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  • Writer's picturePallavi Dutta

Empower Within: An Immigrant Experience

“Enthusiasm is common. Endurance is rare.” - Angela Duckworth

'Flying around the world' by Freepik

I was born in India and immigrated to Canada in the mid 2000’s at the age of nine. I’m still not sure what the exact reason for the move was besides my parents wanting a better life for my brother and I. Recently, I have been reflecting on my experience as someone who immigrated at a young age with her family.

Moving away from everything you’ve ever known could not have been easy. So many individuals and families leave all that they’ve known to start anew for a better life. Sometimes it’s a choice but other times, groups are forced to relocate due to political instability, lack of resources, discrimination, etc. My parents were fortunate in that it was a choice that they could make to build a better future.

“If you’re brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello” – Paulo Coelho

I had childhood friends who I lost touch with, but I was able to integrate and build a new network. And the thought that I could do that in itself is empowering and, to me, the promise of Canada. However for my parents, the promise of Canada was a far more bleak reality. My father initially struggled to find a job and my mother, who had previously been a homemaker, worked as a cashier. Seeing my parents work hard and persist empowered me. It served as a reminder that with hard work and grit, you can stand up and build a better future for yourself. However, it is important to recognize that there are issues of equity that disadvantage populations, whereby hard work does not always allow minority groups to reap the same fruits as their white colleagues.

Eventually, my father found a job, much below his pay grade in India, but in an industry he had worked in, so he took it. He worked night shifts for many years, experienced the turbulent economy that led to him getting laid-off and eventually dealt with a failing small family business. But somehow there was an abundance. There was never a day that we were unable to eat. We always had more than enough to wear. And, most importantly, my parents set an example of resilience that I always think back to when things get tough.

'Rising Up' by Onella

I often think about how my life would have been different had my parents not immigrated to Canada. For one, I would have been brought up in a more pronounced patriarchal nation and, perhaps, I might not have been able to continue pursuing higher education past an undergrad.

This is not to say that there hasn’t been a move to create a cultural shift in recent years, with one recent striking moment being the 385-mile stretch of women holding hands calling for equality in the treatment of men and women in 2019. In the coming years, I believe that India too will hold more spaces for women to lead and follow their ambition without the threat of a culture that ostracizes them for choosing to focus on their career.

It is important to note that differing standards for women exist in Canada as well, but, from my experience, they are a lot more subtle. Work needs to be done to reduce the barriers that women, and, in particular, women of colour face at school and at work. I acknowledge that I have had the privilege of having supportive parents and a supportive network at large. This has enabled me to aim higher and continue pursuing my goals. I grew up knowing that the sky is not the limit but just the beginning.

The experience of immigrating to Canada by my parents’ choice and having the opportunity to start all over is empowering due to the privilege of increased autonomy that the move provided. Even a remote possibility of a better life empowers individuals to make similar moves. Migration can serve to empower through increased autonomy for those on the move while providing the benefits of increased diversity and skill sets to the host country.

I would like to end off by encouraging everyone to be kind to one another, and to take the time to get to know people's stories and where they come from. Create a culture of support by reflecting on what empowers you and how you can use that reflection to help your community.

“Immigrants, we get the job done” - Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down) from Hamilton, the broadway musical

Image credits:

Flying around the world - Freepik Stories

Rising Up - Onella Narangoda, Illustrator


Pallavi Dutta is completing her MSc ehealth at McMaster. She is a curious individual with a passion for innovation and facilitating conversations around empowerment, diversity and inclusion.

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