Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Where Did You Come From? Where Did You Go?

Immigration is woven into the DNA of mankind. According to National Geographic, there is a theory that over 25,000 years ago, when the 7 continents are believed to still have been connected, thousands of people emigrated on foot from what is now known as Siberia to Alaska.

This alone proves immigration is nothing new. When we are not satisfied with something, we have the motivation to walk away and find what we need somewhere else. 

With all the current public discussion of immigration law reform in the U.S. and the ballooning backlog of immigration applications here in Canada, I was inspired to take a look into the history of immigration to North America. I trust you will find these glimpses as interesting as I have.

Every Canadian and U.S. citizen has immigrant roots in their personal history.

But back to our Siberian nomads. Once arriving in the Alaska area, also known as the Bering Land Bridge between Asia and the Americas, the people were met with two massive glaciers insurmountably blocking their path forward. With no way to move on, the population decided to create their society there on the land bridge and essentially wait it out. 

They would colonize, cultivate and survive in sharp, frigid, Siberia-like conditions for the next 10,000 – 20,000 years. That’s not a typo: a 20,000 year rest stop. Eventually the Earth’s environment began to shift, and a path beyond the glaciers presented itself. This enabled the population to immigrate into what would become Canada and the United States, as well as parts of Mexico and South America. They would become the indigenous people of these continents. 

Around the year 1000 AD, it is believed that Norwegian explorer Leif Ericson would land on the coast of what is now Newfoundland and Labrador, leading the first-known European expedition to step foot on North America. While there are two tales behind if he landed there on purpose or by mistake, he and his crew would nevertheless settle there to explore what they would name “Vineland” – named for the discovery of ample amounts of grape vines.

Most of us know the saying “in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue”. Italian explorer Christopher Columbus would set out to find India on the dime of the Spanish Queen. He would miss his mark and land on an island in the Bahamas, and then continue on to Florida.  

Columbus is regarded by many as the man who discovered the “New World”. Protests by Native American historians and activists still occur to this day regarding Columbus’ claims of discovering a place that was already inhabited and the alleged crimes of humanity he committed against its inhabitants. 

Regardless of how you feel about either Ericson or Columbus, it would be these two men and their crews that would pave the way for a future of other Europeans to immigrate to North America.

We must also lend the proper recognition to the history of slavery, and the understanding that not everyone chose to immigrate to North America.  African people were being forced into slavery and transported to our continent as early as 1619.  

The first Chinese immigrants to North America landed in Nootka Sound on Vancouver Island in 1788 with British explorer John Meares. 70 Chinese carpenters built him a boat and then, it is thought, they married into the native communities of Vancouver Island, and their cultural traces were quickly assimilated. For centuries before this, it was forbidden to emigrate from China and it was considered a capital crime.   


The pioneer Japanese immigrants known as the “Issei” first arrived in Hawaii in 1868 and then in Canada between 1877 and 1928. 10,000 Japanese immigrants were settled permanently in Canada by the year 1914.

Canada is most certainly known and praised for its multicultural and multinational historic diversity. The latest Statistics Canada census recorded just over 6 million foreign-born people in Canada.

This represented virtually one in five or 20% of the total population. This is the highest proportion in 75 years. In 1901, there were 25 reported ethnic origins represented in the Canadian population. The most recent Statistics Canada census results accounted for over 200.

We must welcome with care the people that opt to leave their countries behind so they can share their lives with us here in North America. Our everyday actions should never agitate the oftentimes already turbulent process immigrants’ face. Why disrespect anyone that sets out to instil a sense of courage, adventure and security into their own family legacy?  

Patience, mindfulness, empathy and respect are key to smoothly integrating the emigrated into our teams and communities.

“Remember, remember always that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.” ~ Franklin D. Roosevelt

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