Challenges, adaptations not easy
by Helen Bergen
When Maria and Heinrich immigrated to Canada with their seven children in June of 2011 they looked forward to working together with their children and earning enough to feed their family.
“We’re just so very thankful,” Maria says in Low German, “coming to Canada and working together on the farm allowed me to get to know my husband again.” In Mexico he’d been too busy trying to make ends meet.
Having grown up on a farm in Mexico, Maria and Heinrich were especially interested in continuing to work in the agricultural sector in Ontario.
At the beginning there were many challenges and becoming accustomed to the way of life here in Canada took some time. Going to the store to shop for groceries and other supplies perplexed them because the brands were all different and neither Maria nor Heinrich spoke much English. They quickly realized how important it would be to learn English. Learning the language wasn’t just about finding the right words and phrases, but about changing their way of thinking.
In their village in Mexico the men of the community often learned Spanish in order to do business. But women and children usually learned only enough of the official language to get by. Their home was located on a large tract of land purchased by her church community and all of their neighbours attended the same village church and school. The government permitted them to teach their native language and religious traditions in the schools and they maintained their own roadways so that their interaction with Spanish-speaking Mexicans was limited.
But in Canada not only were they now living right next door to people from a different ethnicity, but interacting daily with English-speaking Canadians. Thinking back to five years ago, she remembers her surprise at how accommodating and helpful everyone had been.
Her children quickly picked up the language. And she is encouraged to see them making friends, but wonders about how much they will lose from their faith tradition. She would like them to do well in school and grow up to be good workers, but to not forget everything from their heritage. She wants them to cook, sew traditional dresses, and be able to understand their grandparents.
Not having an Ontario Driver’s Licence or health coverage at the beginning was equally challenging as the cultural adjustment. They’d had to rely on others to take them from place to place making her feel less independent. And since they decided to apply for the immigration sponsorship from within Canada, it also meant there was period of time when they were not covered by the provincial health care plan. It was a full year after arriving that the children were finally eligible for the Ontario Health Insurance Plan.
The biggest surprise came after Maria and Heinrich began to relax into their life here in Ontario. Maria and Heinrich had known there would be time of waiting, but after Heinrich was issued a Work Permit so that he could earn a decent wage and their children were in school everything seemed to progress fairly well. And when the day finally arrived that Heinrich and their children were granted Permanent Residence everyone was excited.
Since Maria was already a Canadian, they applied for a citizenship card for their children shortly thereafter only to be informed by Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada that Maria had, in fact, been subject to loss of her Canadian citizenship at the age of 28. This news puzzled Maria and Heinrich since she had gone to some lengths to investigate the possibility of this loss when her fourth oldest was born in Mexico in 2004.
“Once a Canadian always a Canadian,” officials had told them after examining the citizenship card and failing to see an expiry date on it.
As it turned out, a little known section within the Citizenship Act deemed her to have lost her citizenship status on her 28th birthday since she had not submitted an application to “Register and Retain” her citizenship. (Many people turning 28 between Feb. 14, 2005, and April 17, 2009, lost their citizenship because of section 8 of the Citizenship Act, regardless of where they lived.)
Now as she sits looking at the beautiful citizenship documents for herself and her children and the Permanent Resident Card for Heinrich, Maria smiles at how nervous they’d felt during the citizenship ceremony in London. During the ceremony their family had been called up first to shake the hand of the citizenship official. This had intensified her nervousness, but again everyone had been very helpful.
Moving to Canada has altered their family. It has opened doors for them. It has brought them closer together not only to Maria’s siblings and parents, who were already living in Canada, but also to each other as husband and wife.
“Working in unity together with our children,” Maria reiterates, “is what I’ve always longed for.”
Helen Bergen is with Mennonite Community Services, Aylmer, Ontario.