One day recently, as my wife and I enjoyed vacation treats in “pre-invasion“ Cuba one last time before the expected inundation of U.S. tourists, we had a fortuitous meeting with two older Canadian immigrants as we strode the gorgeous shores of Varadero beach.
It was one of those casual, chance meetings that begins with small talk about the beauties of Cuba’s beaches.
This time, my wife took the conversation a little deeper, discovering not only the home cities of our new acquaintances (both lived in Ottawa), but also the fact that both had immigrated to Canada from Soviet Bloc countries in the 1960s. Sophia came from Kiev. Rosa came from Warsaw. And what stories they had to tell.
Over the next few days, my wife spent increasing amounts of time with both Sophia and Rosa, so enthralled was she with their amazing life stories and their generous willingness to share their experiences with us.
In their arduous struggle to flee hardships of life in Soviet-era Kiev and Warsaw (many families living in a single room with no running water), they epitomized the unique drive, determination and energy that is hard to duplicate outside the immigrant experience.
Nova Scotia Immigration Minister Lena Diab reminded us, in her recent address at Cape Breton University, that to immigrate is one of the most entrepreneurial acts possible.
As research at Yale University has shown, this super-determination to achieve a better life marks almost all immigrant groups. It is of so high a voltage that even second- and third-generation immigrants rarely match the energy and fierce work ethic that new immigrants bring. In many cases, immigrants have left behind the kind of harsh conditions that Sophia and Rosa escaped. And in so many other cases, as we are seeing in the current tragic exodus across the Mediterranean, immigrant refugees are fleeing horrific conditions of war, famine or brutal persecution.