More Than

More Than

Two years ago, I was a speaker for the TEDxYouth conference, and I wrote and gave a TED Talk entitled “We are more than Numbers.”

I shared of my family’s and my immigration story in hopes of awakening people’s hearts to become more open and mindful in their interactions with newcomers to the country, and those they perceive to be different. I wanted to remind them of the humans behind the stereotypes, statistics, and news stories. I believe this speech is still relevant today and I would like to share an excerpt from it with you this month:
“11,138 kilometers is a very large distance to be apart from someone.

Growing up in the Philippines, I had a pretty nice childhood. My family wasn’t rich, but we made ends meet.

However, my mom and dad worried about my brother’s future and my own. Good jobs were scarce in the Philippines and depended on going to good schools which cost my parents the equivalent of their COMBINED ANNUAL incomes each year. We couldn’t afford it in the long run and they knew that it wasn’t practical for us to stay.

So, my mom made the tough decision to work abroad. She quit her full-time teaching job to get training for a new career in Canada and a year later, found a job in Edmonton. We were all so happy for her but, my six-year old mind didn’t yet grasp how far away Canada was and how long we would be apart.

Reality only hit me on the night I saw the bags she had packed for her flight the next morning. They were large and bulky, and they terrified me.

“Are you never coming back?” I started sobbing as I ran over to her. I wouldn’t let go of my mom’s leg and she started crying as well.

What could she do? Like any good mother, she started unpacking in front of me to calm me. I remember her singing me a lullaby until I fell asleep.

When I awoke, she was gone.

For the next four years we skyped and emailed endlessly. She gave up sleep most nights to make sure she could call, regardless of the 14-hour difference. When my brother and I were finished school, it was 5 PM for us, but 3 AM for her. That never stopped her from staying awake and listening to me complain about fractions, even after a hard day at work.

Not once did my mom allow the distance to make us feel like she forgot about us. Whenever I sniffled on the phone, she’d tell me that it would be worth it. And it ultimately was, but I just couldn’t fathom how I was going to survive without my mom for so long.

I’m eternally grateful for my dad’s presence throughout those four years. He was an architect, but turned down work to make sure he could eat breakfast with us,come to our soccer games, and hear about our days. He even learned how to do my hair and ended up with a collection of combs to make braids and ponytails.

Fast forward four years and we’re finally on a plane to Canada, soon to be reunited. I can still remember the velvet cushioned seats, the murmur above the engine noise of English being spoken around me, and my dad squeezing my hand. It was a thirteen-hour flight, but I couldn’t sleep at all and kept checking the windows trying to catch a glimpse of the maple syrup land we were headed to.

When we finally arrived, I ran out of the plane and excitedly searched for my mom. As my eyes darted to the left and right, they stopped and focused on someone with familiar black hair and a humble height like mine. “MOM!” I ran as fast as my legs could take me then buried my head in her hair and hugged her like I would never ever let her go again.

When we reunited – my family, all together hugging in the midst of the chaos in that airport – I realized we would never have to go back 11,138 km to find home again. Home is where our family is.

Love drove my parents’ optimism and compelled them to take enormous leaps for my brother and I because they saw the bright future awaiting in Canada. My parents demonstrated the greatest form of love that I believe there is to give, sacrificial love. Distance doesn’t diminish the presence of love; it just stretches it out across the planet.

When you watch the news about immigrants or read about them entering developed countries like Canada and the U.S., more often than not, all you see are numbers. Well, my story is just one of the 280,700 immigrants that entered Canada in 2010 alone. However, I am not just a number – I am a human with a personal story. I hear people complain about immigrants taking “their” jobs, but my parents gave up their professions and took on labour jobs.

One out every 5 people in Canada is foreign born. That means that one out of every five of you didn’t originally come from here! But, we all have our humanity in common. Please don’t view immigrants as your competition, as numbers, as statistics, as terrorists, but rather as your fellow brothers and sisters in this journey of life. Let’s break down the walls that are built out of fear because each and every one of us deserves love and a chance. We have all experienced pain, loss, and sorrow; we all have a personal story. Our stories write our community and our communities create our future. Let’s write a better future together.”

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