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  • Writer's pictureSas Miller

Immigration and Migration: An Immigrant’s Experience of Fear and Dreams

Pre-Immigration: The Island Life Myth

When people hear that I’m from Barbados, an inevitable question they ask is, “Why would you leave such a beautiful place ?” I think in North American and European minds, life in Barbados is filled with days laying in a hammock between two palm trees, while staring out at miles of white, sandy beaches and clear, blue waters. If it were indeed a carefree “island life,” then I might have chosen to remain there.

But from a young age, I had a deep-seated feeling that the marketed image of the island was a façade.

A bit of history: Barbados was colonized by Europeans beginning in the 17th century. Many of those making up the majority Black population in the present-day are the descendants of Africans brought to the island during the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade. Slavery was abolished in 1833 and independence from Britain was granted in 1966. However, reparations have yet to be paid, and the island is still subject to the white supremacist, capitalist, patriarchal, neo-colonial systems. Despite seeing people who looked like me represented in all realms of business, government and society, the contrast of my majority white private school and majority white ownership of the island’s biggest businesses, were the first glaring examples of discrepancies in the racial and class hierarchies. This was most clearly reflected in the island’s main revenue generating industry: tourism. In the 90s, before the diversity seen in today’s social media travel influencers, Barbados’ beaches and lavish, carefree island life were reserved for “tourists” and “expats," — and these two words were synonymous with “White.”

White people could travel for “leisure.”

Black and Brown folks traveled for “opportunity.”

So, like countless others before me, I set my sights on America, where their dream was accessible to anyone.

What scared me then?

As someone who has known since the age of 6 that I wanted to work in the entertainment industry, my biggest fear growing up was knowing there was no viable future for me in Barbados. Once I graduated school and entered the working world, I’d have to be “realistic,” and settle for a predestined role working in the fields of tourism & hospitality, healthcare, law or education.

Immigration: A Dream Deferred

From the time my family moved to the U.S. in 2001, securing permanent residency was my primary goal. While in the U.S., I recklessly allowed myself to dream big and even pursued an “impractical” fine arts degree. But as a millennial who graduated in a post-2008 economy, when it came to job prospects, the permanence of my education and internship experiences were overridden by my temporary student status. So, I ended back up in Barbados.

What scared me then?

During my first year post-grad, I applied to and received rejections from jobs both locally and internationally. My father, seeing my despair, used his connections to get me a meeting with the Head of the newly created Film Department at the University of the West Indies. After continuous failed follow ups, it was clear that my worst fears were being validated. As much as Caribbean governments try to stop the brain drain, many of our own are too invested in keeping neocolonial systems and hierarchies in place. I feared slowly having to relinquish my dreams of working in entertainment and building a creative career on my own terms. For if I allowed myself to do so, I knew that my spirit would die before my body did. And I couldn’t willingly live through that.

Citizenship: Living the Canadian reality

Now, a decade into my Canadian immigration journey and with the security of citizenship, new fears have taken over. The neo-colonialist systems are the same, just on a larger scale. The precarity of immigration status is now replaced by the precarity of daily survival in this chosen country. How do I earn enough to not only survive, but thrive? How do I build a social safety net here when surviving capitalism takes up 99.9% of my time? Then there’s inflation and the ever-increasing cost of living. Now that I have the Canadian passport privilege, do I pack up and move, and contribute to the rising costs of living for those locals?

What gives me hope?

“Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” Victor Frankl

Despite many facets of life in Canada mirroring the same struggles and obstacles as life in Barbados, everyday I wake up grateful to be here. My experiences in Montreal specifically, give me a future to look forward to, for the first time in my life. The work opportunities that I sought are abundant, which inspired me to take the leap into entrepreneurship. I’m able to connect with creative, like-minded people, and slowly build a life, community and career that I’d always wanted. The greener grass for me is being able to build a life of meaning, by living and working in alignment with purpose.

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