The Constant Nature of Change: From Nigeria to Canada
Written by Nengimote Vanessa Young-dede
When he started discussing about his first neighborhood in Jane and Sheppard, Wes looked away from me and looked out the window of his room. He seemed like he did not want to remember but was compelled to because of the interview questions. Though his voice was calm, I sensed that that period of his life was depressing for him.
Wes is a 6-foot tall, dark-skinned, slim 27-year-old man. He is a nurse, a part-time rapper/songwriter/producer and photographer. He had moved nine times since he came from Nigeria as a pre-teen boy. He had lived in different houses/apartments in Brampton, Manitoba, Hamilton, Barrie and Mississauga. He told me that at first he used to enjoy the idea of moving because of the excitement of changing location, having a new room and the concept of living in a new house, but after a while moving started to become a taxing experience for him. He was excited when he and his family moved from Nigeria to Canada. He had thought that since they were living in a four-bedroom apartment back in Nigerian with two maids, a laundryman, a part-time chef and a two security guards, his lifestyle here would be similar to how it was back home in Nigeria. However, to his disappointment, life here was not as flamboyant.
Wes migrated from Nigeria to Canada in 1991 when he was 10. He came with his mum, dad and younger brother. They all lived with his dad’s younger brother on Jane street in Toronto. After squatting for a period of six months with their uncle, Wes’s dad decided to get an apartment on Jane street and Sheppard avenue. The apparent was small with two bedrooms, one tiny washroom and an open-concept kitchen. He said he never knew his neighbors because the area was not safe and his parents had warned him and his younger brother not to talk to anybody that the father did not know.
Although the neighborhood was labelled as a crime ridden area, he and his family never encountered any troubles. There was a grocery store situated across the street from his house and all the houses on the block looked similar in terms of structuring and décor. He also pointed out that there was only one entrance into his block where a lot of people hung around especially in the evenings and so it got noisy sometimes. He said that there were predominantly Brown, Black and “Beige” lower class people who lived there. He did not remember seeing a White person.
He currently stays in one of the Absolute condominiums located in downtown Mississauga. When he started to tell me about this new place, his eyes were focused on me and he was more talkative, beaming with excitement. He says that his current apartment has been his most favourite place to live because his friends are close by, Toronto is not far off and it is easy to get to work as well as to the mall from his place. He further added that he had always wanted to live in downtown Mississauga. His best memories of being a young adult enjoying life, going to parties, hanging out with friends and networking all resonate in Mississauga – particularly in his new neighborhood which is full of racial and socio-economic diversity. However, he stated that he still intends to move to Toronto at the end of summer and get closer to the Toronto lifestyle were everything and everyone is always on the move.
When asked what home meant to him, he said “Home to me is not really a physical place; living in all these different places has shown me that the environment you live in would always change but as long as you have a personal sense of home and security, you’ll be fine.” He further added that his father told him that change was a constant thing. I could sense a feeling of displacement which he eventually admitted to at the end of the interview. He said that moving around made him feel impaired which in some way had an impact on his identity in the sense that nothing he did or engaged in was ever permanent. The longest time he had ever lived in an apartment/house was for four years. Hence he could not establish himself somewhere because change for him is constant.
Nengimote Vanessa Young-dede studies Criminology and Sociology at the University of Toronto Mississauga. She is part of the Peel Poverty Action Group in Mississauga and she enjoys learning about different ethnic cultures.