THE IMMIGRANT

 
Image source   : pngtree

Image source: pngtree

"F*ck you, immigrant!"

These three words loaded with hate and vitriol came barrelling toward me as I pushed my infant son in his stroller one frigid day last February. My initial reaction was to freeze, no pun intended. Could this complete stranger be talking to...me? But there was no mistake about it. The words left his mouth like spit - vile and contemptuous. His intent pointed and malicious. He wanted me to know that I was the intended target of his tirade. I could feel the repulsion reverberating off him as he shoved his way past me on the tiny portion of passable sidewalk – the rest blocked by a small mountain of snow.

My attacker was, by all likelihood, emboldened by the current climate of anti-immigration spilling across our southern border and percolating across the Atlantic. He had been convinced that I was one of them. The burden to society; the insatiable mouth suckling at the teat of public funds. In his mind, I was assuming space and exhausting resources to which I had no claim.

"A pity he doesn't know I was born in Toronto", I thought as I continued. And then I had the sudden urge to cry. Which I did. But then I had the urge to contemplate what it means to be an immigrant. Literally, and figuratively.

This humble word which once symbolized a daring dream to leave all that is familiar behind in search for a better life for oneself and one’s family has become a loaded subject, dividing families and countries. Today, the word ‘immigrant’ and the affinity for or aversion to it, is the cornerstone upon which many an election campaign is built on the rock against which it can fall apart. It is the ace of spades which politicians wield as they must to sway the fickle electorate.

It is interesting to note that as at the last census in 2016, my borough is made up of some 25,000 immigrants representing 20% of the total population. It is also interesting to note that of that total number of immigrants, 36% (some 9,000 plus) have arrived from predominantly white countries – Portugal, France and the United States. Simply put, more than a quarter of my borough’s immigrant population is…or more than likely is…white. And by mere virtue of their being white, they are afforded the courtesy of acclimating to the comforts of Canadian life. No more questions asked.

It appears to me that, perhaps the problem everyone has with immigration isn’t immigration at all. But it's what we imagine immigration is. And more importantly, who we imagine an immigrant is. We’ve been force-fed…and subsequently, have digested the idea that an immigrant is different. If we really want to get into semantics, we can consider the differences between immigrants and expats. We’ve been conditioned to believe that an immigrant is, or should be, undesirable. That they will bring with them their strange customs and that they will come to steal jobs. Meanwhile, expats living abroad (who are mostly white) outearn their local counterparts up to 900%. We say to immigrants, “Assimilate or go back where you came from!”, meanwhile expats live in bubbles, well insulated from the realities of life in their new countries with very little, if any desire or effort to assimilate.  We can quickly establish that immigrants and expats are perceived very differently even though they leave their home countries to live and work elsewhere for much of the same reason. And that is as direct a result of the meanings we ascribe to the two words. And the preconceived notions that we attribute to them.

I would imagine that Americans don’t think of Justin Bieber or Ryan Gosling as immigrants. Because they fit the bill. They are not other. Likewise, the white American and French immigrants here don’t have to contend with verbal attacks on sidewalks whilst going about their business. And let me be clear: this isn’t about me. To be fair, this was the very first time I’ve been made to feel like I did not belong here. And I am very aware that I am what would be considered as a ‘palatable’ immigrant. English is my first language. I do not have a thick accent. I am fair-skinned. I am not muslim. I do not wear a burqa or hijab. This is about the countless number of immigrants who are shamed and harassed and attacked because they do not blend in so easily. And they shouldn’t have to.

It is time we redefine the way we think about, and unlearn what we’ve been taught about, immigrants. I know there is no shame in being an immigrant.  But for one fleeting instant I did feel ashamed. It’s been several months post-incident now and I’ve had ample time to reflect. And if there’s any good that has come from this run-in, it’s that my immigrant pride has been reignited.

It was the dream of immigrants that allowed me a Canadian birthright. The sweat and perseverance of immigrants that put me through college. The unwavering support and friendship of immigrants that consoled me when I was at my lowest. The drive and hustle of immigrants that inspire me daily. But it is without a doubt, the grit and indomitable spirit of immigrants, unrelentless  and thriving,  that make me most proud…to be an immigrant.

GOOD THINGS TAKE TIME

 

I can be pretty impatient. Maybe it's the millennial in me (you know, entitled and wants life to be handed to me on a silver platter). Or maybe I'm just naturally an impatient person. Maybe a bit of both. In any case, whether I'm waiting in line at the grocery store or waiting to hear back from an editor on a pitch, the wait is always too long. I mean, is it really too much to ask to have everything...like, now. Sheesh! And, of course, my impatience is only compounded by the steady stream of 'pings' and 'buzzes' that feed and fuel my need for instant gratification daily.

Towards the end of last year I started reflecting. You know, thinking about the year that was and what I wanted for the year and years to come. And I realized two things: 1) that I was so plugged in that I wasn't really living in real time anymore; 2) that I was always preoccupied with what was to come next -  kinda like living in a constant mental fast forward. It was draining and unhealthy. I was rarely ever just present in the moment. I couldn't continue like that. I didn't want to. 

I think in today’s world where we’ve become so used to everything happening like that *snaps fingers*, the idea of having to wait is almost foreign. We're so used to instant responses, instant likes, instant purchases; we’re constantly trying to get results quicker, get somewhere faster. It’s ironic that in a world where everything is ‘Now’, we aren’t really enjoying what ‘Now’ really means. We are always eager to get to the next part or move on to the next thing.

At the start of the year I decided that one major change I wanted to make was to allow things to take the time they need to happen. To stop rushing things to fruition, but instead, to deliberately and meticulously sow the right seeds, and allow them to bloom when the time was right - this part was especially important. Often times I would find myself in my head living a moment that hasn't yet happened. And when it would happen, I'd be underwhelmed because, well, I'd already lived it in my head. I know, I've got serious issues.

I think we're all wired to constantly look forward.  I've been hearing about my future before I even understood what it meant. Get good grades to I can go to a good school so I can get a good job so I can make enough money to buy a big enough house blah, blah. blah. Of course, planning for the future is important but when  you're too busy living for the future, the beauty of what's happening now will fly right past you and you won't even know it. 

Now that I have a family and I'm getting closer to twenty-ten, it's so important to me that I enjoy every single, precious moment. That I take the time to stop and smell the roses, literally. That I allow life to happen without hurrying it along.  And, I’ll be honest, it hasn’t been easy trying to wean myself off the rush of instant gratification but right now I’ve got an e-mail that came in seven minutes ago in stewing in my inbox. Unopened. For me, that’s a record! My point is life isn’t always about looking forward to something new and exciting. If we’re always eager to get to the ‘new and exciting’ we’ll never enjoy what is. Life isn’t a movie. You can’t just skip to the good parts.

I truly believe that everything happens when it’s supposed to happen. And not a minute before then. So sow your seeds and let them be. Like a flower in bloom, good things take time.

 

 

TRUST YOURSELF

 

I almost drowned in Haiti.

Ok, maybe that was bit of an exaggeration. Here's a more accurate recount of what happened:

I took off swimming towards the shore of an incredibly deep natural pool and upon realizing that I had been swimming in the wrong direction and that I hadn't progressed nearly as much as I had estimated, I panicked. (Which is very Alicia-like, but that's another blog post). And, of course, by 'panicked' I mean I shrieked dramatically attracting the attention of at least 100 or so onlookers and bathers, including my boyfriend who was about strip down to his skivvies to rescue me. Swooon.

Ok, so where was I going with this? Yes, I almost drowned. Honest! Ok, let's start at the beginning.

I've never been the most self-assured person. Not naturally, anyway. Despite how calm, cool and collected I might appear (or maybe no one thinks I'm calm, cool and collected), there is a ALWAYS a constant stream of inner dialogue that sounds something like this:

Me: You should really start a blog. You love to write and people seem to enjoy your writing.

Me: That's completely pointless. There are already a gazillion blogs out there, there's no need for yet another one. And of course your friends will tell you your writing is good.

Me: But I really think I have a knack for engaging people through writing.

Me:  I don't know if your writing is that good. What if no one reads it?

And that constant mental back and forth  applies to pretty much all aspects of my life. I am CONSTANTLY questioning myself. Constantly worrying if I can. Constantly over-analyzing and scrutinizing my capacity to get from Point A to Point B. And let me tell you, it is pretty darn exhausting. Not only is it exhausting, it has been a real hindrance in doing all the things I really want to do because...well, I'm always busy worrying, "What if I can't?"

So on that particular day in Haiti, I was hesitant about making the swim. Quite honestly, I didn't think I could. Not that it was a long swim or anything, I just didn't think I could make it. And I'd never swam in water that deep before (I can't tread). And for about 10 minutes my thoughts alternated in rapid succession between "You can do this! Just jump!!" and "Jump and you'll drown".  

And then I jumped. Off I went like Michael Phelps in an Olympic final. I started off with a strong breaststroke but I quickly turned over as my specialty is really the backstroke.  Of course, I use the word 'specialty' verrrry loosely - think 'hoola-hoop-for-a-belt' loose. Things were going great, I was enjoying the water and the sun on my face. All I had to do was keep swimming and I'd be fine.

why-you-should-trust-yourself

 

And when I thought I had neared the shore and realized I veered off course  AND that my feet couldn't touch the ground...it was sheer panic and terror. I mean, it took only about a minute for me to get a grip of myself but in that minute I feel like I ran the gamut of mental processes.

But I vividly remember quieting my thoughts and telling myself, "Calm down. Trust yourself, you got this".

Now in retrospect, I know that I probably wouldn't have drowned as there was so many people around and I made enough of a commotion to send a sloth into action -  several people quickly swam to my aid before Julien could jump in. But in those seconds where I felt like I needed to save myself, I realized that.. I could. So while I'm happy to recount anecdotally about 'that time I almost drowned', I do feel like I really became aware of the value of trusting myself. The value of not getting in my own way and the value of giving myself credit. Accepting that it's ok to be afraid and unsure but ultimately, no one will ever know me better than I know me so I ought to be able to rely on myself. Not only, but first.

This isn't about throwing caution to the wind and letting the chips fall where they may. This is about fostering and nurturing a relationship with oneself that will breed that  self-assuredness so that when the decision to jump presents itself, you'll do what feels right. And you'll trust that you'll be alright. 

So to all my fellow self-doubters and self-critics, give yourself some credit. Just keep swimming. And when it feels like you're treading deep water, or in my case, floundering, trust that you will trust yourself enough to say, "Stay calm. You got this".

Love,

A.