Immigration never was a topic that I thought much about before beginning my placement at Immigrant Services Guelph-Wellington. After all, I was born and raised in Canada.
On the other hand, both my parents were immigrants, born and raised on opposite sides of the world, in two very different cultures. One thing that made me feel very different while growing up was my unique name. Roisin is a traditional Irish name that means dark rose. It was a code word during the Irish resistance. It is spelled different than it is pronounced and no one could ever get it right. Royzine, Raisin, Royzen..I was so embarrassed. I remember thinking ” why couldn’t my mom have given me a normal popular name like Jennifer or Kelly?’
Growing up in Guelph, a predominantly Anglo-Saxon city, I felt different than most of the girls in my school, as my dad is black, and my mom is white. I did however meet my best friend in primary school, who also had immigrant parents who were from India. Her name was Arpana, and as you may have noticed, this traditional East Indian name, meant mispronunciation, which was also an issue for her while growing up. Both of us were shy in large groups, and had very strict parents, particularly when it came to dating, social life and parties.
When I entered college, at first I was very frustrated with all of the self-awareness exercises that our Social Work professors had us complete. I really didn’t see the point. It was not until my placement at Immigrant Services that I began to appreciate all of the self-reflection essays I had completed during my courses. I thought about my parents and how they overcame many challenges as immigrants and as an inter-racial couple living in England in the 1970’s. My father was studying to become a doctor and my mother was training to be a nurse.
They were pursing their dreams during a time when interracial dating and marriage was frowned upon.Through their years in England, my parents faced insults, and comments from others about dating outside of their race. Together my parents persevered through this difficult time in their lives and therefore are my biggest mentors.
Little did I know, the very issues I was embarrassed and shy about back then have made me feel proud about who I am today. During my placement, many of the clients had different names from all around the universe, and skin colour was never an issue. For the first time, I felt accepted and embraced.