By: Shan Qiao in Toronto, ON
Cindy Leung drops off her husband, Chuck, to a day program at a Scarborough, Ontario long-term care facility. Waving to social worker, Benny Choi from her car she watches Chuck being pushed away in a wheelchair.
Going through this daily routine, she reflects on where it all started. Eight years ago, Chuck had a massive heart attack and fainted at home. Rushed to the hospital, he was resuscitated after his heart completely stopped beating for minutes that seemed to go well past 60-second intervals. Luckily, he was revived. But after suffering from severe brain damage, he was eventually transferred to a day program following intensive care. And through rehabilitation on weekdays, he has been able to slowly recover his ability to speak coherently.
“My husband was a chef working in [a] restaurant and I was the waitress. Life was quite satisfying until that day he had [a] heart attack. He was only 45 years old at that time,” Leung explains in a voice that exudes calm.
Although her workload at home has increased, financial constraints have kept her from seeking any additional time at work. Supporting the household as well as emerging medical expenses as the sole source of income, she points to the solace she finds in maintaining a routine.
“We do receive some medical benefit and social assistance, but I cannot stop working. We still have a child in college. Working is one way to support the family financially and another way to support myself psychologically,” she continues.
Social worker Choi knows what Leung is going through. “Many of our patients encounter stress and frustration when dealing with their inability to talk and walk. It often causes tension towards themselves and their family,” he explains. Most of the patients that come to the facility are males, most of whom receive care from their middle to old-age wives.
It’s a story that’s known all too well across the country, women who are forced to take on dual roles within the household and the professional workplace. An astonishing 72 per cent of women caregivers aged 45 to 65 in Canada are also in the labour force. Always thankful for the support systems provided, Leung praises a healthcare system that has afforded her options that nationals of other countries can only dream of.
“I drop him off to this day program from Monday to Friday when I have to work. During [the] weekend, our children can chip in and make it possible for me to take some extra shift[s]. I receive daily feedback [about] him mostly from social workers like Benny. Sometimes, they probably talk to him more than I do. I really appreciate it. [It is] the whole Canadian health care system that gives my husband a second chance.”
Looking back on life before the near-fatal incident, brings back memories of her husband as a genial and tall man, shouldering all the responsibilities that come with family life.
Leung, who works in a restaurant as a floor manager, oversees a venue with a 500-seat capacity. Never one to complain, she cherishes having the ability to work while caring for her husband.
On the other hand, Emily Liu discovered her true career passion as a breastfeeding activist and prospective doula (a person trained to provide advice, information, emotional support, and physical comfort to a mother before, during, and just after childbirth) after becoming a mother and main caregiver to her two young kids.
“I was a chartered accountant, worked for one of the Big Fours. I made a lot and yet lost a lot in personal time. I can work up to 70 to 80 hours during busy tax seasons until, one day, I noticed a mental meltdown while I was pregnant with my first one. Then I know I have to take a pause,” Liu says.
Motivated by her own baby, Liu made a move to “downgrade” her work portfolio to a local small accounting firm in Mississauga. Taking on a partner role, she was able to make her work hours flexible so she could juggle work with the responsibilities of raising a child.
In the end, Liu terminated her partnership, opting for a career as a freelance accountant. That was until two years ago, when she completely withdrew from the accounting business.
“I slowly find out my keen interest in breastfeeding and promoting it, something I really enjoy doing while raising up my kids,” she stresses. Since then, Liu takes her kids to the La Leche League Canada’s breastfeeding leader training class.
“This is the solution in my case, working while babysitting and I love doing both,” she giggles. Liu quit one labour market to enter another, one that’s been more welcoming to mothers and caregivers.
Moving across continents
Caregivers can come from a variety of sources, but it is extremely common to see family members step in as figures of support, sometimes flying across continents. As in the case of 65 year old Elvira Vergara, when the call came from her late husband’s cousin, there was only one choice to make.
Single with a grown son, residing in Columbia, Vergara moved in. Now 80 years old and widowed, her patient suffered from high blood pressure as well as diabetes. Taking the position as a live-in caregiver, they’ve been cohabiting for eight months and both feel positive about one another’s roles.
When asked why she chose Vergara, the cousin shrugs her shoulders and beams, “I’ve seen her great attitude working as a house cleaner. My kids probably can’t do a better job than her. We know each other from the past. I trust her,” she nods.
“Gracias,” Vergara replies in Spanish.
Although Vergara was able to fill a fulltime position through caregiving, thousands of women are forced to manage dual roles as they maintain their professional positions. It is essential that the support systems built to help these individuals are not only readily available but that they also instill their trust. With nearly half of women caregivers declining available arrangements based on the potential impact on their careers; its clear that more awareness must be brought to the benefits. Only then can these services be deemed helpful and accessible to all Canadians.
by Daniel Leon Rodriguez in Calgary
Many immigrant men feel isolated, fearful and lost upon arrival in Canada, according to multiple researchers and social agencies in the country.
Vic Lantion, a program coordinator with the Ethno-Cultural Council of Calgary (ECCC), explains that many of his clients are men suffering from clinical depression.
“They wake up at 3 a.m. asking themselves, ‘What I’m doing here?’” says Lantion.
Lantion explains that these men often struggle to cope with their ethnic and cultural expectations, which are often distorted during their resettlement process. After immigrating, they and their wives often find jobs or new avenues of social expression that might not have existed in their home countries.
At the same time, however, a lack of research on how immigrant men handle these changes makes it difficult to resolve these issues.
Immigrant men hesitate to reach out
Even when they’re struggling with mental health issues, many of these men might not ask for help because their culture sees it as weakness. “Man from visible minorities have more societal pressure not to seek support,” says Lantion.
Only 25 per cent of immigrants seek support with social agencies, and most of them are women, according to Lantion. This puts male newcomers at a disadvantage because they aren’t receiving the support they need to overcome the challenges of resettlement.
Back in their home countries, these men also enjoy a certain respect and prestige connected with their careers—one which that they might lose in Canada when forced to take other jobs, explains Lantion.
“If you’re highly educated, you have a hard time accepting you’re not a doctor or a lawyer anymore,” says Lantion, who adds men are psychologically affected by underemployment and the challenges of getting their credentials recognized.
“Men are having a cultural shock in regards [to] their gender identity and values,” he says.
Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association (CIWA) CEO Beba Svigir, says men don’t seek help as often as their wives due to many reasons.
One reason she cites is that some men don’t trust government and social agencies: “Men feel very uncomfortable because they feel the government [might] undermine their authority.”
Immigrant women are more successful than men
From his experience working with Ethiopian, Somali, Filipino and other immigrant communities in Calgary, Lantion found that men were worse off after resettling in Canada compared to women. “In the long term, immigrant women are being more successful than men,” he says.
In their traditional family roles, immigrant men are often pressured to be family providers. Meanwhile, women are expected to take care of the children. Because immigrant women tend to have more free time, they attend social programs, improving their language and their employment skills, says Lantion.
“Culturally, men are supposed to be the providers,” says Priyadarshini Kharat, a counsellor at the University of Calgary, who found in her PhD research that ethnic men were afraid of being ashamed and ostracized by their communities for not fulfilling their roles as breadwinners.
Svigir agrees with Lantion that women are often more successful than men. She says men feel more “entitled” to cling to their careers than women, which creates self-esteem problems.
Women in the workplace
Lantion says this doesn’t happen to the same extent with women, as their identities aren’t tied to their profession, but to their role as mothers: “When women move to Canada, no one can take away their identity as a mothers.”
David Este, a University of Calgary social work professor, has conducted research on immigrant male refugees over the last 16 years. He says many ethnic men see themselves as failures if their spouse has to work, which is often the case in cities like Calgary, which are expensive to live in.
Women sometimes find work easier than men as they’re more flexible at the time of employment, says Este. “Women are more pragmatic; they need to work to survive economically.”
“Women are very resilient and they will do whatever to succeed," says Svigir, who adds that female immigrants are open to seeking help, changing careers and accepting any job for the well-being of their children.
Este says men struggle more to adjust their newly necessary responsibilities. “Immigrant men in Canada are doing domestic chores they would never do in their home countries,” he states.
He adds that back in their countries, couples would get support from extended family members to raise their children—something not available in Canada.
“There is a [saying]: ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’” says Este.
Men traditionally ignored by the research community
“There is a humongous gap in the research about immigrant men,” says Kharat, who did her PhD research on intimate partner violence among immigrants from South Asia in Canada.
Because this demographic is often neglected by the research community, there is a lack of understanding of how the immigration process influences the well-being of men as well as their likelihood to commit domestic violence, says Kharat.
Lantion echoes Kharat, saying there are few if any studies on how men are adapting to egalitarian values.
Last year, this gap lead to the creation of a survey by multiple Alberta social agencies, including the ECCC, to better understand the barriers immigrant men face when resettling.
Preliminary results found that 96 per cent of men said it was important to have support, but only one in four men knew of any support service for men in Canada.
This is the third part in a three-part series on changing family dynamics and what it means for women immigrants in Canada. The first part and second parts discuss how women are socially and economically empowered once they reach Canada. If you are an immigrant who has experienced significant social change in your life after arriving in Canada, please contact email@example.com.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
by Vincent Simboli in Montreal
The refugee crisis displacing millions of people across the world and particularly in Syria has become the major political issue of our time. Canada’s new government has made very public commitments to welcome these refugees, and Quebec has officially welcomed 2,800 refugees as of January 2016.
While many are congratulating the Liberal government for its efforts and its promotion of the public discussion around refugee rights, immigration activists have admonished the government tobetter support immigrants already in Canada.
Mary Foster, an immigration activist with Solidarity Across Borders, explained to New Canadian Media that “it’s disturbing to see that Canadians [can be] so moved by media and politicians to welcome people, yet that same goodwill is not extended to [other] people who came here from dangerous situations and who have decided to stay.”
“I wish society as a whole could move beyond what is told to them,” she continues.
Need for compassion towards all immigrants
Foster stresses the need for Canadians to be compassionate toward all newly-arrived people, regardless of the political climate du jour.
According to Foster, a part of the Trudeau administration’s decision to take in refugees stems from the desire to portray their government as more compassionate and warmer than the Harper administration. But the Trudeau administration needs to walk the proverbial walk, she says.
Noé Arteaga Santos, a Guatemalan-born, Montreal-based immigration rights activist explains in Spanish that the challenges immigrants face when coming to Canada are similar to, but often distinct from, those that refugees face.
“Refugees, for example the ones coming from Syria, are fleeing violence and are usually not expected to have all their documents with them,” says Arteaga. “Immigrants to Canada, however, even if they are also fleeing violence, are penalized and threatened for lacking these same documents.”
Arteaga elaborates, “immigrants are constantly being told to wait for some form to clear, for some paperwork to be done. It is very difficult for an immigrant, particularly one without papers, to ‘hit the ground running’ and quickly start working or enrolling their children in school.”
The Globe & Mail reported on October 28, 2015 that “by 2012, the number of temporary employees let into Canada had more than tripled over the previous decade to 491,547, according to one government measurement.”
In 2014, the Conservative government cut funding for the temporary foreign worker program amid controversial reports that the program was being abused to displace Canadian employees.
A petition is circulating demanding that the Trudeau government follow up on its campaign promise to restructure the temporary migrant worker program and ease freedom of movement between employers and relax travel restrictions.
Non-status immigrant women at particular risk
The Non-Status Women’s Collective of Montreal delivered an open letter on the precarious situation of their immigration status to Justin Trudeau’s office on November 27th, 2015, and still have yet to receive even an acknowledgement of its delivery, let alone a response.
The Collective elaborated on their letter in a press conference on January 18, 2016 at Concordia University’s Simone de Beauvoir Institute.
One member of the collective, speaking in French and wearing a mask to protect her identity, told the audience that, “We have called you here after having sent a letter to Prime Minister Trudeau, who has declared himself to be in favour of the rights of women, children, immigrants, and refugees — which is very positive and encouraging. However, he has never said anything about us, the non-status.”
Women are among the most vulnerable of people without legal immigration status, as they often bear the dual burdens of having to work and care for the family — all without the benefits and security that the state is expected to provide to others.
According to Foster, non-status women often cannot report sexual assaults or other crimes to Canadian police due to their lack of legal status in Canada. They are also often unable to get the therapeutic and medical care which is critical after an assault.
“Additionally, women who arrive in Canada through private sponsorship may have their legal status tied to their husband,” explained Foster. This means that if these women are in abusive relationships, they may risk deportation if they attempt to report abuse.
Designing a city for all
Foster’s major suggestion for how Canadians can help refugees and immigrants is to help turn their city into a “Solidarity City,” which requires the opening of access to services for refugees and immigrants.
To form this Solidarity City, publicly-funded services such as schools must never permit police and migration officials to arrest, detain and deport minors, as happened to an undocumented minor in October 2014.
Those interviewed emphasized that they stand in solidarity with the recently-arrived refugees from Syria, and that their indignation with the Trudeau government is not meant to discredit the mass-mobilization of Canadian resources to welcome them.
Their key frustration, especially for the Non-Status Women’s Collective, is that their needs have fallen to the wayside as Canada’s borders begin to open to refugees.
Foster concludes her statement by reiterating the importance of settled Canadians to “read and write as much as possible about migration issues,” as well as “[open] one’s ears,” and by extension one’s mind “to the stories of immigrants in their neighbourhoods.”
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