Women Immigrants Battle Their Fears Of The Unknown
Winnipeg, Canada – it’s a new world, a new journey. But instead of becoming the exciting experience it ought to be, it ends up being more about fending off unwanted fears of the unknown. Every new immigrant to Canada has to live through the three stages of acculturation, which for most is not easy. First comes the thrill and joy of exploring a new land, then there are feelings of marginalisation and hostility towards the host country and finally comes acceptance.
It’s been over four years now that Manpreet has been living in Winnipeg but she is yet to feel completely at home. Ever since she came to the bustling Culture Capital of Canada as a new bride into an Indian family that has been residing in the country for three decades she has been trying to work through her anxiety issues and ensuing health problems. Her courtship had primarily been over the phone from India over a period of four months so she really had no way of preparing for the turbulent emotional times ahead. What has made things harder for her is the fact that she has had to put her career on hold. A dentist by profession, Manpreet has been trying to clear exams that will give her credentials to practice in Canada.
Trying to “fit in” and battle emotional issues
Ivy may have managed to put her hardscrabble life in war-torn Sierra Leone behind her to settle down in Winnipeg in the hope of building a better future for her family and herself but like most refugees she, too, has found the process of integration agonising. As she puts it, “The culture shock, language barrier and lack of qualification to do paid work can be immensely challenging hurdles to overcome. For refugees and new immigrants it instantly results in a low self esteem.” Alienation brought on by their unique accents and obviously foreign customs and lifestyles only exacerbates the situation.
While Manpreet and Ivy are trying hard to “fit in” and battling emotional issues, Cindy, who hails from the Philippines, is trying to come to terms with her low social status. Once a respected teacher she is working two menial jobs these days in order to earn enough to pay the bills for her family of four and also save some cash to send back home to her parents. Each morning, she diligently makes her way to a McDonald’s restaurant while her evenings are spent at the service counter of the nearby Superstore. Although Cindy hardly ever gets time to rest she wouldn’t mind the grind so much if people were less hurtful in their behaviour and a little more considerate. “We have to start in roles we are overqualified for because we have bills to pay and a family to support,” she said.
Sudden push towards complete independence
Many women immigrants also find the sudden push towards complete independence somewhat tricky to handle. In eastern cultures particularly, prevalent social customs often create a habitual dependence on the male family members to ‘take care’ of chores outside the home. This is missing in the West. So when Charu moved from India to Canada after marriage, it came as huge shock to her when she had to run her home without any familial or spousal support. Right at the onset, she was unable to pass her driving exam which not only virtually grounded her but also hit her self-esteem. Thereafter, it was a series of disappointments that further shattered her confidence. Unable to adapt to her circumstances and with her relationship in doldrums, Charu gave up and went back to India.
Fortunately, though, there is help at hand today, with several associations and non-profits actively working to enable immigrants to cope with the overwhelming changes they encounter in their newly adopted homeland. In Winnipeg, the Immigrant Women’s Association of Manitoba (IWAM), a community-based organisation, provides immigrant and refugee women with “support, knowledge and opportunity” to ease their assimilation into Canadian society. One of their popular programmes is “healing trauma through dance”, which uses energetic beats to drive away emotional distress. Apart from this, it offers therapeutic counselling services as well as English classes.
For those in dire need of therapy that is “culturally sensitive and free of charge”, the University of Winnipeg’s Aurora Family Therapy Centre provides a much-needed safe haven. Significantly, it focuses on issues of war related trauma, parenting, and relationship conflict and assistance is available in many languages like Swahili, Kirundi, Lingala, Farsi, Arabic, Punjabi and Korean, among others.
Recognising the reality that those looking for a fresh start in a foreign land are anyway under tremendous pressure, most rehabilitation programmes make it a point to offer a variety of wellness activities that allow people to connect with those who have had similar experiences and struggles. Groups that work with women especially take into account issues like single parenting, abuse, pregnancy, crisis support, equity and employment. Other settlement services look at simplifying the process of housing, banking, transportation, in addition to rendering a better understanding the local laws.
According to Ivy, IWAM’s ‘healing trauma through dance’ programme has helped her maintain her sanity. On her part, Cindy has derived a lot of benefit from a life-skills programme she attended at one of the settlement agencies in Winnipeg. For women like Manpreet, Ivy and Cindy, starting life from scratch has proven to be fraught with a variety of problems. But with the right kind of support this painful process does become bearable as time goes by.
(Names of women immigrants have been changed to protect identity.)
Author: Divya Kaeley
Editor: Marjory Linardy
This a story from Women’s Feature Service
Dancing is considered an art and dancers the world over are respected for their artistic performance, but many women who opt to dance in Indian bars often get harassed by people around them. Public dancing in bars is considered unethical and eight years back the government of India’s western state, Maharashtra, banned their act. (From July 24, 2013)
#Solidarityisforwhitewomen is a hashtag that has been recently trending on Twitter. Some are calling it a Twitter fight among feminists and others see it as an opportunity for debate and discussion about race, gender and priviledge, intersectionality and inclusion of non-white women in feminism. (From August 21, 2013)
Imagine a society where some members are not allowed to speak to others, except from a distance of 100 meters, where generations of these ‘untouchables’ are banished to the village’s outskirts because they clean out the garbage and who are physically beaten up if they do not follow their community’s norms. If you took a trip to Tumkur in southern India about 30 years ago, you would have seen this happening with your very eyes. (From June 26, 2013)
Date22.05.2015 | 15:17