On life as a Black immigrant womxn in Canada

On life as a Black immigrant womxn in Canada

I moved here in 2006 at the age of 17. It was life-shattering. Leaving my friends behind was the most isolating experience of my life. Programs like WhatsApp and Skype were essential to me. They bridged the distance between my friends and me.

I fought to stay true to who I was in St. Lucia while at the same time coping with the pressures of assimilating to this society. At an age when I was supposed to be finding myself, I was lost between two worlds.

My accent was the first thing that identified my difference, so it had to go.

Having moved from a country that was 95% Black, racism was a new experience for me.

My first racist and xenophobic encounter took place in a Walmart parking lot in Mississauga. My family and I were navigating through the parking lot on foot. A white guy shouted from his truck, “Go back to your country!” I was in utter shock and disbelief. Originally from the upper middle class in St. Lucia, I’d never faced that type of discrimination before. It was at that moment that my Blackness became apparent.

My family moved to Canada under the Federal Skilled Worker Program, which I think is a brain drain. It seeks out young, highly educated, multilingual and skilled professionals from developing countries and encourages them to migrate under the pretense that their education and work experience will help them thrive in Canada. This puts developing countries at a loss, as they lose a significant percentage of the human capital that could lead to effective growth and change back home.

On arrival, my mother was hit with the biggest slap in the face: Canadian experience. Every job she applied for required “Canadian experience”. How was she supposed to have that when she’d just moved here?

She attended Ryerson University as an international student and pursued her Certified Management Accounting designation. This was no easy task—it took years for my mother build the requirements to receive a school loan from the bank. She went to school part time while working a full-time job. I vividly remember her and my little sister commuting to the library every Saturday while I headed to my shift at Tim Hortons. I looked after my sister while my mother dove into her studies. It was a collective effort. And after years of sacrifice, she’s still unable to receive a salary that matches her years of experience and education.

Many immigrants who move here through the program already have their designation. But the evaluation exam which allows them to practice in Canada can cost about $1000.  Professional associations advise immigrants to take the required classes to ensure that they pass the exam on the first try. Many don’t have the privilege of taking these classes because it costs more money that they originally planned for. The money we spent on furniture, food and rent for the first three months in this country quickly disappears.

So families have no choice but to take any job that comes their way. Any job that doesn’t require “Canadian experience”. They settle into their new job. Then the prospect of going to school fades, despite the fact that they would gain more money in the long run.

This is now. And right now, there are bills to be paid.

I’ve noticed a difference in the way this reality hits men. Men are expected to provide for and protect their family. Being unable to provide for their family the way they used to shutters their pride. Many move back home to maintain their income and their middle class status in society. Womxn are left alone to tend to the children and the multitude of problems that life brings.

Statistics Canada reports that half of all males who leave within 20 years of their arrival leave within the first year.

The womxn who are left here turn into single mothers. They’re left without emotional or physical support.

Some receive financial support, but many are forced to work for the first time in their lives. Even with financial support, the exchange rate makes living a challenge.

It’s so hard to survive here as a single parent. I give my mother props for that. It means the difference between owning a house and renting an apartment, vacationing once a year or every three to five years, eating at a restaurant regularly, or only on special occasions.

The requirement for Canadian experience furthers a nationalist ideology and operates under the premise that Canada is better than other countries. That experience elsewhere is subpar.

Bereft of Canadian experience, one cannot acquire a job that matches their qualifications.

It seeks to maintain the white supremacist settler state. It keeps the people who are here because their ancestors colonized the land at the top.

Immigrants are forced to work jobs for which they are overqualified. Often, they have to explore other avenues to generate income.

Very few Black and Indigenous people hold managerial positions. Those who do give the masses hope that they too can be there one day. The system makes people tokens. They're put in place to prove that Canada is multicultural. Tokenism is the process of hiring one or two people from marginalized communities as a symbolic gesture to prove equality.

Canada participates under the guise of multiculturalism. People move to Canada from all over the world and settle in cities like Montreal, Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver. The existence of racialized people in Canada doesn't mean that sociopolitical factors for people of colour have reached a place of equity. Far from it.

In the 1970’s, the government pushed its multiculturalism agenda in an effort to make white people comfortable so they could tolerate the influx of immigrants. Presenting itself as one of the most peaceful countries in the world, Canada looks like a place of refuge from the outside. The hardships and second-class citizenship that immigrants face on arrival refutes this claim.

The process of colonization was meant to make Canada a new land for white people. Immigrants were invited here to perform menial tasks that white people did not want to do. Immigrants have existed and will always exist as a result of their economic impact on the country, and not due to this façade of multiculturalism.

My mom brought us here seeking a better life, I am not sure if this has been achieved or will ever be achieved.

Hailing from St. Lucia, Melissa Robbyn-Giselle Theodore is the former Vice President Equity at University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union. She is a Black, queer, cis-gender, able-bodied mother, who prefers female pronouns. Her passion to change the world by challenging all forms of systematic oppression drives her work. Her work at the University of Toronto Mississauga Students' Union primarily focused on Sexual Assault Advocacy. She currently facilitates workshops on anti-oppression and misogynoir. Melissa believes that education is an imperative tool that can be used to unlearn, disrupt and resist oppressive systems of power. Follow her on Facebook.