Recently, I had a few friends over. They’re immigrants from various countries in Latin America and we were discussing the political rise of Donald Trump in the U.S., and the complicated challenges the country faces with racial profiling and diversity. We had a deep talk about immigrant engagement in our community that made me reflect on this column.
Canada is a nation of immigrants. One thing I liked the most about Canada is that Canada is a mosaic of cultures, rather than an American-style melting pot.
Immigration adds to the diversity of cultures, languages, and the social fabric of our community. Immigrants’ engagement level relies sometimes on how active and engaged their expat communities are in supporting, protecting, and promoting newcomers.
Sometimes it’s how many years in the community or how many active members of a certain group. Halifax’s Lebanese and Greek communities are examples of vibrant and engaged expatriates. They are very integrated, with many successful businesses, and engage the broader community in their rich cultures with popular annual festivals.
The challenge is that not all expat communities are as organized or as engaged, which creates more needs for coordinated efforts to support smaller fragmented immigrant communities.
Immigrants are a force for growth in the Canadian economy: job creation, improved skills, and economic activity. One of the main challenges for newcomers is to survive in the new environment. New first-generation immigrants dedicate most, if not all the time and resources to secure the basic needs to survive in a new country: a job, a home, and living essentials. This is the period of time when newcomers are most vulnerable and need community support the most.
Finding the first job is a big challenge. Many newcomers take a step down in their career when moving to a new country, accepting entry-level work just to get a foot in the door.
The challenges don’t end there. Moving up also can be challenging depends on where you work, and what kind of workplace culture you are in, as you may just hit the glass ceiling. It is hidden barrier not communicated to you or anyone, non-written or transcribed anywhere within the organization, but it limits your growth. The only way to fight it is to do your best, keep pushing for change, and never accept this as the default.
When I couldn’t find a job, I created my own. It’s no surprise that many immigrants are successful entrepreneurs as they tend to have higher risk tolerance by default, given they already took a big risk of moving to a new country. They approach every day with a failure-is-not-an-option attitude.
Once an expatriate community has the essentials covered, it can take community engagement beyond the basics: volunteerism, politics, sports, and the list goes on. New Canadians are smart to pay close attention to politics. Political parties are actively courting newcomers after the jump in new Canadians voting in the last election (a new-Canadian voter turnout rate of 70 per cent in 2015 up from 56 per cent in 2011).
Education on civic engagement of newcomers is essential. Some come from countries where they never experienced democracy growing up before coming to Canada. That was my experience: for the first time I was able to voice an opinion publicly without fear of persecution. Casting my ballot in Canada was a milestone in my immigration journey, another way to feel “I belong.”
Try to find out which politicians are more inclusive and will craft policies that will affect you and your family. Economy, health care, education—what are most important to you? You can vote for a local candidate or for a political ideology. Voting is an opportunity to express your opinions and steer the political direction of the country. Your civic engagement should go beyond the ballot box, to touch organizations and groups that surround you in the community. Why stop there? Run for office. Don’t just follow, try to lead.