09/30/2012 03:16 EDT | Updated 11/30/2012 05:12 EST

We Need More Immigrant Success Stories


Arranged grid-style in the Globe and Mail's May feature on immigration are the faces of several successful immigrants, among them former Governor General Michaëlle Jean and human rights advocate Nazanin Afshin-Jam. Below these faces, the Globe asks readers to "Share your personal immigration story."

Pier 21, now the Canadian Museum of Immigration, also asks immigrants to submit their stories for an online story collection.

Immigrants are being asked to impart their challenges and triumphs on an increasingly regular basis.

It hasn't always been this way. Immigrant advocate and founder of the Canadian Immigrant Magazine, Nick Noorani, says that when he arrived in Canada in 1998, the mainstream media spoke only of how immigrants were failing. There was little public interest in hearing immigrants speak for themselves about their lived experience.

Noorani, once a newcomer himself from India via Dubai, found the lack of success stories discouraging but also unbelievable. With hundreds of thousands of people immigrating every year, were there really no successful immigrants in Canada? He started to do some research, and came up with many examples, including former Governor General Adrienne Clarkson who arrived in Canada as a refugee from Hong Kong in 1942 during the Pacific War with one suitcase to her name. Noorani saw a void. Where was the discussion of these inspiring stories?

He decided that he needed to share the experiences of immigrants making sacrifices as well as significant contributions. Noorani started the Canadian Immigrant Magazine in 2004 which changed the landscape for new Canadian voices. There are now countless outlets for sharing stories such as that of Ujjal Dosangh, former premier of British Columbia and Canada's first Indo-Canadian federal Health Minister, who started his life in Canada working at a sawmill and taking night classes.

In his quest to give voice to the immigrant experience, Noorani became involved in the Historica-Dominion Institute's Passages to Canada Speakers Bureau, a storytelling initiative that allows youth and new Canadians the opportunity to hear speakers from culturally diverse backgrounds. He began telling his story to students in Vancouver, many of whom were inspired to share their own family's journey.

The recent enthusiasm to hear immigrants tell their stories is a positive step for Canada, and will bring us towards a better understanding of the shared experiences that make up our collective identity. As anyone with a good storyteller in their family knows, a compelling story warrants being told over, and over, and over again.

Nick Noorani will be speaking at Hart House (University of Toronto) on Wednesday, October 3 at 6 PM as part of a storytelling workshop presented by The Historica-Dominion Institute's Passages to Canada initiative.