It dawned on me during a bus ride to school that being an immigrant is sort of like being a meteorite. Whether you planned it or not, one morning you find yourself hurtling across the vast unknown into a world of further alien-ness. If you don't burn up in the process of entry, once you land into a community everybody thinks you’re ruining everything. At least that's how I imagined it given the stories that I have heard from those in my circle who have immigrated here.
As an international student looking to build a life for myself professionally in Canada, the immigrant struggle has struck an even deeper cord with me. Although I am not quite an immigrant myself yet, there is a thread of immeasurable sacrifice that binds all of the people who have left their old world behind for the promise of opportunity in this country.
With sacrifice comes vulnerability. Regardless of the label, whether it be international student, immigrant, or temporary worker, the hope for a future does not come without risk.
Canada presents itself as a veritable land of milk and honey to the world for immigrants.
To be fair, this country has provided an avenue for multitudes to uplift themselves when they would never have at home and it has benefited itself from their many talents. The country has benefited tremendously from the work of the people who venture to it with their hopes and dreams in hand.
The temporary foreign workers who constitute the majority of those occupying the seasonal work positions that support this country’s agricultural sector are too often a neglected population in discussions of Canada and its borrowed peoples.
They hail from countries in Latin America and the Caribbean in great part from Mexico and Jamaica, and work typically during the summer months supporting farms just like those in the Okanagan.
What are the trials that they face? What makes it all worth it to them? What do they hope to gain from their time here? What do they leave behind?
The Phoenix headed to San’s Latin Market, a place frequently visited by many of the temporary workers to see who we could talk to so that we could find some answers to these questions.
There I spoke with a seasonal worker named Celso, from Hidalgo Mexico who shared his experience working on a farm here in BC. This experience challenged some of my presumptions about what life as an immigrant worker is like in a meaningful way that will come through in our interview, which has been translated from Spanish to English.
Brandon-¿Cuántas veces has vuelto a Canadá para trabajar?
(How many times have you returned to Canada for work?)
(seven [harvest] seasons)
Brandon-´¿Dirías que Canadá es como lo imaginaba antes de venir? ¿De qué manera?
(Would you say that Canada is as you imagined it before coming? In what way?)
Celso-Si, si, bueno yo lo imaginaba de otra manera, pero si, si, creo que es un país muy apacible, solidario y social.
(Yes, yes well I imagined it another way, but yes I think it's a very pleasant, very supportive and social country.)
Brandon-¿Piensas en algo para fortalecer su mente o su espíritu durante los momentos duros de su trabajo? ¿En qué o quién piensas?
(Do you think about anything to strengthen your mind or your spirit during the hard times in your job? Who or what do you think of?)
Celso-Como todo ser humano, se ve le viene la familia, estamos a una distancia que caminando tardaría pero uno viene a trabajar y creo yo que es para el beneficio de la familia que se venga de México uno tiene que trabajar aquí. Bueno, yo no siento malos momentos. Sino que
Para levantarme a trabajar pienso en mis hijos, pienso en mi familia y eso me da fuerza y motivos para seguir trabajando.
(Like all human beings [in this situation], our family comes to mind, we are so far apart that walking would take long. But, one comes here to work and I think it's for the benefit of the family that comes from Mexico that one has to work here. Well, I don't feel troubled by the bad times. To get out of bed to go to work, I think about my children, my family and this gives me strength and reasons to keep working.
Brandon-¿Qué esperas obtener o lograr en tu tiempo trabajando en Canadá?
(What do you hope to obtain or achieve in your time working in Canada?)
Celso-Creo que mucho, mucho, porque en lo económico no estamos igual. Canada y Mexico
Creo que Canadá es un país que ofrece todo eso con respecto a las oportunidades laborales. Y pues qué piensa hacer?
Creo que es tener una, cómo me explico, una vida mejor. Una vida más digna.
(A lot, because economically speaking we aren't equal. Canada and Mexico. I think that Canada is a country that offers everything with respect to job opportunities. What do I want to do? I think to have, how do I explain this, a better life. A more dignified life.)
I think throughout this interview, I had my paradigms challenged. Perhaps due to the stories I had heard and the experiences I had, I thought that the immigrant experience was defined wholly by adversity.
Although Celso’s is just one story, I think it resounded with an optimism and a feeling of resilience that is emblematic of his fellows. After all, the ambience within San’s Latin Market where all the workers gathered was one of mirth, hearty conversation, and connection.
I get the sense that if there is an idea of the “Canadian dream,” it is not carried by people who are hunched over and aching with woes but rather people beaming with life and laughter and striving towards a goal.
That is not to erase any hardships, but to me it impresses a new sense of responsibility in my conversations about immigrants in Canada and gives me a renewed hope about what lies before me.
What about you? The Phoenix is always eager to hear from students and their experiences. Reach out to @ubcophoenix on Instagram or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.