World View and Newcomers to Canada
My family and I decided to emigrate to Canada for economic reasons and to experience a better quality of life in a stable, first world country. I also wanted to ensure that my children grew up in a country where their life-chances would be better and they could take advantage of free health care and social care; a country where the courts and the police are fair and not corrupt; a country with a completely free press and a democratic process that is transparent and accountable – and has been for decades.
From a very early age I wanted to emigrate from Brazil and this urge strengthened when I got married and started to have children. Statistically, very few Brazilians emigrate – we have the lowest rate of emigration in South America, because here the bonds of extended family and kinship are very strong. I am not an especially ambitious man, but I wanted my children to grow up in a stable country where the police authorities were not open to corruption and where such startling extremes of poverty did not exist as they do in Brazil (Montero, 2006, p.45). As a child I grew up in the favelas – the huge shanty towns that every large Brazilian city is surrounded by. The homes are just shacks with no running water and no proper electricity, where young children can quickly become members of criminal gangs and are then often rounded up by the so-called police deaths quads and never seen again. The child mortality rate is high (Perlman, 2010, p.21-27). Last month’s floods in Brazil showed the danger of the favelas – there were so many people killed because the planning and building rules are ignored. I grew up in the favelas of Rio, but I was lucky. My parents were very strong and encouraged me to get out and better myself. The state education system has been poorly funded for the last 30 years, so as soon as I was 16 they sent me to live with my uncle who lived in a proper house in Soa Paulo and I learned the skills necessary to be a plumber from him.
It was meeting Rosalita, my wife, that changed my life. Like me, she too had the dream of emigration – for the sake of our future children. We started to do some internet research and discovered, quite by chance, that Canada’s financial investment in Brazil is its third biggest in the world, after its investment in the USA and the UK. Then we discovered the Canadian points system for emigration (Nadeem, 2007, p.34). We lost points because neither of us could speak English or French, so for four years we had private English lessons and did all we could to improve our English – even listening to the BBC World Service radio when we could. I knew from internet research that the Canada Immigration Act had introduced in 1967 a points system (Knowles, 2007, 293). Before that it had favoured people from northern Europe, especially the British Isles, but it was changing and we knew now in the early 21st century that we would be emigrating to a country that in the cities, at least, was becoming multi-cultural and multi-racial. This was important to us. Most Brazilians have very mixed blood: from European settlers, from the indigenous peoples and from the slaves brought here centuries ago from Arica. This extraordinary mix of genes and cultures is part of being Brazilian. We felt that Canada would be a country where we would be valued for what we did and how we behaved, and not our social background. If I worked hard and well as a plumber, no-one would care that I grew up in a favela.
Through living with my uncle in Sao Paulo I heard that the number of Brazilians migrating to Canada – both legally and illegally - had risen since the 1980s when Brazil, in common with most of the world, underwent a severe recession. Canada became known to Brazilians as ‘El Dorado do Norte’. Once our English was good enough to accumulate the sufficient number of points my wife and I successfully applied to emigrate. We did consider Australia and New Zealand – because I know we would have passed their points system too, but they are further away in case we had to return to Brazil for a family emergency and they drive on the left! We decided we would have enough to adapt to in a new country without having to drive on the wrong side of the road as well.
Our hopes for change in Brazil had been high when Lula was elected president in 2002 and he did introduce reform programs, but change was so slow: local politics is often corrupt and not answerable to either the central government or to the electorate. As I write, a quarter of Brazilian homes have no sanitation and 14 and a half million of the population are illiterate. (Montero, 2006, p.93). President Lula introduced schemes to improve literacy rates and school attendance, but Brazil is geographically so large and some areas are so remote from central government that the funds from national government initiatives are often ‘lost’ in the pockets of local officials.
To be honest, there were lots of things about our new life that were hard to adapt to, but the most immediate was the weather. We arrived in early December and I had never experienced such cold! We had to go out and buy new clothes for the whole family – we have four children now, so it was an expensive time for us. The mean daily temperature in Toronto in December is -1C (Jepson et al, 2004, p.207). In Sao Paolo it is 18.5C with the mean daily low being 14.5C (Cleary et al, 2009, p185). I hope it goes without saying that I had never seen snow, but my children soon learned how to make snowballs and a snowman. However, once you learn to dress for it, it does get easier. More long term, I miss football – or soccer, as it is called here in Canada. In Brazil our footballing tradition is long, proud and successful: almost every man you meet has an opinion about the next big match. There have been nineteen football World Cups: Brazil have won it five times and on another five occasions have reached the semi-finals. We Brazilians think of Brazil as ‘o pais do futebol’ – the land of football. We are proud of the way we play the game which as rhythm like samba and is referred to ‘ginga’ – stylish, attacking play with the emphasis on individual skill (Bellow, 2003, p.56). Here in Canada there are only three purpose-built stadia for football. It is true that Toronto have a team in the MSL, but the atmosphere is not the same as at home (Radnage, 1998, p51)). Luckily my sons, all three of them, have found a local amateur team to play for.
I also miss Carnival which is a huge event in Brazil; it is celebrated here, but in a very low-key way, and I have learnt to call it Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day or Mardi Gras – my neighbors all call it different things. Because Toronto has a sizeable Brazilian community we have found it easy to buy goods in the stores to make Brazilian dishes and there is even a weekly newspaper here – “Nove Ilhas” – published every Tuesday. An integral part of Carnival is samba – a music that grew out of the music brought to Brazil by African slave and then mixed with indigenous and European traditions (Shaw, 1999, p.12). Luckily I brought my CD collection. Some Canadians think I will be impressed by the sky scrapers in Toronto, but they do not understand my home country. Sao Paolo has a largest number of skyscrapers than any other city in South America and the tallest ones too. But it also has many favelas – where the poor live and die in squalor and filth, where the police cannot be trusted, the local authorities can be bribed or are indifferent, where building regulations are ignored or non-existent, and where the infant mortality rate is very high.
What do I most want Canadians to know about me? Well, I would say firstly that now I am Canadian and intend to stay. But I would also want them to know about my Brazilian origins: our passion for football and samba; for carnival; I would like them to realize that there are parts of Brazil which resemble the best of the first world and vast areas of the country that are typical of the third world (Montero, 2006, p.125). I would like Canadians to understand the problems that led me to leave Brazil, but also the high esteem in which I hold my new nationality. I will bring my children up to be Canadians who are proud of their Brazilian background.
Bellow, Alex, (2003). Futebol: the Brazilian Way of Life. London: Bloomsbury Press.
Cleary, David, Jenkins, Dilwyn & Marshall, Oliver (2009). The Rough Guide to Brazil. London: Rough Guides.
Knowles, Valerie, (2007). Strangers at Our Gates: Canadian Immigration Policy, 1540 – 2007. Canada: Dundum Group
Jepson, Tim, Lee, Phil, Smith, Tania & Williams, Christian (2004). The Rough Guide to Canada. London: Rough Guides.
Montero, Alfred P (2006). Brazilian Politics: Reforming a Democratic State in a Changing World. London: Purity Press.
Nadeem, Tariq, (2007). Canadian Immigration Made Easy. Canada: Self Publishing Books.
Perlman, Janice (2010). Favela: Four Decades of Living on the Edge in Rio de Janeiro. New York: OUP.
Radnage, Keir, (1998). The Complete Encyclopedia of Football. London: Carlton Books.
Shaw, Lisa, (1999). The Social History of the Brazilian Samba. London: Ashcroft Publishing.