Thursday, July 1, 1993
glowing hearts On March 24, 1993, the Raza family of Etobicoke,
originally from Pakistan, became Canadian citizens, four years
after arriving here. This is the story of their struggle and
ultimate success in making Canada their new home.
AS I STOOD with
tears in my eyes during the oath-taking ceremony, my 7-year-old
son asked me, "Mama, why are you crying?"
I did not quite
know what to say. I had mixed emotions at that time . . . part
guilt at aligning myself with a new country, part pride and
happiness and mostly, a deep sense of achievement.
Four years ago,
in December, 1989, as we stood cold and shivering at Pearson
airport in the first winter storm of the season, I could never
have imagined that we would see this day. All we carried with us
were our life savings reduced to a meagre amount of $2,000, our
immigrant visas and our pride. We had arrived in Canada, almost
destitute, devoid of friends or relatives and totally lost.
Were we refugees?
No, even though we may have looked the part, we were bona fide
landed immigrants with genuine documents that we had worked hard
for. Why and how were we in Canada in this condition? In the
past four years many people have asked me that question and now
I can truly respond.
Canada was the
country of our choice when we decided that due to continued
political instability in our native country of Pakistan, we
wanted a better future for our children and ourselves. With
guidance from a Canadian lawyer, we applied for immigration.
Being professionals, we were able to fulfil all the requirements
of Canadian immigration and after lengthy inquiries, health and
background checks, we were accepted and granted landed immigrant
delayed our arrival into Canada till the last moment because we
were working in the oil rich Persian Gulf and the lure of petro
dollars was attractive. We wanted to save the maximum amount of
money needed for our stay here.
We had put aside
enough to invest in a house, live comfortably for at least six
months and maybe invest in a small business.
My husband worked
as personnel manager for Nasser bin Abdullah, uncle of the ruler
of Qatar, a tiny emirate in the Arabian Gulf. A wrong investment
and the wrath of a vengeful Arab sheikh (who felt it was his
religious and moral duty to keep us away from the West) deprived
us of all our savings, my husband's hard-earned company benefits
and our personal belongings.
Although we were
hard-pressed and could have returned to our homeland where we
had family support and a house to live in, we decided not to
turn to family for help.
Canada had been our personal decision and we had worked very
hard to achieve that status, so we were determined to make a go
Luckily we'd had
the foresight to purchase our tickets for travel to Canada
before our financial crisis hit, so we had the means to travel
to Toronto. Once here, we sealed our fate by sending back the
return portion of our tickets.
We spent our
first night in a motel and the second day, we went to the only
place we could afford - a building nicknamed "Immigration
House" where furnished apartments were available by the
week. By the time we paid the advance rent and bought groceries,
our finances were down to half.
continuously and we had no guidance. My husband would leave the
house at 8 a.m. and walk for miles looking for work, but
everywhere he went the talk was of "Canadian
experience." People were generally helpful and we realized
that it is just a matter of time and perseverance, and we would
soon be on the right track.
There were the
little discomforts of a new country. My children had no snow
pants and we had to walk miles in the cold so they cried every
night because their legs hurt. They also coughed constantly but
we could not afford a doctor.
We did not know
about OHIP until someone kindly pointed us in the direction of
Welcome House, where we got our first break. We took turns
looking after the children so one person could go job-hunting.
The money was dwindling fast and we could not afford to stay on
in the apartment much longer.
Two weeks after
battering his head against almost every agency in town, my
husband came back and told me, "You have to go out and find
a job. Otherwise we are out on the street tomorrow."
Well, you say
that to a mother of two young kids and you have a challenge on
your hands. I left the apartment with a fierce determination to
do something positive.
I looked up the
name of an employment agency at random and presented myself
there. They told me there was a job at Toronto General Hospital
but they were not sure whether I would be able to do it, because
of my lack of Canadian experience. I put on my best smile,
exuded a confidence I did not feel and said I was the best
candidate for the post. To this day, I do not know what
happened, but they believed me.
Monday, I went to the doctor's office for an interview. When I
walked in, the receptionist took one look at me and said,
"You must be a refugee - my father hates refugees."
With that vote
of confidence in my favor, I presented my resume. By the end of
the day I had a job. I am still grateful to the doctor, who saw
beyond my "ethnic" look. He did not ask me until two
months later, "and where did you say you were from?"
We started to
look for a house to rent, but the requirement everywhere was for
first and last month's rent, which we did not have. Thanks to an
ad in The Toronto Star, we finally came to a house on Renault
Cres., where we met Hubert Abe who was to become our guardian
He heard our
story and with tears in his eyes said he was an Estonian
immigrant himself and understood the trauma of a couple with
young children. He excused the last month's rent, and with no
references, he rented his home to us.
For one month my
kids slept with coats under their heads as pillows. A battered
couch was our only furniture. But we were lucky because the
house was located in a very nice area where the day care is
superb. My children started day care and I went to work.
While we were
moving into the house, my husband slipped and fell on black ice,
fracturing his elbow. Hubert pragmatically pointed out
"nothing worse can happen to you, so do not worry."
With his fractured arm, my husband still managed to find a job
with Wardair. The first salary came and we started thawing from
our frozen state to think about life and living.
We found that
although the streets in Canada were not paved with gold, for
every step we took ahead, the way cleared two steps ahead for
us. We learned to start life from scratch and we learned to
At every point
people were helpful and guided us to the best of their ability.
A warm smile in those days meant a lot. Our bitterness toward
our own community, who did not extend themselves to help us,
turned into acceptance.
There were rays
of sunshine, like the taxi driver who did not take money from us
because he was from our native country and missed his children,
and our landlord who gave us dishes, furniture and handmade toys
for our children who had nothing to play with.
Still, our first
year was rough. We were suffering from culture shock, weather
shock and people shock! If we had not had the foresight to send
back our return tickets, we would probably have boarded a flight
back to what was then, home . . .
Today, this is
home and this is certainly where the heart is. Today, we are
both gainfully employed. With the exception of a dog, we live as
many North Americans do . . . we own a small townhouse, we drive
a van, our children are growing up as young, feeling Canadians
and we have assimilated into the mainstream of life here.
So, the tears in
my eyes were for the culmination of our struggle; they were for
thanks to Canada for helping us to survive and hold our heads up
high; they were for the freedom and equality we have found here
and most of all, they were for Canada . . . now our home.
© 1993 Toronto Star, All Rights Reserved.