By: Maira Ito
Editor - Ashleena Bilal
Growing up there wasn’t a whole lot of information being shared regarding my relative’s stories and backgrounds. At most, what I got was a product of looking through old albums and forcing my family to tell me their backgrounds, the names of the people photographed, what their stories were. To be honest, most of this was accomplished by running around the apartment I grew up in and throwing tantrums every other hour. My grandma, a sixty-five-year-old elderly woman with a tan complexion, round face and deep wrinkles formed from constant joy, was raised in communism for most of her life and nurtured her daughter, amongst many other children. Both carried burdens bigger than themselves - bigger than their own lives. Two women of seemingly different generations, times and ages, both tied together by a last name. Arama is a traditional Romanian name that roughly translates to “steel”.
The story inaugurates with my grandma, Nadia Arama. Inside of the apartment she worked hard to afford by spending most of her days in a rusted factory for thirty years, there are shelves decorated with books and manuscripts passed down through the family for generations. She grew up loved by her father and with a mother who doted on her brother more. Her love and thirst for knowledge was passed down from her father, who, despite being a scaredy-cat who only survived World War II by hiding, was an overall lovable and intellectual man. As she aged, the cruel patriarchy of the world she existed in and the limits to careers for females in the 1960s Romanian capitalistic times became more evident. However, her world shifted upside down upon encountering my grandpa. I don’t know much about him. One thing that became evident in my life is that he was a plain-out “jerk”(as my aunt likes to often tell me). After having my grandma birth and raise six children: four girls, and two boys -who he all named-, he got up, walked through the door, never looking back.
My mother left for Japan when she was nineteen with the desire to find employment. For 12-14 hours she worked hard as a waitress, injuring herself and being emotionally abused by her racist manager who thought that being white in an Asian country gave him the privilege to mistreat her invariably and continually. Inside the cafe she worked, a certain older (than her at least) business entrepreneur came to visit on a daily basis. Despite her constant rejections, he never gave up. Eventually, she accepted his proposal. Their first date was disastrous, to say the least. He took her to a Romanian restaurant, in an attempt to make her feel more comfortable and at home. In all honesty, it could have been a good idea considering my mom’s picky tastes and dislike for Asian cuisine, however, the chef was not of Romanian background and did not know what he was doing. Despite the horrible food, his undetermined doting on her and his mature poise made her fall in love - or at least I think so. Eventually they got married, despite her mother’s rejection and disapproval of the older male, and the fruits of their marriage laboured a child. A half-Japanese little girl was born screaming at nine in the morning to the rain outside. A year passed by and, despite the love the man had for his daughter, for reasons I do not know very well, he left after kissing his baby on the head.
The thirty-eight-year-old left for Canada to find a better life for her daughter, who also emigrated there when she was a teen, but the sixty-five-year-old was confined to the restraints of communism and was forced to work a factory job for a vast majority of her life. Fast - forward sixteen years following my mother’s arrival to Canada, my grandma was proud to have six children with well-paying careers and good education. My mother, on the other hand, had a stable career as a paralegal.
In the end, what did these two women have in common? I have a feeling that whoever is reading this perhaps feels sorry, or even pities them. They were poor and their husbands left them. They had children to protect, and with that drive, they picked themselves up, rolled up their sleeves, and worked. They worked every day for 12 - 14 hours, at times even more, and still found time to cook and take care of their family. In the communist, sexist and patriarchal community my family lived in, it was easier to walk out. Easier to go out of the door, leave your family behind and start over, this time perhaps with better luck. However, resistance was crucial, for all good things are rewarded later on.
I urge whoever reads this, if they have an immigrant family, to learn their story, ask questions and inquire about their life and their stories. To understand your roots and ancestry allows an individual to form an impenetrable connection to your family. No matter what hardships we encounter, we have to keep our heads high, reminisce and keep in our hearts the challenges they went through in the past, hopefully inspiring us towards larger life goals. All of us at one point in our lives will have the realization of how much their family had to go through to get their children a better life. That single moment doesn’t begin with the first generation that immigrated here, but with the parents that raised them.