Iimmigration Essay, Research Paper
July 21, 2000
It is a fact that almost all of the people in Canada are immigrants, or come from
immigrant descent. If it were not for the millions of people who have fled to Canada in
hope of a better life, Canada would never have prospered into what it is today. As a result
of this fact, it is hard to believe that immigrants are still faced with many hardships when
they enter Canada. Most immigrants have good intentions in mind when coming to a new
country. Immigrants coming to Canada believe that they will be able to keep their culture,
become successful and prosper. These misleading hopes set the immigrant up for a life of
continuous disappointment. Canadian Literature portrays the immigrant experience in a
negative light. The Canadian experience for immigrants appears to be programmed for
failure. Immigrants try to adopt a new identity in hope that this will enable them to
succeed in the future. Venturing to new lands often compels immigrants to isolate
themselves from society, by holding onto their own traditions and disregarding the new
culture. Immigrants who seek to become successful in Canada are often let down by
what they have found, and are left feeling fearful, desolate and helpless.
Immigrant characters in Canadian literature often express a fear of losing their
identity and culture. For most immigrants, culture is the only thing that truly belongs to
them when they come to a new country. In the novel The Black Madonna by Frank Paci,
Assunta Barrone is one of the main characters who has immigrated from Italy to a small
town in Northern Ontario. Her refusal to adapt or change herself in any way to become
more ?Canadian? exemplifies her desire to keep her Italian heritage.
?It had been a long time since she had stepped off that train with her
dowry trunk. And in all that time she had never ceased to puzzle him. He
didn?t know whether she had purposely refused to adapt to the new ways
or if she was incapable of doing so. She was certainly stubborn. She had
strange old-country customs that she insisted on maintaining even though
they were primitive and embarrassing? (Paci 11).
Assunta?s desire to keep her customs was what helped to preserve her Italian identity. By
keeping her identity Assunta felt like her homeland was somehow constantly with her.
The poem ?Alien? by Mary Elizabeth Colman also exemplifies the immigrants fear of
losing their identity. ?Dear hills of home, why did I leave your arms?/ How can I love this
vast, clamorous land?/ Whose noisy people hold me in contempt?? (Colman 9-11). This
immigrant is in fear of the new land which they have come to, and is afraid of the people
around them. Because immigrants hold their culture so close to them when they travel to
new lands, they defend it with every ounce of their being. Without culture or identity
immigrants are defenceless in a new country.
The immigrant in Canadian literature is often regretful of leaving their homeland
because of the disappointments they discover about Canada. Most immigrants believe
that getting a Canadian passport and citizenship is their key to unlocking ?the good life?
In Canadian literature the opposite of this occurs because the ideal of what Canada is
does not meet it?s reality. This is best exemplified through the short story ?Hunky? by
Hugh Garner and the poems ?Land of Opportunity? by F.R. Scott and ?I Fight Back? by
Lillian Allen. In the story ?Hunky? the main character Hunky is a German immigrant
working in the tobacco fields for a very arrogant employer. Hunky wants nothing more
than to become a Canadian citizen because he feels that having his citizenship is the key
to obtaining ?the good life?.
?He placed great stress on the fact that he hoped to become a Canadian
citizen in the fall. His longing for citizenship was not only gratitude and
patriotism towards the country that had given him asylum, but a craving
for status as a recognized human being? (Garner 135).
The poem ?Land of Opportunity? by F.R. Scott exemplifies the disappointment of the
Canadian status. ?Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce/These are privileged names in
my country/But I AM ILLEGAL HERE.? (Scott, 2-4). The poem goes on to say ?I come
to Canada/And found the Doors/ of Opportunities Well Guarded ? (7-9). This poem
expresses the immigrant woman?s disappointments found when she came to Canada. In
the poem ?I Fight Back? by Lillian Allen, the main character expresses the deep anger
immigrants have instilled against Canada. ?Got involved in a Communist
demonstration,/And is now being deported by the Canadian Government./This will teach
these foreign reds/ The sort of country they?ve come to.? (Allen, l9-12). Immigrants are
often left disappointed because their images of Canada do not meet with the ideal and
truth of what the country is like.
Immigrants in Canadian literature are constantly struggling with denying their
past in order to succeed in the future. In Joy Kowaga?s ?Obason? Naomi?s uncle
struggles with his identity. A families silence about the force of the interment of the
Japanese in Vancouver, compels Naomi to gather information on her dead uncle?s that
has been responsible for changing her life. Naomi? s uncle was of Japanese sailor whose
ships had been taken over by the R.C.M.P. While Naomi searched through her
grandfather?s belongings she found a box box filled with her grandfathers old boat
building tools and a shoe box containing a document from the R.C.M.P. The document
stated that Naomi?s uncle must leave his area and report to the local Registrar of Enemy
Aliens where he will later be placed in an interment camp. Even though, Naomi?s uncle
was a Canadian citizen, the Canadian government took over his ships because of his
Japanese origin. Naomi?s uncle was robbed not only of his ships, but so of his morals
and ethics. By hiding his past in shoe boxes he wanted nothing to with his Japanese
origin. A letter was also found from the Office of the Custodian from the Japanese
Evacuation Section, stating that it was not his fault nor the police, nor the men who
rioted against him that his ships had been taken over and he was placed in an interment
camp. The Canadian government was just doing their job (67). During World War II
injustice was the only thing that was constant in a world full of chaos. Naomi?s uncle
developed an inner conflict in coping with his identity. Hiding all of possessions that
resembled his past, Naomi?s uncle adopted a false identity, which he thought was the only
key to sucess in the future. Immigrants try to adopt a new identity because they feel this is
the only way they can succeed in the unaccustomed lands.
Although immigrants struggle with maintaining their identity, they are often
robbed of their heritage by unbeatable forces. War and prejudice force immigrants to
adhere to the ways of their new surroundings and loose their old traditions. Joy Kowaga
depicts this immigrant experience through Naomi?s uncle?s life experiences. Being robed
of his ships and placed in an interment camp because of his heritage, forced Naomi?s
uncle to pull away from his past. Naomi follows in the footsteps of her uncle, and tries to
pull away from her heritage also. Naomi?s denial of her past is exemplified in the quote,
? Our past is a s clotted as old webs hung in dark attics , still sticky and hovering waiting
for us to adhere and submit or depart? ( 54). Naomi?s past wants to cling to her however
she detaches from herself from her culture by refusing to carry on the traditions of her
Japanese heritage. Naomi?s opposing views against her Japanese origin were moulded
during her adolescent years during World War II, when Canadians feared that the
Japanese would attack Canada just as they had bomed the United States at Pearl Harbour.
Leaving their past behind, immigrants struggle to survive by any means possible.
Naturally human?s are constant striving to survive. This constant struggle compels
human?s to change their culture, in order to contiue and flourish.
Immigrants in Canadian Literature are also faced with feelings of isolation from
society and the land. The isolation that immigrants experience is usually isolation from
society . Assunta Barrone?s character in The Black Madonna is an example of how
immigrants are socially isolated from society. In the case of Assunta, however, this
isolation is self-inflicted. The fact that Assunta never really left her small Italian
neighbourhood in the west end of Sault Ste. Marie was the reason why she was socially
isolated. Assunta does not interact with anyone other than the Italian women in her
neighbourhood. ?Assunta had never gone beyond short Sunday car rides to the outskirts
of the Sault.? (Paci 7). Even though Assunta was an ocean and a half away from her
homeland of Italy, she was still isolated from society. ?It seemed she had gone from one
Italian village in Marche to another one in Northern Ontario-the west end.? (11).
Assunta?s refusal to learn the English language, also contributed to her isolation from
society. In the poem ?Alien? by Mary Elizabeth Colman, the main character also feels
isolated by Canada?s land. ?I AM afraid. This land is strange to me,/So new, so fierce, so
large, with noisy folk.? (Colman lines1-2). The immigrant is isolated by the land because
it is so new for them. The poem goes on to say ?How can I love this vast clamorous
land?(line 10). The main character portryed in the poem ?Alien? feels isolted in the
unfamiliar land. Being in forgein surroundings, leaves the immigrant feeling helpless and
isolated. Throughout Canadian Literature isolation has an extreme effect upon the
developement of an individual?s character. Immigrants in Canadian literature will at one
point be faced with isolation, but must think positively to overcome these feelings.
Canadian literature shows immigrant children to be embarrassed and shameful of
their heritage. It seems as though all children of immigrants try their hardest to rise above
and create a better life for themselves than what their parents before them had. This is
evident through the character of Marie in the novel The Black Madonna. Marie works
diligently at her school work because she feels that her school smarts will help her rise
above her past, and they do when she gets accepted to university.
?She would show her soon enough that she could do things alone. Go to
Toronto. Become a doctor even. There were even endless possibilities
once she got away. She would be so glad to be rid of them all. She?d show
them that she didn?t need them? (Paci 79).
This quote shows the hostility that Marie holds towards her heritage. Most Canadian
works on the immigrant portray immigrant children as being shameful of their past and
longing to escape the reality of who they really are.
Feelings of emptiness and helplessness seem to be inevitable for the immigrant in
Canadian literature. For the immigrant Canada is a land of reoccuring disappointments.
Canadian Literature is filled with failure because of immigrants origin. The novel The
Black Madonna is a good example in showing the many negative aspects of an
immigrants life. The main character Assunta portrays the many disappointments
immigrants are faced with when travelling to new lands. The short story ?Hunky? and
poems ?I Fight Back?, ?Alien?, and ?Land of Opportunity? are works which portray the
immigrant as a victim. ?Hunky?, ?The Land of Opportunity? and ?I Fight Back ?portray
characters who are disappointed with the immigrant experience. The immigrant struggle
with identity is exemplified in the short story ?Obason? by Joy Kowaga. Denying his
Japanese origin Naomi?s uncle hoped to become successful in Canada. Canadian works
depict immigrant children as being embarrassed or shameful of their past. Marie?s
character in The Black Madonna and Naomi?s character in ?Obason? exemplify the
immigrant children?s dishonourable attitude towards their culture. It is unfortunate that
immigrants must experience hardships during their time in new lands. Immigrating to a
new country should be an exceptional opportunity enabling foreigners to become
auspicious. Unfortunately, the only lesson that immigrants embark upon when inhabiting
among Canada?s vast land is: Endurance, Survival, No Victory. In the past other
Canadians made great sacrifices so that we today can enjoy the freedom , the quality of
life, and the ezdard of living that we have. Hopefully, in time, immigrants will feel
more comfortable with life in new lands and adapt to the constant culture changes in the
Allen, Lillian. ? I fight Back.? Canadian Poets. Canada: Little Brown and Co., 1970.
Colman, Mary Elizabeth. ?Alien?. An Anthology of Canadian Literature in English .Canada:
Oxford University Press, 1990.
Garner, Hugh. ? Hunky.? Canadian Poets. Canada: Little, Brown and Co., 1970.
Kowaga, Joy. ?Obason.? An Anthology of Canadian Literature in English. Canada: Oxford
University Press, 1990.
Paci, Frank. The Black Madonna. Canada: Oberon Press, 1982.
Scott, F.R. ? The Land of Opportunity.? Canadian Content. Canada: Harcourt Brace &