Jackie: Knowing Newcomers
Updated: May 31, 2022
1. How did you get involved with newcomers?
Newcomers have fortunately always been part of my life. My most vivid memories are from high school when we had students from Japan come for a semester to study at St. Mary. I became friends with two young women and we became pen pals after they returned to Japan. I was always thrilled to get their letters. Later, in university, I volunteered as a conversation partner for international students to help them learn conversational English and to help me learn about the countries and cultures they were from. In recent years, I have become very involved with refugee newcomers as part of Refugees for Brockville. I was privileged to work for the City of Brockville on an Immigrant Entrepreneur Attraction research project and met many local entrepreneurs who taught me many things about community, about resilience, about perseverance, and about kindness, compassion, and generosity. The Syrian refugee crisis sparked a want to do what I could to help those fleeing from the conflict and I am proud to have been a part of an organization that helped to welcome over 100 refugees from around the world.
2. What have you learned from the experience(s)?
I have learned that there are various approaches to newcomers that need to be interrogated and critically examined. What I know is that there are many people who want to help newcomers and that there are other people who see newcomers as strange, different, and a threat. What I know is that we need to continue to welcome newcomers to Canada in order to grow our population and build strong communities and yet, there are people with problematic views about what the introduction of newcomers will do to so-called “Canadian values.” I know racism and xenophobia exist and I know that people don’t want to talk about it because it easier to think that our communities are not diverse than to think that we have no real way of supporting and celebrating diversity in structurally inclusive terms. I know that my current home community of Brockville has always been diverse and I know that my elementary and high school friends experienced blatant racism. I know that we have work to do and I am so proud of the work that so many in our communities have done for newcomers because they care and they genuinely want everyone to live safe and secure lives.
3. Has your involvement with newcomers changed your perspective on anything? If so, what and how?
Participating in Refugees for Brockville and in faith-based groups that supported individuals and families to come to Canada made me realize how very little I know about some parts of the world and the circumstances under which people have to live. I didn’t realize that you could spend your entire life in a refugee camp. I mean, I am sure that I understood abstractly, but concretely being faced with the reality of someone who, since a child, has live in a kind of liminal state of no one true home and a home that they can never return to is as illuminating as it is profoundly sad. I realized that help makes many forms and that financial help is but a piece of a greater puzzle when it comes to help someone settle into a new country, home, and life.
4. What do you wish people knew about newcomers?
I honestly just wish that people knew newcomers – not necessarily their stories and their trauma, but their kindness and their smiles and their appreciation for being. I don’t want to clump every newcomer into the same stereotype of “ideal newcomer” but I do want to say that my experience with newcomers was and is very life-affirming, very connecting, and very rewarding. I say this not just because I was able to help in tangible and intangible ways, but because connecting with others is always an enriching process that makes you feel connected to humanity. I have made great friends and friends I now consider family. I have expanded my heart to accommodate more love and for that I am eternally grateful.
5. Do you have advice for anyone looking to get involved in supporting newcomers?
Absolutely do it. Don’t think it will be easy or that you are anyone’s saviour. Stay humble and recognize how much you don’t know. Be open to learning more than teaching. Always examine your privilege. Do not think you know best. Remember, especially with refugee newcomers, that you are working with adults (if they are in fact adults) and that they have agency. Open your heart. Redefine helping. Know that you will be changed forever.