I came to Canada when I was 18 years old. Took a plane from the country where I’d been born and raised, in Chile, and settled into life in Montreal. I was not your typical immigrant: having a Canadian mother meant that when I arrived I already knew how to speak English, and was already a citizen.
I had it easy, as far as immigrants go. For me, the challenges were the little things: not knowing how to dress for the winter and mispronouncing simple words that I’d only learned from reading books, having never heard them spoken.
In a Gallup poll released last year, people in every country were asked whether they thought it was a good thing or a bad thing for immigrants to come to their country, become their neighbours, and marry into their families. Out of 145 countries that were surveyed, Canada scored the highest for acceptance. We are a country that welcomes immigrants with open arms.
Here in the West Kootenays, we’ve been fortunate enough to be selected as one of only 11 communities in Canada to pilot an exciting new immigration initiative. The Rural and Northern Immigration Project aims to “spread the benefits of economic immigration to smaller communities by creating a path to permanent residence for skilled foreign workers who want to work and live in one of the participating communities.”
The first family will be arriving in Nelson later this month — and here at the library we’re ready and eager to welcome them. Public libraries are, in fact, the first place many newcomers and immigrants visit upon arriving in a new community. That’s why we used to host New to Nelson potlucks at the library (pre-COVID, of course), and why we now host monthly “New to Nelson” Tea Talks in collaboration with the Columbia Basin Alliance for Literacy (CBAL).
The Tea Talks are an opportunity for newcomers and immigrants to connect with one another and learn about a variety of relevant issues. Past meetings have been about the history of Nelson, taxes in Canada, and how to secure rental housing. Future sessions might include local hikes and walks, how to deal with forest fires, and identifying local flora/fauna.
Not a newcomer or immigrant, but still want to attend these talks? Not a problem! In fact, we’d love to have locals join in so that they can welcome those who are new to the community and help us orient them to the West Kootenays.
There are many wonderful organizations in the area that are working hard to help immigrants settle in the area, including CBAL, Community Futures, and the Immigrant Services Society of BC. But the rest of us all have to a role to play as well.
Make newcomers and immigrants feel welcome in our community. Offer a helping hand and a smile. Most of them don’t have it as easy as I did when I arrived in Canada. But I’d bet they’re just as excited as I was to settle down in this wonderful country that we call home.
Avi Silberstein is the Children’s Librarian at the Nelson Public Library. Check This Out runs every other week. If you’re interested in learning more about library programs and services, sign up for our monthly newsletter on our website or by giving us a call.