In my native India, I was a newspaper editor and writer. As I build a new life in Halifax, I’ve struggled to find meaningful work.
The majority of Canadians will not understand why this is important for an immigrant, because they have no idea of the difficulties a newcomer to this country experiences. They have no memory of their ancestors’ struggles to come here looking for a safe haven and work to provide a better life for their descendants.
After searching for jobs and sending out many applications (most of the employers did not even acknowledge them), I did find a full-time contract job for six months. It makes a world of difference and should lead to more opportunities. No more casual part-time jobs, wondering from one day to the next if I’ll be working. A definite destination to go to every day, a desk to sit at and work, to meet a group of people who could be potential friends, and the facility to have a hot lunch! These may sound like mundane things, but it is the small things that make life interesting.
My earlier job as a substitute Educational Program Assistant didn’t bring enough money to pay all the bills. Living on my savings for two years was turning into a financial disaster. Working outside in the middle of winter was beginning to cause health problems. Living with the constant worry about finding a good job was raising my blood pressure and stress level.
There were moments of despair. Was moving to Canada the right decision? Coming to a new country is one thing, but making a comfortable living there is totally another for a newcomer. Many times I thought I should go back to India. I was at the verge of starting preparations to return when I received the news that I was selected for a six-month job.
Now I need to stretch this into a permanent job. I’m working on it and I’m sure it will happen or at least this will open new opportunities for me when I finish this contract.
New immigrants often take on two or three jobs and work seven days a week in order to meet the initial expenses of settling down in Canada. Some of them have to send money home to support their family. This gives many Canadians the misconception that the newcomers are taking away their jobs. This is not true because most newcomers get only entry-level jobs that no one else wants.
There are new immigrants with advanced degrees working as taxi drivers or labourers at construction sites. They will take any jobs they can get because they need the money. Rents are high and the prices of essentials go up continually. And they have to pay taxes just like anyone else. I’m not complaining. Sometimes people forget that for most immigrants, the most important preoccupation is just paying the next bill. It’s a miserable existence initially.
With my new job, I am hoping for an environment that is safe, inclusive, and welcoming to the newcomers. When I talk to my immigrant friends, I get mixed opinions about their workplaces. Some are happy, others talk about being marginalized because of their differences.
What every immigrant looks for is acceptance, but it’s hard to find. In his internationally recognized documentary Salaam B’y, Aatif Baskanderi talks about growing up in Newfoundland as a Muslim boy. What does it mean to be truly welcoming? “We can pray the way we choose, dress the way we choose, eat different food and keep different traditions, but we must make a common bond of how we treat each other,” says Aatif.
Recently I read Forgiveness–A Gift from My Grandparents by Mark Sakamoto. I also had the opportunity to meet him very briefly at a book reading in Halifax. The book is Mark’s memoir and the story of his Japanese ancestors who immigrated to Canada looking for a home and a better life for their children. He paints vivid pictures of people, places, and incidents. The hardships and atrocities they faced were inhuman. But they were fighters. Their indomitable spirit triumphed, urging them to survive and prosper. I could identify myself with some of the characters and some of the incidents because I had been in those situations sometimes.
When immigrants read the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, they learn of Canadian values like equality, fairness, and freedom from persecution. Newcomers conclude the people living by these principles must be welcoming. This is what motivates them to think they have made the right choice in coming to this country. Every Canadian, newcomer or lifetime resident, has a duty to work to help the country live up to those ideals.