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PRAJWALA DIXIT: A wave of change is emerging in Atlantic Canada

Those in the younger generation who stay here in Newfoundland and Labrador feel a wave of change rising.
Those in the younger generation who stay here in Newfoundland and Labrador feel a wave of change rising. - SaltWire File Photo

It is why this is my home.

I have lived in Atlantic Canada for nearly a decade. I arrived as a student, successfully completed my education, snagged a Nova Scotian man along the way and now we have a babbling toddler who is both Indian and Canadian!

There are many times I write about issues that tend to garner — to put it mildly —unsavoury remarks ranging from “go back” to “why did you stay if it’s so bad.” I almost come to expect it every time I write and surprisingly find myself puzzled upon not encountering the above-mentioned sentiments.

Frankly, it is a valid and important question. Why am I here?

Atlantic Canada is at an interesting anvil. The region is witnessing an emergence of cultural explosion and experimenting and courting fresh and innovative ideas. In the last decade that I have lived here, the ethnic food outlets have multiplied, Halal meats are carried by major grocery chains and even capitalistic corporations, like Cineplex and Walmart, are finally recognizing the dividends of investing into ethnic diversity.

Despite entrepreneurial scientists finding new ways to fight antibiotic-resistant bacteria, booming social enterprises that service the community in innovative ways or an unprecedented growth in the tech sector, the region still finds it a challenge to attract immigrants and retain young graduates.

Immigrants who stay in Atlantic Canada are here for more than jobs. - 123rf Stock Photo
Immigrants who stay in Atlantic Canada are here for more than jobs. - 123rf Stock Photo

The ones who stay are here for more than just jobs.

It’s not a big region. Yet, the numerous opportunities that can be sought and created, as well as the potential of having space to add to a beautifully existing canvas, all make this part of the country a viable and thriving place to live, grow and prosper.

This doesn’t come without its challenges.

Purely from the lens of immigration, Ontario enjoys the highest immigrant retention rate in the country. Ethnic foods and clothing stores, a kaleidoscope of an assortment of voices in the arts, diversity in movies being played at cineplexes, services offered in a plethora of languages and community cultural celebrations for decades — all — have helped attract and retain immigrants in the region.

Anecdotally, the perception remains that immigrant retention in the Atlantic region is a problem. When I tell people that 51 per cent of immigrants from N.L. and 68 per cent of immigrants from N.S. have chosen to stay, they are often shocked by the retention rates. 

The problem seems to be attraction. Perhaps, this is due to the fact that, predominantly, news that stems from the region is often filled with the chatter of an aging and declining population; hence, the need for immigrants to fill jobs and populate the region. This perspective, that relegates immigrants to mere resources, may be a contributing factor to immigrants shying away from choosing Atlantic Canada.

Power of diversity

Superficial reasons aside, what Ontario seems to have gotten right — several decades ago — is harnessing the power of diversity to bring in global talent and culture into its midst which then filtered down into its political, economic, social and cultural fabric.

This isn’t the case in Atlantic Canada. Yet.

Though multiculturalism has been imprinted into this region’s DNA through the existence of the numerous Indigenous cultures, it hasn’t become the norm. At least, not yet.

But this allows an incredible opportunity to try interesting ideas and learn from the experiences of other parts of Canada. Even more, it affords a chance to do it better!

What keeps me and many others like me here is our keen sense of belonging to the community, the province and the region. This sense of belonging didn’t come overnight.

Those in the younger generation who stay here feel a wave of change rising. Slowly but surely, the community is growing — in more ways than one — and investing time and energy into shaping this region and taking it to higher altitudes. What keeps me and many others like me here is our keen sense of belonging to the community, the province and the region. This sense of belonging didn’t come overnight. With time and a changing environment that is embracing of diversity came the feeling of finding home that I care about immensely.

The issues I write about garner tremendous censure that range from “go back”, “stop complaining”, to “you are a guest, behave like one”, “be thankful that you are here.” They may be indicative of some readers’ perception that I do not care about this place. But, in reality, it is the opposite.

The issues that I shed light on aren’t intended to belittle my home but to make it better, to make it the best, not only for myself but for the next generation who will have the chance to live a few minutes away from their family and not several hours (or even days).

This is why I am here. This is why Newfoundland and Labrador is my home.

Prajwala Dixit is an Indian-Canadian engineer, journalist and writer in St. John’s, N.L who writes a biweekly regional column for the SaltWire Network. When she isn't engineering ways to save the world, she can be found running behind her toddler, writing and volunteering. Follow her and reach her at @DixitPrajwala  

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