Calgary, it turns out, is not as “white bread” as we had expected when we moved here. When we thought of Canada, we pictured descendants of the French and English who settled here, quickly outnumbering those who settled here first. But that isn’t the case. In fact, if you stand on a corner in downtown and observe the passersby, you’d be hard-put to know what country you are in. The stream of people walking past resembles London these days: a melange of folks from India, Oceana nations, African nations, Asian nations, European nations, Middle Eastern nations, and First Nations.
Our first thought on seeing these folks is how different life in Calgary, in Canada, must be for them. They’ve uprooted to come to a nation that is mightily different from their homes, leaving behind family and everything they’ve ever known. The weather is different, the food is different, the culture is different, and the colors of the world are different.
Tom and I have had a tiny taste of what it means to emigrate, leaving behind our nation of birth and our families, but we’ve done so knowing that this leaving is temporary, that our home waits for our return. And we’ve had an ever-present net to catch us if we fall: the US Government.
To a small degree, we have felt the alienation of being in a country that is not our own, of living where our native language is of no use to us, of dropping into a community where we have no ties, of adjusting to new foods and holidays. But thus far, we’ve been in countries that share our Western ideals, and a touch of common history, and the experience has been a growth opportunity for us. We have emigrated by choice, for a defined period of time. That alone sets us apart from most immigrants around the world.
Here in Calgary, we see folks from Senegal, Sudan, India, and Syria who are trying to find a foothold in their new home, often initially without the support of family or a community. These folks are lucky, though, having landed in Calgary, in Alberta, in Canada, where social services exist to help them immediately upon arrival, providing housing and healthcare and connections with the larger community. Eventually, they will have help finding work or attending schools and colleges. There is a net to help them to survive.
Still, they are in a place that is alien, among people who are alien … and my heart goes out to them. Some Canadians might fret that these immigrants prefer to live in small communities of similar populations, and thus are not interested in assimilating into the larger population, but I understand the need to feel a part of a group, to seek out others who speak your language and share your culture. We all need a pack, a group where we fit in and belong. Birds of a feather, and all.
Tom and I have remarked that immigrants have amazing courage, whether they left their homes willingly or under duress. They have torn their roots out of their home soil and are trying to thrive here anew. Even if they aren’t well educated or trained to a specific high-need task, they have already shown the strengths that any nation should welcome in its people: courage, perseverance, and a will to survive.
It takes courage to emigrate.