September 21, 2012 · 0 Comments
I was at our Mississauga branch library over the weekend and as I surveyed the readers I realised that most looked South Asian, many of whom were new immigrants perusing books on resume building and writing cover letters. Others were searching and applying for jobs on the internet while others were reading technical material or studying for some exam or the other, and then I overheard a twentysomething South Asian in conversation with the librarian requesting her help in finding books about the history of Ontario with an emphasis on Toronto and Mississauga. I was intrigued, perhaps he was a research scholar, so later when I saw him hunched over a book and I enquired about his reading choice.
He’s a landed immigrant who came here a little under a year ago and it was important that he understood the history and geography of his new adopted homeland. He wanted to travel across Canada with his family next year, over the summer he attended many of the free events in and around the GTA. He was on a quest to discover Canada, it’s people and history.
Years ago I met an older immigrant who compared immigration to an arranged marriage. It’s the same principle. According to him, an immigrant’s home country is his or her’s first love, but something went wrong- you needed to separate and so you opted to live in a new adopted homeland which in his parlance is an arranged situation. Naturally there is an adjustment period and to be happy with this new homeland, you have to understand all aspects of it, be involved, do things together and eventually grow to love your new country. And the new immigrant in that Mississauga library was doing just that.
But in this era of inexpensive telecommunication, television and internet, thousands of immigrants from around the world live virtual lives back in their country of origin. Their soul is in India while their body resides here. They are either on the phone constantly talking to friends and family back home, tuning in to radio stations and television channels beaming the lastest sitcoms from the old country and many of them visit the local library only to pick up a Bollywood DVD or one of the thousands of titles in different languages. The most popular magazines at many libraries in and around the GTA among South Asians happen to be Filmfare, Stardust and India Today. Some like it so much that they surreptitiously take it away with them, so much so that to read the latest copy, one must approach the librarian and return it to her.
Coming back to the analogy between arranged marriage and immigration, it is virtually impossible for the people of Canada or the new immigrant to love each if they don’t get the opportunity to know each other if we hang out exclusively among our own kind.
We South Asians for example, are entertaining ourselves by flying in entertainers from the subcontinent, we have our own hectic social lives revolving around wedding ceremonies, galas and receptions and countless community events that take up most of our leisure time. We are also increasingly moving toward cricket and other sporting events all imported from the subcontinent. NRI Indians travel and that should in itself be a good thing, but the destination is almost always India or ‘back home‘ as many Canadians call it.
None of what I have just mentioned is wrong or bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it does not help us integrate into the social fabric of this land which is quite distinct from the workplace.
How can you fall in love with a place or a person if you are constantly looking back at your -ex-country or ex-spouse? How can you truly feel at home and make this a home away from ‘home‘?
The young man I met at the library seemed to have found the answer in books on every conceivable subject on Canada, DVDs and documentaries on the history, political process and the law of the land. This young man had in six months learned more about Canada than many Canadians who are born here. Reading and studying about Canada he told me was so fascinating and the more he learned about the country and its history the more excited he felt about being part of it. Sadly I meet way too many South Asians who are quite happy to be part off the mainstream.