By Mona Ismaeil
My parents came as immigrants from Egypt over 30 years ago. They’ve spent more of their lives here in Canada than they did in Egypt. I have to say they have adapted wonderfully to their new lives here. Their story is nothing special. A typical, journey to a new land to obtain a better life; a future. They came with very little and with time, determination and hard work they built a life they had probably only dreamed of.
My parents used to tell us about their struggles. It was never to make us feel bad for what we have now, but simply to teach us about being humble, grateful, hardworking, and having faith. I can’t even imagine how it felt for them to leave their families behind. They said goodbye not knowing when they would reunite again. My father left with his widowed mother’s blessing but I imagine you could hear her heart shatter the moment he walked out the door. My mother, a newly married young woman left her family to go to a country across the world with a man she barely knew. I can only imagine the tears my grandfather cried as he sent his daughter off.
See, they didn’t have the means we have now to be in contact with people across the globe. The internet and our modern day technology makes the world and the hundreds of thousands of kilometers that separate two countries feel like just a few blocks.
Now, that you know their story, what is my story? How did growing up as the child of immigrants affect me? How did it shape me? How did it mold me?
First of all, I’ll state the obvious pros. An exciting heritage and culture to boast about. I got to go on exciting vacations with my family and bring back little jars of sand for my class mates. I would tell them about how I visited the Great Pyramids of Giza and explain that they were in fact much bigger than we could imagine. My friends would test my Arabic by asking me to teach them how to say basic phrases. All this made me proud. I used to say I was happy to be from the “oldest and the newest countries in the world”
Another pro was the fact that my deep roots and Egyptian heritage shaped my value and beliefs. It made me more cultured I think. It made me tolerant of other people. It made me more accepting people from different cultures and backgrounds because I knew they were “different” just like me.
Among other things, having a second language gave me an advantage when it came to opportunities in the workplace. Having Arabic as my second language and being fairly fluent in it has allowed me to contribute to my Arab/Muslim community in a bigger way than if I didn’t speak Arabic.
But… there are cons. Perhaps cons is the wrong word, they were challenges. I think the concept of identity is somewhat skewed for immigrant children. In school we were in “Egyptian kids” and when we went back to Egypt, we were the “Canadian kids”. We were too Egyptian to be considered fully Canadian and too Canadian to be considered fully Egyptian. So where did we fit in?
We were caught in the middle of very different worlds. Learning to balance an Eastern culture with a Western way of life is not easy simply because in so many ways they contradict each other. We’re not just talking about the food we eat and our music but more specifically our religion. My parents worked very hard to instill in us the values of our culture and Islam. They took us to Egypt every year, brought extended family to visit and brought us a teacher so we could learn to read Arabic and the Qur’an. Still, we had to learn to navigate those rough waters on our own. It was something our parents could not teach us to do.
I guess as I look back now and look forward at my own little family, I do believe my daughter will have it a bit easier because I “have been there, done that”. I can give my children the tools, tips and tricks needed to be proud of who they are as Egyptians and Muslims but at the same time find their place in our Canadian society. I am not naïve to think it will be easy for my children, especially with the way the world’s views on Muslims has changed so much since I was a child but just as my parents did, I can only do my best.
I greatly value that fact that I was an immigrant child. I would never ever have changed that for anything in the world because the kids I had to impress or the cliques I had to try and be a part of as a teen are no longer important. At 29, a mother of a beautiful daughter with a second on the way, I only have who I am now, who my experiences have made me left.
About the Author
Mona Ismaeil is the Associate Editor Muslimmoms.ca. She is also an elementary teacher turned blogger and writer. Mona is the proud owner of Modern Hejab and stay-at-home mom to a sweet little girl. She loves to travel and see all the world has to offer with her family.