Lately I’ve been thinking about newcomers and old-timers.
A newcomer is anyone who has just moved to your community, whether they moved there from just down the road or from a country half way round the world. Old-timers have been around so long no one remembers where they came from.
I am not a newcomer to anything except perhaps old(er) age. I live in the same community I was born in. And with the exception of the years I went away to school and the years I worked before marriage, I have lived here all my life.
I am a Canadian by birth. I am not an immigrant, but I do have immigrant roots.
I am the fifth generation in a line that began in the Orkney Islands and the fourth generation in other lines that began in Iceland. My Scottish great-great-grandfather and my Icelandic great-grandfathers came here to escape poverty, crop failures and natural disasters.
I know that my ancestors faced some of the same challenges that today’s newcomers face. I know that children, for example, were given the strap at school for speaking their mother tongue instead of English. And that parents were told to speak only English in the home to make it easier for their children.
They were certainly different times, though. Today’s newcomers are not likely to be threatened by outbreaks of scurvy, although the harsh Manitoba winters continue to challenge all of us. My ancestors wrote letters to the home country that took months to arrive; Internet access has made communication speedier, although penmanship may never be the same.
I’ve come to realize that immigrant roots run very deep, even though we may not think about it much. The attitudes, beliefs, customs and folklore glimpsed in our words and actions can often be traced back to those who carried them as invisible luggage to this new land.
In a way, Canadians like me are a link between the old immigrant and the new.
Our ancestors came to Canada with the hope of a better life for themselves and their families. Generations later, we are that hope fulfilled.
That same hope lives in people who are newcomers to this country and it connects us each to the other in positive and life-enriching ways.