Refugees in the House

I often listen to the CBC radio morning news in the morning.  In my busy world multi-tasking is an important survival strategy, so I try to catch up on Canadian and world events while making coffee, cooking oatmeal, and feeding the dogs.  Immigration and refugee concerns have been prevalent in the news in recent months.  This morning I listened to  Kellie Leitch recite the three questions that form her “Canadian values” test as I unloaded the dishwasher.  Trump announced new US immigration restrictions yesterday.  Syrian refugees have been in the news for over a year.

As I listened to the morning’s news I reflected on the fact that most of my nurses – the people who care for my son and by extension my family – are immigrants.  A few arrived in Canada as refugees.  During any given week it is not uncommon for me to have a vast array of members of our global community join my family for a few hours.  Today it was Sri Lanka.  On Saturday it was India.  Our nursing rotation also includes nurses from China, Nigeria, and Eritrea and Ethiopia. And then, of course, Matthew’s primary caregiver is from the Philippines. In fact the majority of Matthew’s nurses and caregivers were born somewhere other than Canada.

As a general rule nurses are discouraged from talking about their personal lives while providing care.  But something about home care and essentially joining a family and a household tends to create opportunities for conversation.  Over the years we have had the opportunity to get to know most of our nurses and we have been fortunate to hear their stories.  The nurses in our home have talked about growing up in poverty, or about leaving comfortable lives in order to seek less restrictive, or less corrupt, governments.  Many talked about the importance of seeking greater opportunities for their children.  I have learned about how arranged marriage works in some cultures.  We have heard amusing stories about how transportation works in other countries – crowded subways in Delhi, rickshaws, mopeds overwhelmed with people and baggage.  One of our nurses from China excitedly helped my eldest son prepare for a cultural exchange to China – painstakingly assisting him with tricky Chinese pronunciation so he could ask for a bathroom while travelling.   This particular nurse was so excited that my son was going to experience a culture and place that he held so dear.  A particularly lovely moment was when two nurses who arrived in Canada as refugees shared their stories with our family since my kids were working on school assignments exploring the topics of refugees in Canada.  Their stories are not mine to share so I won’t, suffice to say their stories were heart-breaking and their journeys difficult. I am relieved that these two people are safe here in Canada.  These two refugees retrained to become nurses and have become vital, necessary, and valued members of our Canadian society and the MacGregor household.

I find that having the United Nations as members of my household and family has made the current conversations about immigration and refugee support really hit home.  In our home and family refugees and immigrants are not some nameless, faceless statistic.  They are real people, with real families, who have vibrant stories.  And to be blunt, they are often doing work that others do not wish to do – such as changing my son’s diapers.  They are people with whom I sip my morning coffee.  On Saturday mornings when Matthew tends to sleep in they are people with whom I break bread, usually a City Cafe bagel.  Refugees and immigrants are the people with whom we share our days and our household space, and often a good laugh.  These are the people who cherish and value my son and ensure my son enjoys excellent quality of life.

And so I listen with increasing concern to the anti-immigration and anti-refugee rhetoric so prevalent these days.  This morning I listened in disbelief as Kellie Leitch recited the three key questions she would ask immigrants to ensure they espoused “Canadian Values”.  It seems clear to me that she has not read the research that clearly indicates that the vast majority of immigrants and refugees arriving in Canada, in short order, become contributing members of our Canadian community and economy and add to the rich tapestry of our culture.  But more  importantly, as I listened to Ms. Leitch recite her questions,  I wondered if she has spent any time with  immigrants and refugees or whether she is content to simply rely on, and perpetuate, untrue and unhelpful stereotypes.

Immigrants and refugees are part of our household. Indeed they are part of our family and we are truly blessed.

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