I want you to try to imagine something with me for a moment.
Imagine that, one day, you need to leave your country.
It could be that something has happened, some sort of political or environmental tragedy, and you have no choice.
It could be that you got a job offer and you just can’t turn it down.
It could be that your entire family is moving because they think they’ll find a better life there, and you’re going along because they’re your family and you don’t want to be separated from them to that extent.
Whatever the reason, you’re going. You’re hopping on that plane and you’re crossing land and ocean both to find yourself suddenly in an entirely new place. An entirely new world, really. The language they speak isn’t the same. You can’t navigate the street signs without help, and most of the strangers you try to speak to can’t help you. Your culture and your traditions aren’t recognized by your new country, and people look at you funny when you try to celebrate them. After a while, you probably start to feel pretty alone, being one of the few people you know who shares your way of life.
And it’s not that you actively don’t want to fit in, or that you think your entire country should change to cater to your way of life or anything like that. It’s just that this is your way of life. This is the way you’ve always done things, and you don’t necessarily want to stop that just because you’ve come to a new country. In fact, in many ways, you couldn’t. You can’t change the way you think – not entirely. You can’t change the things you believe in, if your beliefs are true and strong enough.
And yet, even despite all of that, the people of your new country still look at you with disdain and tell you that you’re wrong for it.
“If you don’t like this country and its ways, then maybe you should go back,” they say.
“If you come to this country, then you better speak our language and conform to our customs.”
And as far as the language goes, you’re trying, you’re really trying, but it’s difficult to learn an entirely new language, and as much as you respect the customs and don’t want to change them, they just aren’t your customs. So how can it be fair that you have to change overnight, to become an entirely new person, just because you crossed this country’s border?
To be perfectly honest, I’ve never lived through this. I was born and raised in Canada, which is the country that I currently reside in. But there are many people who have experienced this, and that is why I don’t understand this mentality that many of my fellow North Americans have – this idea that “if you come here, then you better act like us”. It’s an unsympathetic idea, one that doesn’t take into account what the immigrant is actually going through.
But even more than that, even if you take the human aspect out of it entirely, I don’t understand why we even want everyone who comes to this country to act like us. Because: a) we are already an incredibly varied culture. We are made up entirely of immigrants already, borrowing from their cultures and traditions, while simultaneously creating our own and building off of each other. Canada describes itself as being a ‘melting pot’, meaning that multiple different cultures – all kind of cultures – come together to create the culture of Canada. The United States, on the other hand, describes itself as being a ‘salad bowl’, meaning that, again, multiple different cultures have come together to exist alongside one another. Whether or not these ideas hold true in practice, they are the ideas that our countries claim that they want to uphold. So to say that someone who comes to our country and adopt our culture, in theory, shouldn’t really mean anything, because which of our many cultures and customs do they need to adopt?
And more than that, b) why would we want everyone to be the same? Let’s imagine that everyone who came to our countries somehow could adopt our culture and customs – we all practice the same religion, all speak the same language, all celebrate the same holidays. Where would be our room for growth? How could we ever change, adapt, learn, if everything was constantly the exact same? And, most importantly, what reason would we have to learn tolerance for others if they were all the exact same as us?
And that’s what a lot of this comes down to, at the end of the day: tolerance. We need to be more tolerant toward change and difference. Now, I’m not saying that if a truly harmful ideology comes into our country, we should just tolerate it, but how often does that happen, really? Most of the differences that immigrants bring are differences of language, of customs, of culture, and they’re all opportunities for learning on the behalf of the North American who comes across them. We shouldn’t shun or belittle difference, we should embrace it, because that is the only chance we have to become stronger and more intelligent, tolerant people.