Our transition from China took place when I was about seven years old; I was so young that I can remember little of what my life resembled before coming to Canada. Living here for over 13 years now, this is home and what I am most familiar with. Even so, at the end of the day, I am still Chinese and I wear that proudly.
I knew very little about the migration process, nor about Canada in general before coming here. Due to my age, I was put in a local elementary school, and adjusted quickly to the foreign culture. As I grew older, the circumstances of our migration from China were revealed to me, and I came to learn of my parents’ hidden struggles. Our relocation to Canada was precipitated by the lack of religious freedom in China. The repression, surveillance, persecution, and crackdowns by the Chinese government had come to threaten my family, their friends, and the larger community. I now know that my parents arranged for us to apply as refugees escaping persecution, and that the situation we were in was far more dire than I could have imagined. Life in China was extremely tough: my family lived in a cramped apartment, and we could be arbitrarily arrested or detained at any time.
Naturally, there were many things to adjust to upon arriving here, most prominent of which was the language barrier. While I only struggled for about two years with English due to my young age, my parents struggled with both the language and customs. They now tell me how hard it was during this time, and I find myself both grateful and inspired by their drive.
Whenever you leave your first home, there will always be things you miss. For me, it was the culture and food more than anything else. There is something indescribably special about eating a home-cooked meal prepared by your grandmother with fresh ingredients from the local market. While there are many delicious foods here, that taste of home is something that cannot be replicated. The cultural understanding between everyone in China is also something I find myself missing; everyone understood one another. My mother knew everyone from our neighbours to the local officials; that cultural connection with everyone is something which Canada often lacks.
Canada and its people have been nothing but good to us for our entire lives here. My parents’ drive to adopt Canada as their new home, and Canada’s willingness to accept us were both instrumental in this process. I still remember all of the small gestures of kindness from people of all walks of life. This is something that made us feel welcome and comfortable; this was a stark contrast to Chinese culture, which prioritised the pursuit of one’s goals and interests over everything and everyone else. One of our first days here was a blisteringly cold morning, and my mother and I were walking down the street; my classmate’s mother saw us, and suggested we ball our fists up to protect our fingers from the cold. Of course, this worked! While it may seem like a small gesture to some, my mother and I felt genuine kindness from those around us, even in something as small as helping us to better manage the cold. This is not to mention countless housewarming gifts, baked goods from neighbours, and many other kindnesses that we were touched and even shocked to receive without expectation of anything in return. This genuine care for others has continued for most of my life here.
Years have passed since my first day in Canada, and I can comfortably say that we have fully adapted; I have come to embrace Canada as home. The kindness, opportunities, and openness of Canada provided me and my family with the biggest lifeline, and has allowed us to forge a great life starting from the very beginning.
Please note that certain facts have been altered for anonymity This story is a collaborative effort between Noor Abubaker and David Chen