– You know that immigrants are only coming here because they have AIDS and stuff and need free health care, right? I mean, not you obviously, but most of Black people. And Arabic. And Asians.
Phew, not me. I’m so relieved. I’m white, must be why.
How did I get into this conversation, already? Oh yeah, I’m on the bus #151 to downtown, and I took the last free seat beside a middle aged woman who was obviously bored and started up the conversation as soon as she saw me pulling a French book out of my bag. The conversation wasn’t about literature though. Mostly about my background, where I was from and why I came here. This somehow led to this above statement.
Since it takes about 30 minutes to get downtown, I had plenty of time to straighten a few facts. I explained that every prospective immigrant has to undergo a full medical exam performed by a designated practitioner before being granted a visa. That testing for HIV, Hepatitis and TB is included. And that being infected with any of these diseases meant bye bye visa. In a word, it was basically impossible that immigrants were coming to Canada with the sole purpose of taking advantage of the health system since they wouldn’t be allowed in Canada in the first place. And by the way, there were a mandatory 3 months waiting time for newcomers to Canada before being covered by the provincial health plan.
I must have sound awfully down-to-earth—and frankly, a bit patronizing as well. The woman stopped looking at me in the eyes five minutes into my lengthy explanation. Can’t blame here—stereotypes and prejudices are sometimes more comforting than the truth since they provide a good excuse for your basic racist rant and hate.
Immigrants are a perfect target: they are different, they are new and they are often less knowledgeable about the country’s culture than locals.
I’ve heard many times that immigrants only come to the Western world to enjoy social benefits. Once there, they just have a lot of kids and sit around waiting for the social benefits paid to families’ monthly cheque. Yeah… well. How many of you can live off social benefits? And how many of you would : a) pay immigration fees of about $6 000 (for a family of 4) b) wait for a few years to have it processed c) leave your country for the unknown—all that for a grand total of $400/month of government money to live on? Seriously.
In the same vein, immigrants steal the jobs from locals. Innocents… An immigrant’s career path usually looks like a battlefield. First, your new home country has to recognize degrees obtained abroad. Then comes the famous catch 22: until you have Canadian experience, it’s very hard to get a job. But until you’ve got a job, it’s difficult to get Canadian experience. Works also for US experience etc. All in all, consider yourself lucky if you manage to be above minimum wage within a couple of years. And don’t think immigrants just can’t get a job because their English or whatever isn’t good enough, or because they don’t adapt. I’m French and speak both official languages, and as a young French woman I think the culture shock I experienced wasn’t too bad. Yet, it took me a couple of year to finally get paid over $10 an hour.
Insidious stereotypes… Chinese all live in Chinatown and don’t speak a word of English (but they are apologetic and hard-working), Blacks wear huge gold chains and always carry a couple of guns with them so that they can make headlines, Russian drink while playing cards in the back kitchen of some mafia-operated restaurant, Arabs are either oil tycoons or bombers (the latest option being the current trend), Latinos are all illegal and deal drug…
Ignorance is bliss. And scaring people has been our governments’ business for quite a while now. “They are going to attack us/invaded us/take our jobs/take our culture away”. It’s much easier to keep citizens angry and restless than solving problems, one at the time.
I sometimes wish my world was black and white, it’d be easier to take a side. Unfortunately, it’s rarely like that, and the topic of immigration is no exception. Some immigrants are bad people, some are opportunist, and some are lazy. But the majority is just looking for a better life and a place to belong.
Immigrants aren’t perpetual foreigners. Sooner or later, we become part of the country. Will the charges be dropped then? Doubt it… unless people start to open their eye and see the world as it is, an imperfect place full of good-will people willing to work it out together. Dreamer, me? Yeah, once again.