I Am an Immigrant

I Am an Immigrant

I’m not what most people think of when they think of an immigrant. And most people have something in mind when they talk about immigrants; an idea that’s less than kind. But immigrant I am. I grew up in a small town in central Pennsylvania. At age 18, I married a Canadian and moved to Toronto, Ontario where we both attended university (him for history, me for IT and networking). In July of 2008, five years after I entered the country, I became a Canadian Citizen. I’ve already written in detail about my immigration experience. But in light of recent events, I feel compelled to talk about it again.

While I was still in college, still working on my co-op work placement, there was one other girl from my college who worked in the same place. I looked up to her a lot because she was confident and outgoing in a way I wasn’t. One day, we went out to lunch together and she told me that her student visa was up for renewal. She was worried about it because she didn’t want to go back to India. Most people seem to think that immigrants can stay wherever they want for however long they want without anyone having a say in it. But actually the rules are very strict. My friend had to find out whether or not she could switch from a student visa to a work visa and it had her stressed.

Thinking I was being helpful, I told her that I remembered how stressful it was when I applied to renew my visitor visas prior to gaining my permanent residence. She told me, “Yes, but you come from the US. They’re not going to tell you no.” It has taken a long time for the full impact of those words to sink in.

Immigrating to another country is hard. It was difficult for me and all I did was drive eight hours to cross the Canadian/U.S. border. Aside from suddenly living in a place that had one dollar coins, public healthcare and served its milk from a bag, my life wasn’t all that different. But the process was arduous, the steps unclear and the cost high. I spent three years biting my nails over being sent away from my husband.

Yet my journey was easy compared to that of others. Because I did, indeed, come from an ‘approved’ country. There were plenty of documents that I didn’t have to provide, and if I needed to get something from my home country, a quick trip downtown to the local consulate office was all it took. I didn’t have to worry about learning a new language in order to take my citizenship test, and Canada’s history and culture aren’t so different from those I’m familiar with that I was overloaded by the transition.

But the fact remains that I picked up my life and moved it from one country to another. And while I wasn’t fleeing from persecution when I did it, I do have some idea what it’s like to receive a letter from the government and feel sick at the idea of what might be inside. I had nightmares of deportation officers showing up at my door.

I even considered doing it all again. My husband and I spent a year in England after he accepted a teaching job at a school about an hour outside of London. We talked about the possibility of making that move permanent, especially when the school expressed an interest in keeping him long-term. That was before we knew how badly England treated its teachers, though we had at least figured out how to deal with the higher cost of living. This was pre-Brexit debate England, before anyone raised the question of leaving the European Union. And yet, we would occasionally catch the stray comment about immigrants, which we always greeted with pointed looks. And in response we would always be told the same thing; not you. You’re fine. You’re Canadian. We were the ‘acceptable’ kind of immigrants because no one could tell when we walked down the street that we didn’t belong. It was disconcerting.

I don’t consider myself better than anyone, certainly not based on where I was born – a factor over which no one has any control. I didn’t even have a skill when I came to Canada – I was fresh out of high school. And since I’m a writer, it’s not like I’m making a huge contribution to society at the moment. If I ever make it, Canada might well embrace me. But for the moment, I sit in my office, located in the loft of our house, and madly scribble words in the hopes someone might someday read them.

But because I’ve been on the other side of that border control desk, that massive stack of papers, that citizenship test and those fees (twice), my heart goes out to everyone trying to tackle that process, no matter where they come from. And especially those facing a more complex system and longer wait times than I had to deal with. A country opened its arms to embrace me, and there are people out there who deserve it a lot more than I do. At the end of the day, we’re all human. We all inhabit this great big rock together. And maybe, just maybe, it’s time that we start helping each other. Not just the people who look and think exactly like we do, but everyone.

One Reply to “I Am an Immigrant”

  1. Ooh, this was a good post, Megan. Thanks for sharing it.

    I didn’t realize that you were originally from the US just like I am. :)

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