Nearing the end of my internship, I find myself thinking a lot about what I’ve learned and what I will take back with me to Canada. I feel like I cannot adequately communicate the lived experiences and realities of migration that I’ve seen so many people experience…that I cannot do these stories & realities justice. As the dominant narrative in the West regarding migration largely lacks compassion and is focused on fear and othering, it is important to consider how I communicate what I’ve learned and what I’ve seen in order to have some sort of positive impact on the perception of migration and freedom of movement, especially for those currently affected by negative rhetoric. I feel that I, and my fellow interns, must challenge this troubling narrative and actively engage those promoting it in critical discussion.
Why is the current narrative so problematic?
While it may differ depending on the country, the dominant narrative in the West paints migration as an epidemic, like it is something that must be appropriately managed or eradicated altogether, as though those coming into Western nations will cause irreversible damage to the country and its people. Many newcomers are viewed as dangerous or taking away jobs from “real” Canadians, or Americans, or Europeans. In essence, freedom of movement and migration is the exclusive right of a select few, depending on the country in which they were born. The most apparent problem that this poses is that it creates a negative, unfair, and quite frankly the wrong perception of migrants. It influences public perception into something distorted that encourages othering, fear, and hate. This affects how the general public treats newcomers and subsequently their emotional and physical safety. Further, the current narrative influences policy. It affects how the nation moves forward in regards to rules and regulations bringing in newcomers. Lastly, this narrative grossly lacks compassion. It does not humanize these individuals and fails to consider that actual lives are affected by it.
How can we influence/ shift the current narrative?
All of us have had these experiences where we have been exposed to individuals who are directly or indirectly affected by this sort of rhetoric. We were a part of organizations that worked to amplify these peoples’ voices, as well as enhance their rights as workers, their right to mobility, and their right to information. We have heard stories of struggle, ambition, success, and hard work. We have come to better understand the circumstances that push people to leave their home countries, the fear involved with doing so, and the hope of a better future. As such, we are equipped with real cases that embody the intricate stories of a migrant. We have facts on our side that can help instill compassion in individuals who do not see migration in a positive light in order to shift the dominant rhetoric into something that is less hateful and more accepting. Strategies for doing so may include open-minded, insightful, and critical discussions with different groups of people. It is important to actively engage individuals who may not agree with us in order to better understand where their thoughts stem from and to provide them with information they may not receive from anywhere else. Something else we could do is make the information available through other avenues, such as our local newspapers or news stations, radio stations, community/ city meetings, or school presentations. Further, we have the option to engage directly with our country’s leadership. Why not set up a meeting with our respective mayors or MPs? Or write them letters? Or even encourage our family and friends to do the same? This would put pressure on leadership to shift the narrative into something more positive in the mainstream as well as a shift in policy that is more welcoming.
The conversation does not begin or end with us. Rather, our words and actions are only a small fraction of what is required to instill change. That is not to say that it is not important. Everyone has a responsibility when it comes to social change, and that responsibility is translated into different forms of action depending on circumstances. I think it’s so important to always remember our common humanity and let that shape our lives and how we perceive the world.