Blogs > Cliopatria > A Letter From an Immigrant

Dec 18, 2005 9:23 am

A Letter From an Immigrant

Here is the translation of the pertinent part of a letter I wrote yesterday to the Quebec-based newsmagazine L'ACTUALITÉ, which recently featured a special issue on "101 Words to Understand Quebec." In explaining why I thought that the word "immigration" or "immigrants" should be one, I touched on my own experience as an immigrant to Quebec.
This brings up two related questions that I consder to be of interest:
First, is there a significant transhistorical continuity between immigrants? Despite the obvious differences between past and current-day immigrants to North America in terms of region of origin, transportation, criteria for admission, and so forth, can we claim that the fundamental causes of immigration--most often the search for better jobs and economic gain, and secondarily the quest for personal security and political/religious freedom--remain constant?
Also, can we discuss immigration as a defining experience, one that connects those who undergo it in the same way that groups are linked by religion, ethnic/racial identity, sexual orientation, etc?

As a new immigrant to Quebec, I am a frequent reader of your magazine, which offers me a useful window into the intellectual climate of my adopted land. I therefore read with great interest your special issue on “101 words to understand Quebec.” I was quite astonished to note that the word “immigration” was not part of the list, and there was essentially no comment on the subject. Everyone agrees that the recruitment and acculturation of newcomers represents a fundamental problem for Quebec, especially given the aging of the native-born population. Even as Quebec opens itself up to the world in extraordinary fashion, there remain within Quebec society troubling currents of hostility towards new immigrants, especially from racial and ethnic minority groups. Housing and employment discrimination, whether overt or concealed, are the most obvious and deplorable obstacles to the absorption of Quebec’s future inhabitants, but not the only one. Even at a less conscious level, exclusion can wound. It is difficult for a native-born citizen to imagine the kind of stress that is caused by the adaptation of any immigrant, however well off, just in legal and structural matters. I have been touched by the spirit of tolerance and friendly interest throughout my settling-in process—obtaining a medical insurance card, submitting a request for permanent residence, perfecting my French, and so forth—yet I remain sensitive to any hint of hostility or disdain caused by my foreign background or by the fact that French is not my first language. Such hostility risks spoiling all the admirable work that Quebec’s people have done to found a French-speaking civil society and alienating its most faithful supporters.

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Greg James Robinson - 12/21/2005

The hundred and one words ranged from "sex" to "nordicité" (northernness). As a foreigner, I try to observe the debatres over the national question in Queec, and not take sides. I will say that I myself have not found too much "pure laine" bias in my dealings with Franch Canadians. And not only does the Parti Quebecois have progressive ideas on child care, they have just elected as their leader André Boisclair, a 39 year old who studied at Harvard and who is poised, in the event of a PQ victory in the next elections, to become the first openly Gay head of a state or provincial government in North American History (unless you count the 15 minutes between the part of his last speech in which Jim McGreevey came out and the announcement of his resignation).

Melissa Ann Spore - 12/18/2005

Tell us if they print it.

As you know (but other readers may not), a strand of Quebec society believes in "pure laine"—the old stock Francophones. But the PQ is in some ways, such as child care policy, the most progressive on the continent.

Perhaps some English media may translate or comment on the article. I'd like to know what the hundred words were.


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