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by Suli Adams Worldwide the pandemic has given us an opportunity to experience isolation. It has for some, resulted in depression, anxiety, eating disorders, substance abuse, high blood pressure, heart disease, sleeplessness, cognitive decline and more. Realizing the effects of isolation and loneliness we have arranged compensations for certain groups such as the children, elderly, those living alone, those with mental health concerns, and more. Have we considered newcomers to Canada?

Most newcomers have left language, culture, families, friends, possessions, foods, finances and much more to come to a new culture, new language, new foods, no family, no friends not many possessions and having to start over. Will their skills be recognized? Some are lucky but there are many doctors, scientists and other professionals driving taxis, washing dishes, delivering pizza etc. How do newcomers celebrate special occasions Christmas, Thanksgiving, Eid, Diwali, New Year etc. Do they feel lonely? Isolated? Miss family, friends, traditions?

Whereas the pandemic isolation is temporary, for newcomers isolation is an everyday reality with no end in sight. In larger cities, new comers may find communities from their countries, in smaller towns probably not. Many new comers struggle with language making it difficult to communicate with neighbours, and others. Most are very self conscious of their lack of vocabulary, accents, food aromas, cultural ways and mannerisms etc making it difficult to socialize and integrate into their new communities. When faced with racism and discrimination they tend to withdraw, fostering loneliness and isolation.

All newcomers struggle to balance integration while maintaining their culture. Newcomers don't want to loose their heritage in the process of integration. Some newcomers in the face of difficulty (such as racism) withdraw from integration making it more difficult to find employment, or pursue a career, or make friends outside of their communities, however, they are very successful in maintaining their culture. Those who integrate well are more successful in their careers and social life, sometimes at the expense of loosing their heritage. Some are able to maintain a good balance between the two worlds.

In reality, those who do integrate well and are successful in the professional and social life are seen as having been “westernized” and no longer honouring their heritage. They are not always looked upon favourably in their communities, and over time become more isolated from their communities and sometimes even family. A common topic of discussion amongst newcomers is raising children in the west. Raising children and maintaining heritage is a challenge. Children of new comers tend to be “westernized’ and therefore more successful in building a life in Canada, after-all they grow up with hockey, snow, tobogganing, skating, Canadian schooling, friends and more.

Does this cause a drift in families? A cultural barrier within families? How does this affect raising a teenager? How about families where older siblings were born in the same country as their parents and younger ones in Canada? In this case are the younger siblings able to relate to the cultural ways of the older siblings? Will the children growing up in Canada honour the culture and heritage of their parents? Can the children growing up in Canada relate to the ways of the Arabs, or Africans or Japanese or Indians or the fact that elephants have the right of way or how to escape from a charging rhino? How does it affect a family when one marries a Canadian? What are the challenges in a mixed marriage with cultural barriers? How do families cope when they are already anxious over language, and cultural ways, and now to include a Canadian as family? To say the least, It’s complicated! These are highly emotional issues. Skills in conflict resolution and compromising is an asset!

There are many challenges for newcomers, and isolation is a reality for many, from what they have left behind, from their communities, between parents and children, between siblings, its emotional, it’s difficult and its complicated. Are there programs to assist such diversity issues? The pandemic offers a temporary window to experience isolation, but for new comers, isolation in many cases is a lifetime challenge. Isolation evolves in different ways over time, especially as children age and integrate, creating a life for themselves and in the process letting go of their heritage while parents desperately try to hold on to their heritage.

These evolving challenges make newcomers more resilient out of necessity, but also more compassionate and understanding. The media has exposed some examples of how some new comers have raised money and/or provided food for those Canadians who have been less fortunate and affected by the pandemic. Despite all their difficulties, this is simply a newcomers way of expressing gratitude, to be living in the best country Canada!!

Suli Adams lives in Pembroke, Canada and loves bellydance. She is on the Pembroke Diversity Advisory Commitee. She studies with Aziza of Montreal, writes and dances as much as she can. Most notably she has been recently published in I Will Dance 'til a Hundred and One!: Communal Wisdom on Dancing as We Age: Turner LCSW, Janine: 9781977583574: Books.

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