My mother and father were respectively a radio journalist and an aeronautic engineer in Algeria. They owned a three-bedroom condominium in the center of Algiers and a fancy European car. My parents were unaware of the innumerable hardships that they would face in Canada, or they would have stayed in their country and endured the Civil War that followed the economic crisis. But they had no idea, so they waited for their Visa request to be approved and flew to Montreal full of hope in the late 90s. They were not illegal immigrants, since they obtained their Canadian citizenship in the early 2000s. Besides, as my mother says, “We were educated, married, and vaccinated before we came to Canada; we didn’t abuse the government’s social services”.
My parents only needed to get a job, but they faced most immigrants’ problem; their university degrees were not recognized in this country. They are now a stay-at-home mother and a mechanic, rent a two-bedroom apartment in a semi-ethnic neighborhood, and can’t even afford to own and maintain a used car, let alone a new one. They chose to give birth to me in Montreal, to teach me French and English instead of Arabic (or Algerian, their country’s dialect), and never to take me to Algeria for the summer. I therefore have very little in common with most immigrants’ children, but my appearance instead of my behavior automatically defines me as Algerian, or as an Arab (for those who don’t know what Algerians look like).
Surprisingly enough, my mother was able to send me to a private high school for five years by having saved money her entire life. “Some parents travel abroad every year, others pay for their children’s education”, as she always says. My first memory of this particular school is Mercedes-Benz, BMW, and Audi cars dropping off students in front of the main entrance every morning, while I obviously took the bus. My last memory is my fancy graduation ceremony in Place-des-Arts’ Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, where other parents were dressed in expensive suits and dresses, while my mother wore a plain white shirt (that she bought in a thrift store), old jeans, and bright blue Nike sneakers that she actually borrowed from me. She had arranged her hair in a plain bun and was wearing no makeup, unlike the other mothers. She even borrowed her sister’s camera to take pictures of the event, unable to afford one herself.
So, you see, I am in no way exaggerating when I say that we are poor, and that is very challenging in a society where our value is defined by what we own. I simply hope that people remember that, as Bob Marley said, “The greatness of a man is not in how much wealth he acquires, but in his integrity and his ability to affect those around him positively”.