September 9-16 is Welcoming Week in Canada. In this post, Safa Shanneb, Communications Specialist, Communication & Community Relations, shares her personal experience.
When asked what would surprise people to learn about me, I instantly responded, “I’ve lived in eight countries over the course of my life.”
I was born in Libya and have had the good fortune of living in the United Kingdom, Egypt, United States, Italy, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Canada. Through circumstance, choice and fluke, immigration has become my thing.
Before this Welcoming Week in Canada, I had never heard of a designated celebration of immigrants or immigration in any of the countries I lived in. I appreciate the nod and prompt to reflect on how immigration truly changes places and lives. I say this while recognizing that the system is imperfect and that we are a long way away from equity and inclusion.
In conversation with the other Welcoming Week guest blogger Zandi Moyo, we explored how much our respective immigration journeys—and our knowledge of the journeys of those we love—tints our world view and approach to living. We compared notes on different immigration processes and designations in Canada, the US, and other countries; deliberated on the difference between refugee and asylum seeker; and identified some of the inequities we witnessed over time.
We both consider our fluency in English a blessing and are intimately aware of its role in determining our quality of life here in Canada and in other English-speaking countries. We were both educated in English and despite some grammatical and vocabulary adjustments, we’re perfectly comfortable in many spaces and can more easily meet our own needs than those who do not.
I’m keenly aware that this is not the same experience as my mother who immigrated to the United States in her 40s and struggled with forming friendships, gaining employment or being very involved in my English-speaking world at school and beyond.
I appreciate immigration for what it has opened my eyes to about the world and people.
When I look at a group—anywhere—I take inventory of the diversity and hierarchy to understand truths that would not be verbalized.
I notice organizations where certain groups are over-represented in leadership and while another group is always cast as support. I watch for the lack of eye contact and smiles in interactions between individuals from marginalized and mainstream groups in meetings and transactions. And I see it trickle down – things like BIPOC children not engaging with others at a playground, probably because they’ve learned the hard way to keep to themselves.
These observations help me untangle the power dynamics around me and discern between reality and fiction.
Another significant area of life that multiple immigrations has influenced is who I share my space and time with. After settling in many different cities, I have found I would rather spend time alone than with folks I share only superficial commonalities with. After many a mistake, I now focus on values when choosing to build relationships. It certainly takes longer to make friends, but I’m okay with that. And I will use every communications app to stay in touch with those I love.
My final take-away: Humans everywhere are incredible. I look forward to leaning into and learning from the opportunities that my path has opened for me.