canadian, Italian. Unfortunately my daughter, herself a dual citizen, Canadian and Australian, was unable to pass on the Australian citizenship for technical reasons.

Our immigrant line may well continue into the fourth generation. This is the reality of the world of today.

Note: This was inspired by reading Ian's post over at Failure is the Key to Success.


Andrea said...

wow that made me think - I am the daughter of an immigrant who is the wife of an immigrant and the mother of a daughter who is canadian but born on foreign soil so is kind of an immigrant as well.

jmb said...

Hi Andrea,
When I wrote it all down I was amazed too. I'd never thought about it in total before. I'm glad it made you think. I see you teach ESL so not only does this affect you in your personal life but also in your work.

Heather in Beautiful BC said...

Sorry, I read the wrong post first!

Well, I really, really like this one and think you definitely should post it to Wetcoast Women.

Many, many people will relate to your feelings and you've cleared up the confusion regarding emigration and immigration concisely and simply.

I like it :) A LOT!

jmb said...

Thanks Heather,
I'll post it at Wetcoast Women. It was interesting to write since it got away from me a bit and changed focus. I hope anyone who's not an immigrant will look at one in a new way, even if they are just from other provinces.