Finding Ninee » Sharing our parenting and special needs stories with heart and humor.

Our Land – First Time Outsider

Hi, friends! Today, I am happy and honored to present Katia from I am the Milk. She’s funny. She’s deep. She can paint a story of today’s motherhood and she can paint one of yesterday’s otherworld like nobody else. In fact, BlogHer chose Katia’s submission on growing up with terrorism and the Boston Marathon tragedy as a Voice of the Year (not a small thing – there were, I think, more than 2,600 submissions). I was thrilled to receive her Our Land contribution. Our Land is about empathy and wonder for all.  Sure, it started because of special needs. But that’s not what it’s become. Katia’s voice and her story about moving countries, and the acceptance and rejection that she experienced in doing so, is perfectly perfect for this series and I am grateful and really excited that she’s allowing me to share her wonderful voice here.

First Time Outsider

Yesterday, I was out on a walk with my son, 10 Month Old. After what felt like months of absence, the sun finally made a noticeable appearance and I was in a Sesame Street reality. On our way to the grocery store, one of the oblivious teenage girls, leisurely shuffling her feet in front of our stroller, noticed us, and urged her friend to move out of the way to let us through. Then, at the grocery store a lady rushed to hold the door for us, and once we were out, a retired gentleman volunteering as a crossing guard accompanied us until we’d safely crossed the street to order food at a local Chinese diner. With us at the counter was an awkward teenage boy. Overlooking the selection from a vantage point somewhere way above my head, he blurted out to the lady taking the order from him “your food’s very tasty.”  As we came out, it was still warm. I was soaking up the sun, along with these little distracted-second-nature-type acts of kindness  that seemed to be all around me, completely aware the whole time that today I am visiting our land.

While I wouldn’t say that being considerate of your surroundings is, by any stretch of the imagination, a rare occurrence in Toronto, where I’ve lived for the last six years, I certainly haven’t always felt like I was in Our Land, or my land. In fact, during my first few months as an immigrant, I experienced an acute sense of estrangement, feeling as though the country itself, an almost humanoid, gigantic, titan-like entity, was literally pushing me out. Letting me know in every possible way that I had no business crashing this party. Evidence of my non-acceptance kept pouring in, in a steady stream. I – not used to rejection, especially of the kind that strikes me on my Achilles heel- felt beaten up and knocked out by my new country.

Here’s a list of some of the rejections I endured:

  • Rejected by my building. Yeah, you heard me. Gotta love the symbolism. On our second day in the country, we went furniture shopping. Upon coming back, we discovered that we had been slapped with a formal neighbour complaint against our dog, who travelled with us from Israel, and was crying at being left all alone in the new apartment for the very first time. This faceless complaint and eviction threat by someone who we had explained the circumstances to, yet chose to not care, was a resounding reminder that Dorothy wasn’t in her three-story Kansas anymore, where everyone knew my dog Louisa by name, asked about her well-being whenever they met me without her, encouraged their kids to play with her and took care of her while we were away.

    Louisa

  • Rejected by the University I’d applied to. Turns out that scheduling a PhD interview on your first day in a new country is not such a great idea. I showed up for the interview reeking of new immigrant fear and an overwhelming sense of guilt over leaving behind the three women who raised me – mom, grandma and her sister. Three women whose actions, not only words, never failed to demonstrate what loving someone to the moon and back actually looked like. The interview, predictably, resulted in failure.
  • Rejected by my very first colleague in my very first local job.
  • Rejected by every interviewer for a job that I really cared about.

Grandma Babushka (left) and Auntie Ninula (right)

 

Six years later, I can say with the utmost certainty that it wasn’t the country pushing me out. Canada is extremely embracing and tolerant. It was just the nature of the experience – being a “fresh off the boat” immigrant presents you with ample opportunities for rejection at a time when you’re also hyper sensitive and feeling inadequate. A pretty combustible combination, if you ask me. Add to that our own somewhat unfortunate circumstances of a bat-shit crazy neighbour and a workplace bully…and there you have it, the Immigrant Golden Membership experience.

Each of these rejections, a First in and of its own, came hand in hand with another unpleasant First. The rejection by building (first in history?) was also the first time I was made to feel as a religious minority when bat-shit tore off the mezuzah from our door.  At work, I was, for the first time ever, a confirmed outsider (as in somewhere besides in my head) and a first-time, that I knew of,  the butt of a joke.

If you want to understand the immigrant experience, here are some other firsts the guy in the cubicle next to you might be experiencing:

First time invisible

First time visible minority

First time outsider

First time don’t bother

First time not good enough

First time second-rate

First time clueless

First time family-less

First time lost

First time completely alone

First time defenseless

First time nameless

First time connectionless

First time laughable

And all of these Firsts together distanced me from what I perceived, up to that point, to be Me, everything that being Me meant, and made for a first time not self.

While being dealt blows left, right and centre, I was always busy taking mental notes. Much like I observe my amazing 4-year-old son doing these days, I started trying to identify the rule in everything. With each rejection came a skewed lesson:

You don’t say “he’s abroad” about a male colleague or you’ll be made fun of.

Work is for work and not for friendships.

Don’t take a lunch break.

Don’t assume that you got the Recruiter job you’ve interviewing for, even if they totally loved you and let you sit in on interviews and ask the candidates questions and praised you for how well you did. You’re NOT in, you’re not following the rules, you don’t understand how things work, you’re not from here, you don’t get it. You’re about to be delivered another blow, take a deep breath, watch out, it’s coming.  Prepare.

The good thing about that list of firsts, as it turns out, is that every item on it is erasable. It took a great job, my first REAL Canadian job, to erase the previous one with its feelings of outsiderdom and inadequacy. It took creating real, meaningful friendships for life to erase lost, connectionless and family-less. I’ve erased the memory of workplace bully Sarah with friend Sarah and friend Jenn and friend Laura.

The people in my Sesame Street Our Land reality didn’t know where I was originally from and 99.9% of them, if not all, probably wouldn’t care if they did. They were just being their considerate empathetic selves.  Would I have been able to notice their little acts of kindness six years ago when I was blinded by the darkness or rejection and the unknown, lying in the corner of the rink with a bleeding sense of self? Probably not. And I had it easy. I don’t look like a visible minority, and I speak pretty good English with a light accent that most people here in Canada either won’t notice, dismiss, or peg as French Canadian.  I have good people skills; most people find me personable. And still, to some, I wasn’t worth bothering with. I wasn’t worth being civil too. This post is not aimed at them or hoping to fix them.  They wouldn’t be reading it and they’re beyond repair, anyway. This post is for you – those who strive to live in Our Land, a land of empathy and wonder, and don’t always know how to make the immigrant dude in the next cubicle feel more welcome. Please smile at him when you see him at the water cooler and ask how he’s doing. Do it every day. Not just once. Listen to your colleague and hear his words, behind the accent, listen to him, because he could be drawing a blank on an English word and he’s terrified, because grown men are not supposed to forget words, he’s terrified that soon enough you’ll notice. He’s terrified because he’s got so much more to prove, so much more riding on this – his first local work experience. Listen well, really listen, beyond the accent and your huge act of kindness, the one he’ll cherish and remember forever, will be offering him another word instead. It’s the kindest thing you can do and he’ll remember it. And he’ll come one step closer to being in his land, Our Land, and so will you.

See? Katia is awesome, right? I love that her experiences as an immigrant and a neighbor are now a part of Our Land and I love the advice she’s left us with regarding listening to a colleague and hearing his words behind his accent. She’s right. Kindness brings all of us one step closer to living in a world of empathy and wonder.

More about Katia and I am the Milk:

Katia is a mother of two boys, 4 Year Old and 11 Month Old. She writes about them and occasionally about her husband, 37 Year Old. Currently on mat leave, she’s fulfilling a lifelong dream to write and make people laugh. And sometimes cry, which was not her dream nor intention. The serious stuff Katia writes about includes immigration, fertility, miscarriage.  You can find Katia blogging at IAMTHEMILK and regularly contributing to MamaPop (http://www.mamapop.com/). She is also a regular contributor to Twitter at @Katia DBE.

 


  • Deb @ Urban Moo Cow - I feel like there are so many details left unsaid in this story. I long to know what happened in each situation (including the brazen act of anti-Semitism by your neighbor). Then I would like to throttle all of those people on your behalf. xoAugust 7, 2013 – 11:03 amReplyCancel

  • Janine Huldie - I never did myself go through the immigrant experience, but my grandmother who was 1st generation Italian-American and the stories she would tell. They lived in an all German neighborhood during the Great Depression in Queens, NY. My great-grandmother went out of her way to assimilate, but was still accused of being a “dirty” Italian and my grandmother was also asked if she was a follower of Mussolini during a job interview at the beginning of WWII. I will never forget her relaying these stories to me and definitely makes you think twice about how you treat those who might not be the same or from the same place as yourself. Thank you Katia for sharing your experiences and so sorry anyone would ever treat you poorly for this reason.August 7, 2013 – 11:07 amReplyCancel

  • Kristi Campbell - Deb,
    I’m with you on wanting to know more and wanting to throttle the people that made Katia feel like such an outsider (and can’t believe that people would be so awful and anti-Semitic – that’s just sad and wrong and and and…grrr…).

    Janine,
    Wow, it’s amazing that your grandmother was asked if she was a follower of Mussolini. People’s experiences are amazing and powerful. I’m glad that Katia shared hers here…a great reminder for us to all be kind and generous and understanding.
    August 7, 2013 – 11:11 amReplyCancel

  • Kerri - What a great contribution! We had an intern from Nepal. He was so cool to be around. We quickly learned his “shyness” came from understanding English perfectly but not being able to speak it so easily. And once we figured out why he was born in the future it quickly became a way for him to introduce himself/break the ice. We always admired him for daring to not only go to an English medical school but then to travel so far from family to learn more. He had such dreams and only a few of us were able to learn about them.August 7, 2013 – 11:54 amReplyCancel

  • Considerer - Completely, MILLIONPERCENT awesome. Amazing post and full of such beauty and insight. Katia, I *LOVED* this. And Kristi – Our Land just keeps getting better and better. You are doing a Good thing. A Real thing. And it’s incredible.August 7, 2013 – 11:55 amReplyCancel

  • Sylvia - Thanks for teaching us what it’s like for new immigrants. We really cannot fathom what it’s like. You did such a great job of painting the picture for me. I remember way back in 1975 a young Russian Jewish woman had just immigrated from Israel and began working where I did. I was fascinated by her stories about life in a Kibbutz! I hope I made her feel welcome, wanted, and significant!August 7, 2013 – 11:58 amReplyCancel

  • Katia - Lizzi – I am so glad you liked the post! Thank you so much. I agree Our Land is one of the best initiatives out there, not only for its goal but also for the writing (not commenting about my own post, obviously).

    Sylvia – Thank you so much for your comment. I am sure you made that woman feel welcome. The mere fact that you can remember her story with such great detail tells me that you were really listening. I’m sure she appreciated that so much 🙂August 7, 2013 – 12:20 pmReplyCancel

  • Kenya G. Johnson - Excellent post Katia. As a military spouse I’ve experienced some of what you have here – its very relatable. There is a fear that comes which each move. As far as employment goes I know my employers took a chance on me. In some interviews I wanted to get on my knees and beg to be given an opportunity. A lot of being accepted is based on who you know. We’ve finally settled down – been in the same house and town for 9 years. I always said if I was in the position to hire anyone, I’d narrow my selection to candidates not from ’round here. 😉 Side note and interesting fact: I always found people to be kinder when I had my son with me.August 7, 2013 – 3:11 pmReplyCancel

  • Katia Bishofs - Dearest Kristi Rieger Campbell, The honour is mine! Thank you so much for such a wonderful, heartfelt introduction. I am proud to be featured on Finding Ninee, especially since I feel like I’ve witnessed the inception of Our Land! I am so proud of your little baby! 🙂 And thank you. For everything.August 7, 2013 – 4:11 pmReplyCancel

  • Katia Bishofs - Not sure how to respond to these comment individually… Kristi Rieger Campbell? Thank you so much Deb! I don’t mind telling you about each one of these situations and I take you up on you offer to throttle them on my behalf, but I suspect you would have to time travel 🙂August 7, 2013 – 4:11 pmReplyCancel

  • Katia Bishofs - Thank you so much, Janine, for sharing your grandmother’s story and for your warm words. Sad that things haven’t changed much, although I think with political correctness today no one would probably dare ask a question like that…August 7, 2013 – 4:15 pmReplyCancel

  • Katia Bishofs - Thank you so much, Kerri! I’m so glad you were able to find a common language with the intern despite the language and cultural barrier!August 7, 2013 – 4:16 pmReplyCancel

  • Sarah Almond - I was born and raised a military brat. When I was in high school my father retired and we moved back to the Midwest to my parent’s hometown. I have remained in the state ever since, and seven years ago settled in a rural area. Perhaps it’s the fact that I moved so often and had to “start over” almost every year, or maybe it’s just my personality-but I am always amazed at just how inconsiderate people can be of someone who is a little different and/or new. Kindness and understanding can go a long way.

    I’ve been an outsider for years, and I’m not so sure it’s ever going to change. I just try to be considerate of everyone. Thank you for putting this into writing and sharing with us!August 7, 2013 – 5:39 pmReplyCancel

  • Jen - I love you Katia, but you knew that. I also am mad at you for making me cry AGAIN. Someday you will be famous you know. You are the most talented gifted writer I know. I will say, I knew her when she was this blogger who I chatted with and met once.
    This post is so moving and important. And you are right, it’s the little things. I know it’s the little things. And I’m gonna keep doing them.August 7, 2013 – 5:57 pmReplyCancel

  • Katia - Kenya and Sarah – I knew you were a military wife, Kenya, never knew you were a military brat, Sarah. Thank you so much, ladies, for sharing your experiences here. In my mind I always file these experiences in a drawer called “immigration” and I forget that so many of us go through this to an extent without changing continents or even states. That was a good reminder. And yes, I agree, with you Sarah – a little kindness goes a long way.August 7, 2013 – 7:53 pmReplyCancel

  • Katia - Jen – you’re the one making me cry, you’re too kind! Really.

    And when I’m a famous writer, you’ll be one as well, so we can both tell the press how we struggled to make it to the top and lay in the trenches of the blogosphere together 😀

    I love you, my friend.August 7, 2013 – 7:55 pmReplyCancel

  • Dana - Thank you for sharing your experiences, Katia. We have a significant number of immigrant families (mostly from Korea) in our school district, and my kids have met many students at school who are new to this country. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to adjust, but your post gave me some insights I never considered.

    On a side note, I would love to talk with you sometime about becoming a religious minority after growing up in Israel. I’ve always been the minority, but I’m sure it was difficult for you to adjust to that change when you moved to Canada.August 7, 2013 – 8:54 pmReplyCancel

  • Sarah @ LeftBrainBuddha - Katia, you write so beautifully…. I so wish I had had more time to talk with you at BlogHer. Thanks for sharing such a powerful story. It’s amazing how the little things- both the kindnesses and the insults- can impact us so tremendously. I love reading your work. xoxoAugust 7, 2013 – 9:27 pmReplyCancel

  • Katia - I’d love to talk to you anytime, Dana, really! Just name the time and place (and method of communication 🙂 ) I am so glad the post gave you some insight into what it feels like. That was what I set out to do. Thank you!August 7, 2013 – 9:27 pmReplyCancel

  • Katia - We’ll have more time next time, Sarah, you know how much I loved meeting you! Thank you so much for your comments. They truly mean so much to me!August 7, 2013 – 9:29 pmReplyCancel

  • Rachel - Katia, your experience sounds so painful, and I’m so sorry to hear what you went through. But your perspective is so important, and I’m so glad that you shared it here. It’s something that people need to know. I’m also so glad to read that you have found a place in Canada, and that you have been able to move past some of those horrible experiences.August 7, 2013 – 9:46 pmReplyCancel

  • Katia - Thank you so much, Rachel! Yes, it was not Canada, it was me + certain individuals that I’m sure exist everywhere. It was a painful place to revisit when I was writing this down, but so rewarding to note that I’m in such a totally different emotional space now. 🙂August 7, 2013 – 10:35 pmReplyCancel

  • Pam Moore - Katia, what a gift you have for turning such a painful experience into such a beautiful essay. Thanks for sharing and reminding us just how far a tiny bit of kindness can go..August 8, 2013 – 1:54 amReplyCancel

  • Roshni AaMom - You wrote about me, Katia! I too got the rude note on the door of my new apartment about my kids being too noisy and I too sweated in my cubicle of not being ‘one of them’ for a year! Wonderful piece, as usual!August 8, 2013 – 5:01 pmReplyCancel

  • Michelle Chuk Zamperetti - As always, you are awesome!August 9, 2013 – 3:21 amReplyCancel

  • Tatum - Thanks Kristi and Katia for expanding Nod to not just include empathy for those with special needs. I hate hearing stories of hate and ignorance and hate and bigots … (Kristi, can we leave ignorant bigots out of nod? Or do I have to find some empathy of them too??). I love hearing stories of perseverance and over coming the odds. Thank you for sharing, Katia…and Kristi.August 10, 2013 – 11:39 pmReplyCancel

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