On being a visible minority

According to new census data released by Statistics Canada last week, visible minorities have surpassed the five million mark as immigrants from Asia continue to change the face of Canada at a staggering rate.  Visible minorities now comprise more than 16% of the country’s population and should that trend continue, Statistics Canada predicts that one in five Canadians will be a visible minority by 2017, when the country turns 150 years old.

So what is it like to be a visible minority?  In Canada, many face language barriers, discrimination, culture shock and the rejection of foreign credentials.  I completely understand the language barrier.  While we have found Japanese people very helpful, not knowing the language is definitely a handicap to daily living and were we planning to stay longer than a year, we would be making a much bigger effort to learn the language.   Of course, because we’re here to teach English, not knowing the language doesn’t stop us from working but in any other field, we’d be unemployable.

As a visible minority, we really have not experienced discrimination.  In fact, if anything, looking different from those around us is an asset.  People don’t expect us to understand the language or the customs and, though some just ignore us, most are very willing to help in any way they can.  On occasion, there are those who clearly choose not to sit next to us on the train but there are few of them and no one is outwardly rude to us.  That would be so unJapanese!  MIL has on staff, at the moment, several young teachers of Japanese American descent and I think life is actually more difficult for them. Because they look Japanese, people automatically assume that they are and expect them to understand the language and the culture.

For the most part, as I go about my daily life here in Japan, I forget how visibly different I am from those around me!  In fact, once in awhile when I catch my reflection in a train window, I’m surprised at how different I do look!  Japanese women value pale skin, however, so my difference is not looked at as unattractive.  MIL also employs several black teachers and I don’t know what their experience has been.

Perhaps the biggest handicap to immigrants in Canada, visible or otherwise, has been the rejection of their foreign credentials and work experience.  Of course, there need to be checks of some sort to ensure that their qualifications meet Canadian standards.  Obviously, I don’t want a doctor whose medical training has been inadequate operating on me.  On the other hand, we are facing a doctor shortage in Canada while we have medical professionals driving taxi!  Surely, if we’re going to allow or even encourage them to immigrate, something could be done to provide the upgrading that they might need in order to begin to practice.  Instead we have professionals working in low paying service jobs who could be contributing in much more valuable ways and whose lives would be much more fulfilling if they were able to pursue their chosen field.

Fortunately for us, our credentials as teachers are highly valued here in Japan.  In order to teach at a language school such as MIL, one doesn’t have to have a teaching degree, but Japanese law does require a university degree of some sort.  Richard and I are very highly respected, however, especially by the Japanese staff members and the students because we are “professional” teachers and it is clearly a feather in MIL’s cap that they are now able to advertise themselves as a school that employs professional teachers!

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