This is a very sensitive topic, and before I begin addressing this I would like to point out that I am not targeting a particular race, or any political leader. This piece reflects my own opinions and experiences being a minority. So let’s begin.
I immigrated to Canada during grade 9, but had been living in the States prior to this. I was accustomed to Western culture, and my own Pakistani cultural background as well. I was culturally sensitive. Despite this, people that I was close to often faced certain challenges:
1. The Accent: I personally did not face this challenge, because I can easily converse in the English tongue. However, my parents did get ridiculed, strange looks, and even told to “go back to their own country” based on their accent. I recollect standing in line to buy groceries with my mom, and the person in front of us spoke fluent English. They were greeted warmly by the cashier. However, when it was our turn to pay, the cashier gave my mom a strange look, and her responses were curt and short. I felt uncomfortable and unwelcome.
2. The Adjustment: Many people of colour and minorities have to find new jobs when moving to either Canada or the United States. It doesn’t matter what profession they took in their old country – they’re no longer a doctor, engineer, etc. Now they’re a cashier at Wal-Mart. This can take an emotional toll on people. Luckily, my family did not have to undergo this struggle, although we did struggle in other areas.
3. The Cultural Insensitivity: Some people, even in multicultural Canada, are not very culturally sensitive. If a kid brings “curry” to school (trust me “brown people” have a lot more food options rather than just “curry”) they get strange looks. They feel insecure, and as a result of this, choose not to take this “strange” food the next they get a packed lunch. Instead, they replace it with Pb&J sandwiches. Or when a woman wears Pakistani clothes to the mall, she’ll get strange looks. I remember wearing a dress from H&M, and this woman stopped me to say, “wow I love your __.” She paused looking for a word to say. “Your uh…” She gestured wildly, pointing at my dress. I smiled politely and replied, “Thanks, this dress is from H&M.”
4. The Psychological Issues: A lot of immigrants have higher cortisol (a stress hormone) levels, as a result of the stressors they are facing. Recent immigrants find everyday tasks challenging. These can include dropping their kid off at daycare, interacting with a cashier, or even going to Costco. Yes, it may seem “silly,” but this is the struggle that several of us face. As a result of this, many immigrants may meet diagnosis for general anxiety disorder (GAD) and even clinical depression.
5. Acculturation: Numerous immigrants are faced with the struggle of abandoning their cultural identity to take on a new identity that is Westernized. They feel like they’ll be accepted more and will struggle less if they abandon their old identity. They need to feel more accepted, understand that their culture is unique, and that it makes them stand out. This is why lots of people when immigrating abandon their cultural identity, become “Westernized”, eat Western food more-so than traditional food, wear Western clothing, the list goes on.
Please feel free to check out these studies, taken from reputable journals, which touch on some of the issues that I talked about:
Depression (and other internalizing disorders):
Again, it is important that we learn to tackle this problem as a society and make everyone feel welcome – both directly and indirectly. All of us are unique and it is pivotal that we celebrate our differences instead of building walls and shutting one another out.