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The First Thing



Parc du Pere-Marquette, Montreal

On our first full day in Montreal, kids hopped and grimaced watching a plastic lady bug body fill. They watched and shifted position and watched and shifted again, guessing where they'd best get the splash they were after. Every time the water hit, a shock and thrill.


A couple weeks ago we were watching the water fill to tipping on this year-long adventure in Montreal. The watching was exhausting. And the water's tipping, a day spent in travel and border-crossing, was even more exhausting and daunting.


We sat in Trudeau airport's Immigration Room 1 unsure when our letter and number would be called, unsure we had the necessary documents and answers to get the kids the status they needed to attend school. And when we were finally called, the agent asked us a few questions and took a glance at just one of the many documents we had carefully found, printed, and organized. He walked over to ask me if I "wanted" to work, and, in the end, granted us a status we weren't even asking for.


We crossed carrying our beloved pet cat and more than enough luggage. We crossed with a house cared for and jobs waiting for us when we return. With all our education, documentation, money, and possessions, we found crossing the US-Canadian border difficult and mystifying. And settling into our first few days in a lovely little house we kept stumbling across more small shocks, unexpected bills and difficulties navigating.


I'm saying all this to say we're here, we're fine. We've laughed and experienced lovely little moments in the last two weeks, not least of which is joining our joy to the joy of others in the public space of Montreal's many parks. We're open to the adventure and lessons this year will bring.


But I can't begin without saying: anyone who thinks it's easy to immigrate or that any decision to immigrate is made lightly hasn't understood the first thing. I'm sure I haven't either, especially because I now realize, despite all the news and literature I've read and the people I know and love that led me to empathize with immigration's hardships, the ease of my experiences traveling as a white American still tinted my view of what immigration might be like.


Travel is not immigration. My small glimpse into the difference is that immigration strips you down to one crucial moment, with unimaginably high stakes if home is rife with violence, if you have nothing and nowhere else to go, if you are traveling with children and/or elders or are a child or elder on your own. In that moment, what's written on a handful of papers collides with what one officer chooses to read on your face, the law a fuzzy backdrop. And then you wait to find out what you will be told you are.

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