I have no long-term status in Canada. I have a visitor’s visa, which means I’m supposed to leave before the visa expires at the end of June. I should have started a permanent residency visa, but it’s a lot of paperwork. There are so many other things I’d rather do, but we may be staying here longer than I expected, so I should probably get started.
When Mark and I started dreaming about his first, “real” job, there often wasn’t a specific location in mind. I’d say to people, preferably west of the Mississippi, but as the years went by (and the more specialized Mark became), I realized how few jobs would be available. Right now, there are FOUR openings in the entire United States; there is one in Canada; and one in Sydney, Australia. So, we may be staying in Canada, and I’m now thinking a lot about what it would be like to become a Canadian. There are a lot of similarities between our two countries, but also some massive differences. Namely, there are no Targets in Canada. Ha.
The most impactful part of living in Toronto has been the hugely diverse population. Over fifty perfect of the residents were born in other countries. My kids’ school has students from all over the world. My son’s three closest friends are from Iraq via Dubai, Northern India via Singapore, and Kenya. They all speak multiple languages (except my kid), celebrate a vast range of holidays and customs, and bring incredible experiences and knowledge to their classroom. Concomitant with their rich cultural backgrounds is the fact these kids are totally Canadian. And this is what makes this place so remarkable. In the United States there has become an increasing prejudicial divide between birthright citizens and immigrants. It makes me sick to think about Trump’s wall, the Syrians who are/were banned from the US, the children and families in detentions, the worsening racism and bigotry. Here, everyone is an immigrant and celebrated as such–other than the First Nation peoples who are respected and acknowledged at every public event.* I’ve never lived anywhere in which all residents truly belong.
Canadians pay roughly what Americans do in taxes, but with the high tax rate and a low defense budget in Canada, most of the money goes right back to the people, which means excellent public schools (including colleges), well-maintained infrastructure, universal health care, subsidized housing, etc. My takeaway in this arena is that Canadian tax money goes in a different direction than most American taxes. In Canada there is an emphasis on birth rights, or human rights. In other words, there is a specific language that defines our access to rights in the United States. For example, the hyphen between one’s culture or heritage and America often separates individuals from access to healthcare, education, or housing. This is problematic as the hyphen is meant to connect two disparate terms, but seems to only emphasize a divide. Conversely, there is no such thing as Syrian-Canadian, African-Canadian, or Mexican-Canadian. The hyphen is replaced with dignity.
It feels different in Canada. Stores are different, but in the same way CVS and Duane Reade differ; the produce is a little older/staler from being transported so far; it’s less self-aggrandizing, but no less patriotic; Toronto is transient, but the suburbs seem rooted; and the people are noticeably happier. This could just be my perception, but among the bustling subway lines and streetcars are people who look each other in the eye when they pass one another. I experienced this recently when my daughter was having a temper tantrum after leaving the Royal Ontario Museum (a favorite of ours). A woman got off the bus alongside us, looked at me and grinned. She asked if I needed help. Grace was about twenty yards behind me stomping her feet. I smiled and said, “No, thank you, but thanks for asking.” The woman laughed and said, “I’ve been there!” In Toronto, so many of us were born far away, but we’ve all “been there,” and that common ground is beginning to make Canada feel like home.
*A public statement addressing First Nations peoples is recited at the beginning of sporting events, the ballet, theatre, school performances etc. The statements differ depending on the province and region, but the acknowledgement is along the lines of: “We [I] would like to begin by acknowledging that the land on which we gather is the traditional territory of the Wendat, the Anishnaabeg, Haudenosaunee, Métis, and the Mississaugas of the New Credit First Nation. Each day we greet and honour the original inhabitants of the land.”