Pass­ing as Cana­dian de­pends on skin colour

The Prince George Citizen - - Opinion - ANN TIPLADY VIC­TO­RIA TIMES COLONIST

We thought they were mu­nic­i­pal em­ploy­ees, the three men wear­ing reflective-yel­low work vests. We thought they were di­rect­ing traf­fic or giv­ing di­rec­tions. We asked them what was go­ing on, why were peo­ple gathered across the lawn in front of the leg­is­la­ture build­ing in Vic­to­ria?

One man ex­plained they were protest­ing im­mi­gra­tion. Re­ally? We were friendly enough, will­ing to hear more. He went on, earnestly ex­plain­ing their ideas to my hus­band. The crazi­ness of it ex­ploded out of me. Slap­ping my hus­band’s arm, I pointed out: “You’re an im­mi­grant!”

“Yeah! I am!” My hus­band is a white Amer­i­can who “passes” ev­ery day for Cana­dian. The yel­low-vesters made those em­bar­rassed cough­ing, throat-clear­ing noises that meant “we didn’t mean you.” There wasn’t much more to talk about, so we went on our way, highly amused.

I left Canada as a young adult, dur­ing the hor­ri­ble re­ces­sion of the early 1980s. Remember the dou­ble-whammy of col­laps­ing oil prices and sky-high in­ter­est rates?

The col­lapsed oil mar­ket meant that the promised fund­ing for the grad­u­ate re­search I hoped to do in Al­berta had vapour­ized. And the U.S. Fed­eral Re­serve, tasked with bring­ing the then-high inflation un­der con­trol did just that by rais­ing in­ter­est rates so high they threw the Amer­i­can econ­omy,

and nat­u­rally the Cana­dian econ­omy as well, into ter­ri­ble recessions.

My father kept his job, but many of our fam­ily friends did not. It was shock­ing and scary to see mid­dle-aged peo­ple with solid, long-term ca­reers sud­denly un­em­ployed. And there I was, in the midst of this eco­nomic cat­a­clysm, trying to launch the next stage of my life in grad­u­ate school. There was noth­ing do­ing in Canada. But there were op­por­tu­ni­ties to be found in the U.S.

I was an eco­nomic mi­grant, like so many, blown across borders by the winds of global events. I hadn’t planned to leave Canada and for many years I in­tended to re­turn. But then I didn’t. I mar­ried, I fin­ished my ed­u­ca­tion, I worked, I had chil­dren. Life hap­pened. I had im­mi­grated to the U.S.

Then life hap­pened again. Af­ter 32 years, al­most all of my adult life, I re­turned to Canada. My fam­ily came, too. I brought Canada the gift of my hus­band and our chil­dren. What would the yel­low-vesters think of my boys? Would they re­ject these welle­d­u­cated, kind, young white men because they are im­mi­grants?

My life is full of im­mi­grants. My father was an im­mi­grant. My brother’s wife im­mi­grated to Canada as a child, brought here by her im­mi­grant par­ents. My hus­band’s sister mar­ried a Cana­dian and im­mi­grated here. All these peo­ple bring tremen­dous benefits to Canada.

Would the yel­low-vesters ob­ject to them? Would it make a dif­fer­ence that all these peo­ple are white? Not long af­ter, I was gar­den­ing near our back fence, be­yond which is a park where peo­ple of­ten walk dogs.

A gen­tle­man came along the fence with a large, brown, woolly dog. May I pet the dog? The fence is low enough that con­ver­sa­tions hap­pen over it. Yes, of course.

The gen­tle­man was older and wore a tur­ban. To my ears his ac­cent was very strong, but even so we man­aged a very pleas­ant con­ver­sa­tion, the kind that gives you a lift for the rest of the day, just because you’ve met a re­ally nice per­son.

We talked about the places we had lived, me in Canada, the U.S., and now Canada again. He had lived in sev­eral places af­ter In­dia, I think Texas, maybe Mon­treal, and now Vic­to­ria. He has lived in Vic­to­ria for 43 years. Me? I didn’t grow up here. I’ve lived here less than four.

The yel­low-vesters might not like this gen­tle­man. Like my hus­band, he came from some­where else, but un­like my hus­band, he has brown skin and speaks with an ob­vi­ous ac­cent. He wouldn’t “pass.”

But which of us re­ally is the im­mi­grant? Nor­mally we would say he is. But you know, next to this man, I think I’m the im­mi­grant.

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