Immigration is a deft balancing act that requires holding on to vital parts of your home while making space for aspects of your new environment that will shape the future. Many immigrant parents say that their children’s accents disappear when they step from the airplane. This writer was certainly no exception. A few decades after emigrating to Canada with my parents, there is little of the Liverpudlian accent left in my everyday speech. Children might intentionally lose their accents to make fitting into a new school and social circle much easier.
But accents aren’t something we choose to bring with us. They’re just kind of there. When preparing to journey to another country and make that new country a new home, we have to decide what we will bring with us and maintain in the new land. As an ostensibly multicultural country, Canada can seem very welcoming to new additions to the cultural landscape. To understand how immigrants preserve their original culture while living in Canada, we reached out to some immigrants to get an idea of what they carried to their new home.
It is important to note that some people don’t bring anything. This article assumes that the people who emigrated here did so by choice and that there continued to have positive feelings toward their country of origin, despite leaving it. But the sad truth is that some people leave their home countries because of persecution, unemployment, or the unwelcoming environment. If you’re an immigrant who chose not to bring keepsakes, that is a valid choice too. Sometimes we leave a place so that we can leave memories behind and have more room to grow and evolve in our new environment to grow and evolve.
So what do immigrants bring with them? Let’s find out. This writer has a red and white Liverpool FC dish towel with the Liver Bird, Liverpool’s mythical mascot, hanging prominently in his library. It reminds him of where he came from (though only six years old at the time), where his parents came from, and who his family was. It’s small, but it offers a moment of recollection of family thousands of kilometres away, both in Canada and even farther out in England.
“A necklace my mother gave me. I also still feel connected to the history of the country, not necessarily approving of it though.”Sheila, 42 years in Canada, originally from England
So, when you decided to move to Canada, what did you bring? What parts of your home were so important that you knew you’d have to bring them with you to this strange, new world? Large numbers of immigrants will seek comfort in diasporic religious or cultural centres. Still, the culture you bring with you is much smaller than the overwhelming North American culture already here. These small parts are beacons, reminding us of who we are, where we came from, and why we travelled to this vast and magnificent country. And as Sheila notes, sometimes we can still carry a connection to a place despite the occasionally complicated history.
“I brought my wife and she is a keeper!”Colin, 54 years in Canada, originally from the United Kingdom
Emigrating with a partner does a lot to assuage the loneliness that can accompany setting up a home in a new country. And they can remind you, should you start to forget, about where you came from and some of the great things about your former home. Many immigrant stories involve one partner arriving in a new country first, arranging living space and employment, before bringing the rest of the family over. That moment when the rest of our loved ones arrive in the new country is a beautiful reminder that home is about the people you’re with rather than the place.
“I brought letters and drawings and notes from friends and family over the years.”Isabel, 11 years in Canada, originally from Brazil
Instead of a commercial or cultural product, some people bring more personal mementoes with them. Isabel’s letters and drawings can be beneficial both when she’s missing Brazil and when she’s missing the people who continue to make that country an essential part of her life. Photographs of family and history can serve the same purpose. We may not often consider that it’s not just the country we’re leaving but the people who have made it a home for us for many years.
“South African Wine.”Richard, 25 years in Canada, originally from South Africa
Canada tries to be multicultural, but there are a lot of arguments against such a case. The long-standing mistreatment of Indigenous persons throughout Canada’s history is a very early example of a lack of multicultural feeling. Although elected officials insist on using terms like “mosaic” and “multicultural,” Canada is still very much a country of Western culture, heavily influenced by the United Kingdom and the United States. Anything outside of these two iconic cultures tends to stick out. But isn’t that the point? Nothing should fade into the background in a truly multicultural system, and everything should be celebrated. Richard, above, doesn’t tell us how much South African wine he brought with him, and, let’s be honest when you’re emigrating from another country, a good stiff drink is occasionally a necessity! But wine from South Africa is an award-winning, somewhat famous reminder for Richard of the country he left. If you are looking for a genuinely multicultural aspect of Canadian culture, pop into your local liquor store and look at the wine selection.
“We brought lots of things, I guess – I retained my love of Liverpool (football club and city). The only keepsake that remains for me is my Tankard, presented to me on my 18th birthday, which still sometimes gets used.”Tom, 42 years in Canada, originally from England
The unfortunate truth is that we can’t bring everything with us when we’re emigrating to a new country. Transporting furniture and large possessions can be prohibitively expensive. Many immigrants will carry only one or two things with them, the things they can’t possibly bear to part with. The upside of this is that it leaves plenty of room and opportunity to accumulate new keepsakes and new memories of your new home and all of the ups and downs associated with it.