Real Community Conversations

Part Two: Miltonians share their immigration stories

Part Two: What it means to be Canadian

Photo by Stacey Newman

On January 27, American president Donald Trump issued an executive order—an immigration ban targeting seven Muslim-majority countries. Rallies and protests took place around the world in response to the order. While creating uncertainty for travellers, the order has also ignited discussions in Canada around isolationism and immigration.

We are not immune to racism and discrimination in Canada. On January 29, 2017, a shooting in a Quebec City mosque left six dead and nineteen injured. As a people, Canadians largely responded by reiterating our commitment to diversity and multiculturalism. Vigils and services were held in municipalities across the country including Milton, as neighbours and friends offered their condolences and stood in solidarity against hate. As one of Canada’s fastest-growing and most diverse municipalities, Milton is home to many Canadian immigrants.

In this series, we bring you some of their stories. 

THE DESAI FAMILY 

February 20, 2017 – Milton, Canada: The Desais’ youngest daughter offers a big smile as she swims at a Milton Family Day event.

Shruti Desai is from the western region of India. It was her father’s dream that she would move to Canada in 2005. An IT professional, she found work almost immediately. In 2007, she married her husband Gunjan Desai and they lived together in Brampton where their two daughters were born. The family moved to Milton in 2013.

Shruti Desai reminisces about coming to Canada from India where it was hot and humid. She knew nothing of the correct outerwear for winter, but her roommate at the time bought her a snowsuit. She recounts instances where she received support from new friends in Canada and from strangers. She worked two jobs upon arriving in Canada. One of her jobs was working for a couple in a coffee shop, the second job was working in another fast food restaurant. Meanwhile, she was sending out resumes for IT positions. Then she got a call from a prominent North American tech company and she was going for her first IT job interview. Someone seated next to her on the bus asked if she was headed to an interview; the woman happened to be a human resources professional. “In the bus ride, she [the human resources professional] explained everything to me. She helped me to answer all the questions.” Shruti Desai got the job.

Gunjan and Shruti Desai have had their share of difficulties. A photograph of Shruti Desai’s father is displayed prominently in the foyer of the family’s home. Her father passed away just months after she had arrived in Canada and she could not afford to return to India to say goodbye. This was a devastating experience, made a little easier by the kindness of her boss at the coffee shop. Shruti Desai’s boss and his wife were originally from Pakistan and they had taken her under their wing, supporting her and teaching her at work. Shruti Desai says she will never forget their kindness and that when her father passed away, her boss gave her $200 to send home to her mother. Losing loved ones or being absent from important family events is an experience that many immigrants have in common. Grief, depression and the feeling of helplessness often punctuates life as an immigrant adjusting to a new country and culture. Loneliness is pervasive and can be crippling.

A statue of Ganesh also known as Ganapati, one of the Hindu deities.

Gunjan Desai speaks of times at work when he first came to Canada and of one colleague in particular who was less than kind to him. Despite one or two negative experiences, he says that he loves Milton and that the family is happy and very much at home. Shruti and Gunjan Desai tell me they are Hindus. They are raising their daughters to accept and embrace diversity, different religions and to be open-minded and curious in the world. They also state that they’re not concerned about travelling to the US, despite President Trump’s immigration orders. Says Gunjan Desai, “Banning entire groups of people is not fair or right, but maybe Trump is just trying to protect his country and he has a responsibility to do this.”

Look for part three in our series on immigration stories from Milton next week.

Read part one of this series here…