"As an Immigrant Kid, You Have This Internalized Racism": Why Adjusting to a New Life in Toronto was Difficult
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“As an Immigrant Kid, You Have This Internalized Racism”: Why Adjusting to a New Life in Toronto was Difficult

From Nepal to Parkdale Collegiate.


Gelek Badheytsang. Photo by Stephen Thomas.

Before I left Nepal, I was into emo shit, Backstreet Boys, and regular teenage shit. At that time, the situation in Nepal was shaky. There was a Maoist insurgency, and an armed insurrection was happening in the countryside. But the thing about growing up in Kathmandu is that in other parts of Nepal people were hurting, getting killed, but Kathmandu is the capital city, and we were upper middle class, so we were sheltered from that. Also, even when you have school closures on an almost weekly basis, when you’re young, you take it in stride. You’re like, “Great, school’s shut down; I’ll just go back to my comic books.” But at a certain point, Kathmandu came to a complete standstill because of protests and uprisings. And then, in June 2001, the whole royal family got massacred in one night, and my mom was no longer confident about her kids having a stable education in Nepal. So, we got visas.

We arrived in Canada in November 2001. It was shortly after 9/11, and our transatlantic flight was almost empty. We had the whole plane to ourselves. So we were running around, like kids do. It was my mom and my two brothers. I was the oldest, 16, so we were practically useless in terms of helping her. My dad stayed back with my older sister. Dad had a carpet business. He was still looking after it.

When we first arrived, everything I thought I knew was uprooted. I’d wanted to leave Nepal—a lot ofNepali kids want to go to the West—but when I arrived, I actually didn’t know anything about Canada. It was a hard time. I was dealing with all that plus all the regular teenage stuff, hormones, and trying to find my place with my peers. The high school I went to, Parkdale Collegiate, actually, had a lot of immigrant kids, and there’s this thing, where you want to fit in, get the latest sneakers, but you also don’t want to fit in with the rest of the immigrant kids, because you have this internalized racism and think immigrants are dirty.

Now, though, I’m confident in myself in my identity as an immigrant. Like, even though I’m a citizen, I’ll always make it a point to say, “I’m an immigrant, and I came here as a Tibetan refugee.” But it’s still complicated. We tend to think of immigrants as exceptional—”Immigrants are great; they’re enterprising, Albert Einstein was a refugee!”—which is all true, but it can sound like, if you don’t reach that level, you’re not welcome. And I want to resist that.

I also don’t want to be part of the settler-colonial project. Like sometimes at immigration-related events, we say, “Canada was built by immigrants. Canada is a nation of immigrants.” Which is sort of true, but it’s also not true: Canada had Indigenous peoples living here. Their land was stolen. How do immigrants reckon with that?

Immigrants of Toronto is a weekly feature celebrating Toronto’s diversity as a vibrant city of immigrants, refugees, and newcomers, as told to Stephen Thomas.