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For My Grandmother and Dina

Two tales; one journey


Angélique Babineau

Managing Editor
























My grandmother Jacqueline when she immigrated to Quebec in 1970


On November 17, 1948, my grandmother, Jacqueline Daoust (née Pardo) was born in Bordeaux, a city located in the southwest of France. On November 22, 1970, my grandmother left her native country with just a suitcase, less than 200 Canadian dollars, and no idea where she would sleep once she reached the other side of the Atlantic. By the time this article comes out, my grandmother will have celebrated her 53rd anniversary as a Quebec resident. 


Daughter of a World War II veteran, my grandmother experienced a childhood cushioned by a father determined to provide her with everything she needed — despite the bullet holes in the walls, testimony of the war’s horrors. From the pair of shoes she had pointed out while window-shopping magically appearing on her bed at night to the extravagant summers in Cannes, my great-grandfather compensated for what he had lacked throughout his rough upbringing and years as a soldier by spoiling his daughter. But, despite his efforts, the economic state of a struggling country rebuilding itself post-World War II was unpredictable and lacked stability. Even with her rich educational background, economic conditions persuaded her to immigrate at 22.


Although initially considering Spain or Switzerland, an accidental visit on a regular Wednesday afternoon in 1970 redirected her journey. That day, she drove to the consulate of Switzerland — except she had taken note of the wrong address and, instead, found herself in front of the Canadian consulate. Walking up the stairs as the red and white Canadian flag fluttered in the wind, she came across a plaque that read, “Consulat Général du Canada.” Nonetheless, she proceeded to the main desk and grabbed the form required to submit an immigration request. On the same week’s Friday, my grandmother received a letter from the consulate requesting her presence the next Monday for a formal interview.    


Though her eye was initially set on Saskatwechan, “right in the middle of Canada”, the francophone reality prevailed. She recalls, “they asked me why I wanted to immigrate to Quebec. I thought to myself, ‘I don’t want to go to Quebec, I want to go to Saskatchewan!’ But I was a francophone, I had completed my studies, and so I never really had the choice.” 


Three weeks elapsed, and after a formal interview and work visa under her belt, she bought her one-way plane ticket, stomach tied up in knots. Despite her excitement, the realization that she would be leaving her family and friends truly kicked in when boarding the plane: “[My father] told me, ‘If you start overthinking it, you’ll never leave and you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. If it doesn’t work out, you can always come back.’ But knowing myself, I knew that I wasn’t coming back once I left.”  


Upon her arrival on Canadian grounds, my grandmother recalls hopping on a taxi that took her to 10609 Saint-Denis Street, a private property owned by the provincial government housing immigrants from across the world. Never having had a job and with limited funds in hands, she had no financial safety net whilst starting anew. Her first job was as a secretary at Hachette, where she worked for four years: “I eventually had to quit because, like many women and immigrants, I was exploited.” She recalls earning 70$ per week, dwindling to 53$ after taxes. With 34$ remaining for weekly groceries and clothing after transportation and room rental expenses, she, like most immigrants, was not properly equipped for the upcoming winter.


Beyond financial hardships, integration into Quebec society also proved to be difficult.  Facing stereotypes surrounding both her native country and immigrants, being French, she grappled with the labels “pretentious,” “uptight” and, as an immigrant, “job thief.” 


Although a number of governmental measures have been put in place since she immigrated, my grandmother emphasizes the need for continued changes to ensure a safe, supportive, and welcoming environment for immigrants. She explains, “It is completely wrong for the country to pretend they are ready to welcome immigrants without being able to guarantee them any kind of job security, a salary, or even a roof over their heads. [...] People not being able to find work in their field of expertise is ridiculous. When you see trained doctors working as taxi drivers, it is just absurd.”


Despite the obstacles marking her journey as an immigration, my grandmother never looked back. Whether that can be attributed to the fact that she met my grandfather six months upon her arrival, with whom she celebrated her 52nd marriage anniversary last June, or to her strong, fierce, yet genuine character, the story does not divulge. Nevertheless, throughout the last 53 years, her relationship with France and Canada has evolved into a nuanced blend of identities. “It’s strange because I cannot say that I feel completely Canadian, yet I would not say I feel French either. It is as if I am sitting in between two chairs, but France’s seat is slowly drifting away. I feel at home here, but I would be lying if I claimed I truly identified as a Quebecer.”


This sentiment of not fully belonging, even after spending the majority of her lifetime in Canada, is shared by many immigrant’s stories, one of my closest friends’, Dina Jouni, included. 


***


The beginning of October was, for most of us, synonymous with midterms, anxiety, and crippling insomnia. However, October 5, 2023, for Dina, marked three years since her family immigrated from Qatar, meaning they were at last able to request Canadian citizenship. 


Dina was born on July 2, 2003, in the coastal town of Latakia in Syria. Following the invasion of Iraq by the United States, Syria’s economy collapsed. To secure a stable future, her father took on a job offer in Qatar, where the family resided until Dina turned 16.


As citizenship in Qatar remains one of the hardest to obtain in the world, Dina and her family held temporary residency under a work permit. If fired under a work permit, the owner of the permit is given 30 days to either find a new job or to leave the country. Amid economic uncertainties, Dina’s father started the process of applying for immigration to Canada during their last eight years in Qatar.. 


Two years after the submission of their first request, the family’s application was denied due to age restrictions as Dina’s parents were deemed “too old.”  A subsequent six-year application process ensued, culminating in their arrival in Canada in 2020. The war in Syria had begun during that time and Dina states, “The state of instability we lived in for these five or six years was severe. There was this fear of the process not working, my dad being fired, and us having to go back to Syria where our lives would technically end.”


The challenges did not cease upon arrival. Without a Canadian bank account, credit score history or a stable job, securing housing proved arduous for Dina’s family, as tenants were either expected to provide predated checks or the rent to be paid in cash, both of which were financially straining for Dina’s family. The process of finding a job was equally challenging for her parents as most international degrees are invalid in Canada. “To get a job, you need a degree; to get a degree you need to go to school; to go to school you need either French or English, and it’s like a cycle of things you don’t have, but that you need in order to survive,” explains Dina. This meant that at only 16 years of age, Dina found herself juggling full-time studies at Concordia, a part-time job, and Francisation classes, coping with exhaustion and financial strain.

     

Although Dina believes both the provincial and federal governments may provide initiatives — paid Francisation, the CNESSST, and the Centre social d’aide aux immigrants —  newcomers are often left to fend for themselves. Dina emphasizes the challenges of navigating these scattered platforms.  She states, “The idea that they portray to immigrants is that they will teach you French, get you a job, a house, and a better life where all your needs are met and all your rights are respected. This is not far from the truth, but it’s just not that easy.”


Despite nearly 60% of recent immigrants holding at least a bachelor’s degree according to Statistics Canada, prejudice persists, putting newcomers under tremendous amounts of pressure to become the “perfect immigrant,” to be “worthy” of being in Canada. The desire to prove harmful stereotypes surrounding Middle Easterners wrong combined with the need to make her parents proud not only affected Dina’s sense of belonging, but of self-worth and identity.  


“It was a huge struggle for me to figure out who I was,” says Dina. While she describes Quebecers as mostly welcoming people, the inaccurate, negative portrayal of Middle Easterners in Western media greatly affected her sense of identity and perception of self. Dina continues, “It makes you hate yourself. It makes you look in the mirror and wish you did not look like this; that your hair was not curly and black and that your eyes were not brown.”  


Despite these challenges, Dina expresses immense gratitude. “My parents sacrificed their money, time, careers, aspirations, stability, and dreams so I could grow up Canadian and have a future where my kids would never have to go through the same struggles as we did,” says Dina.


As October 5th approached, Dina reminisced about the summers in Syria before the war as well as her childhood and high school days in Qatar: “At the end of the day, both of my parents are Syrian and I was born in Syria. I still have family there. I do miss Syria sometimes, but now, I have Canada,” Dina says, smiling.


Though 50 years separate my grandmother’s and Dina’s stories, they echo each other, testifying the shared, isolating experience of immigration. Despite the nuances, both narratives emphasize the resilience and determination required to forge a new identity in an adopted home. Their identities as immigrants, although disparately created, unite in a collage of similar, mirrored experiences. Whether the story traces its roots to a war-torn country or to French bourgeoisie, the ending might strangely, coincidentally collapse into a poetic amalgam of analogous confusion and self-discovery.  


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