Brian Sankersingh on his immigration experience
By: Anson Wong
Published on: October 03 2022
As a Trinidadian-born immigrant, Sankersingh works for organizations like Alliance for Healthier Communities to advocate for equity among marginalized communities. Having loved poetry all his life, Sankersingh uses it as social commentary in Canada. Finding success in Canada wasn’t easy, but Sankersingh hopes that success becomes common for immigrants.
“And to me, that’s the epitome of Canadian-ism,” Sankersingh said in an interview with The Newcomer. “We immigrants are the ones who can push Canadian society to be better and grow faster and, and really excel in the world.”
When Sankersingh made the decision between immigrating to the United States and Canada, the choice came down to the immigration form. Sankersingh was called an immigrant on the Canadian form. In the United States, he was applying as an alien. The distinction between those two shaped Sankersingh’s perception of the two countries.
In the 1980s, Sankersingh immigrated to Canada with around $200 in his pocket. For his first two years, Sankersingh lived in an attic with his Guyanese and Trinidadian roommates. Being surrounded by people of similar backgrounds helped Sankersingh adjust to Canadian culture easier. Once Sankersingh grew accustomed, he decided to share his culture with other Canadians.
“I felt now that I had been acclimatized to Canadian culture, but I needed to share my culture with Canadians,” he said. “Canadians, whether we’re new immigrants, or born and bred Canadians, we need to be able to have that sharing in order to get the best from each world.”
Canada’s culture and system
For Sankersingh, the appeal of Canada lies in its openness to other cultures. Sankersingh was able to share his culture and embrace others. This can be difficult in other countries like the United States, where patriotism is more apparent. In Canada, national pride, though still valued, is less celebrated than multiculturalism.
Sankersingh noted that some of his successful immigration experience was based on luck. He found a stable job that allowed him to explore his passion for writing and build his career. However, Sankersingh felt that success is not universal for all immigrants who come to Canada.
“And so that’s where most of my writing is kind of focused in on, it’s on helping Canadians understand that immigrants coming to this country are not just coming here to steal jobs,” Sankersingh said.
While Sankersingh found that Canada’s reputation for kindness was well founded, the system was inadequate for people of colour, as it was not designed with them in mind. Part of the problem lies in a lack of representation in the provincial and federal governments. The values of the community cannot be well accounted for without input from its members.
“I can feel in some way that I’m represented, right, because I’m not seeing people who don’t understand my experience,” Sankersingh said.
Poetry as social commentary
Poetry is a lifelong craft for Sankersingh. In his youth, poetry was a pastime, but Sankersingh quickly found its use as social commentary in Canada.
“I find that poetry is an easy, yet demanding way to get somebody to think,” Sankersingh said. “You can read it and you can enjoy it, or you can read it and you can find some of the double entendres.”
Poetry makes heavy topics like systemic racism digestible without confronting the reader. It also helps readers consider new thoughts they may not have otherwise. While readers can benefit from some historical context, most of Sankersingh’s work can be enjoyed as is.
Sankersingh also faced racist rhetoric when he ran for councillor at Whitchurch-Stouffville in 2018. The hate mail Sankersingh received focused on his race and perception as an outsider despite having lived in Canada for around 30 years.
“This is what they believe in, and they don’t care to talk with me and understand my perspective,” he said. “They care that this is how they feel, and they don’t care about anything else. And so, I have learned to let those people go. There’s no changing them.”
Despite the problems he has faced, Sankersingh still considers Canada his home. The bad aspects of Canadian culture he encountered did not outweigh the good. When dealing with racist remarks, Sankersingh always looked back at the positive interactions he has had with Canada’s diverse communities.
“You fall back to, to all the other opportunities that you’ve had with people who are not that way.”