An International Student’s Homestay Housing Experience: From Lagos to Toronto

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An International Student’s Homestay Housing Experience: From Lagos to Toronto

Written by Nengimote Vanessa Young-dede

I was a young teenage girl who had travelled overseas for the first time. I came to Canada when I was 17 years-old in the harsh winter in January 2013. I came to attend university at the University of Toronto because that was one of the few schools that resonated with many of the Nigerians back home and because my parents wanted only the best. We used an agent to help us apply to schools in Canada, and did not know much about the process. The agent told us that it was better to go to high school first and start from grade twelve before going into the university because attending high school would help me transition better into understanding the Canadian teaching system and curriculum. Hence I decided to apply to several high schools in Canada and eventually got accepted into Breamar Internal College, a school located right opposite UofT St. George campus.

I was introduced into the idea of a homestay (which is a period abroad spent in the home of a local family) for the first time when I came to Canada to complete my education. I lived with Marla, her husband Eustis and their only child Loren who was 9 years-old at that time (all pseudonyms). They lived on Runnymede street, a street in-between High Park which was a well-known family residential area where most white middle class families resided and Jane which a lot of Torontonians consider as “the ghetto” because that area is associated with criminal activities, drug trafficking, poor housing facilities, and is mostly Black. Runnymede was equally a predominantly white residential family neighborhood where mostly middle-class families resided. It consisted of town houses as well as many shops, churches and narrow roads.

The houses were really close to each other and it sort of reminded me of England and how the houses are so close to each other that judging from pictures and videos I have seen on social media and via friends who have visited. Though Marla told me the houses there cost millions of dollars, I was not quite impressed with the ornamentation of the houses, they looked dull. Another thing I did not really like about the neighborhood was the looks/stares people gave me when stepped out of the house. The stares made me feel uncomfortable, as if I did not belong, like I was meant to stop at Jane street and I missed the stop. Still, it was something I had to get used to because I experienced it every Sunday in the Catholic church I attended, as I was the only Black person in church and was also part of the choir.

In comparison to back home in Nigeria, the area where I lived was equally a residential family area but the houses were not as close to each other and the roads were wider. I lived in Lagos in an area called Okota-Isolo. Everything we really needed, from hospitals, hair salons to supermarkets, was within a good walking distance from our house. There was a mixture of middle-lower and lower class Black Nigerian families who lived in my area.

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However, we lived in a gated community in the sense that we had gates that were locked every night at 12am and security guards who protected the gates from armed robbers. Many of the streets had gates but not every street had security guards protecting the gates because not every street had residents that were willing to donate monthly wages to pay the security guards. In spite of the gates and security guards set in place to protect our street, we still had occasional break-ins especially when the economy was doing very poorly. Not that the crime/robbery rates in Okota-Isolo were exceedingly high, we still needed those gates in place because they signified some kind of safety net and refuge for us the residents. One thing I liked about my area was that the houses were more urban in terms of structuring and décor. For instance, the way the houses were painted, sometimes brown and cream, or wine and cream or all white. Neighbors were friendly and we all knew ourselves, there was social cohesion and solidarity with all the families on my street.

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My mum travelled back to Nigeria shortly after she dropped me off at Marla’s house and exchanged contact information with her. Their house was a two-story building which contained four bedrooms, three washrooms, a dining room, a living room and a basement. There were two rooms in the basement, I stayed in the first room which was the smallest, while my Japanese roommate June stayed in the second room which was more spacious than mine. My room was so small that a 6’5-foot person would not have been able to stand straight without bending over while walking into my room. Both of the rooms had no doors so we could literally walk into each other’s room unannounced and see each other get dressed as there was no form of privacy. We also shared one washroom which was in my room and so it was difficult for me to enjoy my naps without getting interrupted by her washroom breaks.

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A few days after I moved in, Marla set out mandatory rules and regulations June and I were supposed to follow and if we refused, she made it clear to us that we would face immediate consequences. For instance, she told June and I that we were only permitted to two-minute showers and if we ever exceeded the time limit she would cut off the hot water supply. We were also not permitted to use the microwave because according to her it took up a lot of hydro which we were not paying for, so most times we had to eat our meals cold. Furthermore, she occasionally turned off the internet and told us to go to Starbucks or the local library if we wanted to use the internet to do our assignments because she did not want us to go over the data plan. Additionally, she told us that we were not allowed to do our own laundry but give them to Eustis who did everyone’s laundry every other week. Lastly, at night time when she had already turn on the alarm right before going to bed, June and I were not allowed to go upstairs to the kitchen to take anything including water because if we did we would trigger the alarm. Besides if the firetruck/ambulance came due to the triggered alarm she told us that we would have to pay them $200 because it was a false alarm.

I did not complain about the harsh restrictions because I did not want her to give negative feedback about me to the principal of the school, implying that I was being disobedient and giving her a hard time. This would ultimately get back to my parents, which I did not want. Yet, as time went on, doing assignments became difficult because the internet was perpetually turned off and Starbucks was always packed full with people so I could hardly concentrate.

As a result of the mistreatment I started feeling homesick and unhappy. I was unhappy more so because it was hard to make friends and talk about my experience while living with Marla. I was the only African and Black person in my school which was filled with Russian, Asian and Mexican kids. Many of the students did not really speak to me because they had their cliques that they related a lot more with or they had probably never seen a Black person before in the flesh. After six months, I later complained to my principal who was also my guardian about how Marla was mistreating me and that, as a result, I was not comfortable living with her any more. He agreed to make some calls and change my homestay. He also added that I should have come to him earlier when I started experiencing these issues because she was getting paid $750 out of my tuition per month which I was not even aware off. When I got back to the house that day, Marla had already started packing up my things because she had heard from the Principal that I was switching homestays and so she was furious. She threw my things into garbage bags and then out of the house screaming that if I wanted to leave, I had to leave that day regardless of how late it was that night. I did not have time to pack up my things so I put them all into garbage bags, quickly called for a taxi and left immediately. This is an illustration of power relations that exists between landlords and their tenants. That is, landlords like Marla take advantage of their tenants’ situation and exploit them regardless of it costing their tenants wellbeing. In my case, Marla exploited me based on the fact that I was a newcomer who was not aware of her rights as a tenant and capitalized on the fact that I would not know any better so it was easy for her to impose unreasonable rules and restrictions on me.

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.






The Importance of Community: Moving from Montreal to Mississauga

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The Importance of Community: Moving from Montreal to Mississauga

Written by Meenusha Satkunanathan

In September 2014, I moved from our family home in Montreal, Quebec to a condo in the “Absolute” buildings near Square One, Mississauga. I had never seen the condo until the day I moved in because my childhood friend who was also my new roommate took care of viewing condos when we were searching for a place.

On the day I moved in, I recall getting out of my car and standing in the face of these incredibly tall buildings that reached for the sky. I had never seen anything like these buildings before and I felt so small standing in the circle of five immensely tall buildings. In that moment, I felt like I had been living under a rock. I saw that the real world was so big and I was so insignificant.

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Growing up, the entire world that I knew was Montreal. I was born and raised in Ville Saint-Laurent where we own our family home. Ville Saint-Laurent was perfect. It was not in the suburbs, but it bordered the suburbs and it was just at the outskirts of the city. Travelling around the city was easy. It would take 15 to 20 minutes to drive to downtown Montreal and the same 15 to 20 minutes to drive to a neighbourhood in the suburbs.

My neighbourhood had community activities throughout the entire year. We would have flash mob dance every Thursday, bouncy castles for adults and children on certain days, painter evening, and so much more. All the activities occurred at the different parks in Saint-Laurent during the summer months and was opened to everyone. This culture of celebrating as a community was prominent throughout our entire city.

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I had assumed that the rest of Canada would look similar to where I came from. As a teenager, I had not really travelled before because where I came from was so culturally diverse that you could practically travel the world within the city. So, there I stood trying to digest the shock of a world I had never seen before.

There was tight security at the Absolute condos. The cars coming in would have to stop at the security gate before they could enter the Absolute circle. The trees were very small which showed that the area was newly developed. The atmosphere was very fast-paced and during certain hours of the day, the line up at the security gates would go on for metres causing traffic.

As the days went by, I began to notice more significant differences between this new place and my home. The pace of the area was hasty. People would hurry out early in the morning and rush back later in the evening as the majority of those living in the building were business people and professionals. During the hours in between, while everyone was at work, the building was deserted as if it was unoccupied. The only people that I would see were maintenance and security staff. It gave me the impression that in this new, much bigger world, no one had time for one another.

The lifestyle in Montreal was the complete opposite. The pace of the city was laid back and relaxed. This was especially true in my neighbourhood. My street was very calm yet lively. My neighbours were mostly older families with young adults, retired couples, and one young couple. There was never a time of day where our streets were empty, especially during the summer when the weather was nice. I would always see my neighbours strolling down my street, sitting on the front porch, or doing activities outdoors.

During the spring, when I would walk home from school, my neighbours would wave hello and smile. Sometimes if I had time, I would even stop and have a pleasant conversation with them. Seeing the same face every day created a bond amongst us. Even though these people were strangers, they were also like family. If ever any one of us needed something, we would help each other out because we had a strong sense of community.

It was very different at the Absolute condos. During the entire year that I lived there, I never once saw the people who lived right next door. My neighbours were complete strangers. On the rare occasion that I did see people, I did not recognize any one of them. It was always a new face every time and it was hard to come by smiling faces of people that I knew. So, the sense of community and solidarity that I had in my neighbourhood back in Montreal ceased to exist in this new place. Although I was in a building filled with hundreds of people, I experienced true loneliness.

My condo was empty and unfurnished, which made the place feel cold and deserted. The living room was an empty, white, open space that led to a balcony, which faced a deserted land that had a sign indicating that the land was sold. Every time I would walk into the condo, I would feel uncomfortable. There were no couches to sit on, no colours on the wall. It was just bare floor and walls.

Although I felt lonely, homesick, and out of place in this condo, I always had the comfort of knowing that my roommate was my friend. During my first month, we would both make dinner together and spend our evenings in each other’s company. However, as the months went by, my roommate became less friendly and started to take advantage of me. She would tell me that she purchased items for the condo and make me pay large sums of money up to a thousand dollars. At first, I gave her the money until she began to harass me for more money. Eventually, I became frustrated and confronted her. This caused things to become awful between us. We were both living in the same space but would never speak to one another and would avoid each other.

I recall the countless times I would stand by my door waiting to hear her leave the kitchen so that I could make my dinner. During the odd times that we accidentally ended up in the kitchen at the same time, the tension was so strong and we would not acknowledge one another. I would spend days sitting in the hallways crying because I felt like in a world so big, there was not a single person who could take a minute to share compassion with me.

That sense of loneliness that I had begun to deepen as every day went by. This is where I learned, that it was hard to come by a strong community where strangers genuinely and truly cared for each other. I realized that it was not a world of solidarity but a world of individualism.

Meenusha Satkunanathan was born and raised in Montreal, QC. She is a third year student at the University of Toronto Mississauga completing a double major in Criminology and Sociology.

Home is Where the Heart is: Growing Up in Mississauga

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Home is Where the Heart is: Growing up in Mississauga

Written by Loki Candelma

Growing up, I was never critical about the size or the quality of my home. It is a semi-detached townhome in a somewhat private area; there are wooden fences that surround our front lawns and we have underground parking that is only accessible by a special key. By this description, it sounds lavish, but the population is mostly lower to middle class. The outside of the houses have a grey dimpled concrete finish, while the upper-leveled units have their balconies accented with dark brown wood.

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This exterior design in addition to the layout of the neighbourhood that has the inner units face one another, provides the illusion of a prison courtyard. I’ve lived in this same townhome my entire life. Not distinguishable from the other units, our front yard is far too small to fashion a makeshift patio.

The townhomes are nestled next to a fairly busy road, but because the houses face one another, the sound of traffic is not really a concern for any of the residents, unless they are living on one of the houses that face Dundas. Even then, however, they have built a tall concrete wall that furthers the division between our neighbourhood and the rest of the public. I would like to think it is situated in the middle of Mississauga; a bus ride away from the Kipling subway station.

I used to share a room with my brother, because my cousin was living in the other room, and my parents shared the master bedroom. It wasn’t until tenth grade where my cousin finally moved out and I could have a room to myself. Most of my friends lived relatively close by and shared similar living conditions, so I thought most of my classmates shared this experience with me. It wasn’t until university, however, when I began learning more about socioeconomic status, and befriended more people among differing social classes, where I truly understood the division between people of different social statuses.

My house is small, with walls that are seemingly made of paper. From my room upstairs, I can clearly hear the conversations my brother has over his Xbox headset in the room next door. On Saturday mornings, before I ready for work, I rise to the sound of my mother venting about work to my father in the kitchen. To me, my house fulfills my necessities. I come here to sleep, and sometimes to eat. The only space for me to complete my homework is on the kitchen table; my room does not have space for a desk, and I like to keep my place of rest separate from my source of stress, so writing on my bed is out of the question. The only time I find myself being productive is after midnight, once everybody has gone to bed, and I am left alone to stew in my creativity.  But other than this, I am rarely at home. I have long days at school, and longer days at work, and if I need to do homework during the day, I visit one of my favourite coffee shops.

I’ve tried to shape my room into my own mini sanctuary- with the walls painted a bright  seafoam green, polaroid pictures strung over my bed, and collages collected from fashion magazines that inspire me are plastered over the doors of my closet. If I am ever at home long enough, I am typically cooped up in my room, attempting to decompress. But this rarely happens because my brother is almost always in his room next to mine, loudly playing video games. Sometimes this becomes a source of friction, but I understand that there are few alternatives, seeing as our living situation allows for limited privacy.

I have learned that many (if not, most) of my friends live in suburban neighbourhoods, with their own backyards, and their own workspaces.  And most of my friends do not have a father who sleeps during the day, and works during the night, which permanently altered my behaviour. I am constantly mindful of the noise I create- from the volume of my voice to the movement of my body. Between my father’s work schedule, and the little space in my home, this has also prevented me from having friends visit- very few have entered the inside. This, in combination with my inherently private personality, has isolated my friends from my home life. In high school especially, there seemed to be a large division between the upper class, upper middle class and the other students. Until I began to thoroughly study inequality, I never realized the association between their material items and status. Their parents paid for their sports clubs, school trips, and expensive clothes. Together, they lived in similar suburban neighbourhoods, and their collective like-mindedness solidified their elite status in my school’s social hierarchy.

My house does not make me wistful for a bigger house, it is not the home to my warmest memories, but it has taught me a lot about socioeconomic status. My parents are the hardest working people I know, and I have been fortunate enough to adopt their work ethics (perhaps even more so), and they have always provided what I needed. I have never been resentful about having to work so much to pay for my own expenses- including school. There is a roof over my head whenever I need one, and a warm bed that awaits after my long days, which is all I really need.

Loki is in her fourth year, studying Criminology, Sociology, and Women and Gender Studies at UTM. She has a penchant for social justice, and art (all platforms). When she’s not at school, she’s at work, or she’s volunteering for the school’s Sexual Education Centre. In the very little time that she has for herself, she enjoys seeing her friends over coffee, and finding new places to discover in Toronto.

Living in a Bubble: The Inflated Economy of Port Elgin

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Living in a Bubble: The Inflated Economy of Port Elgin

Written by Tanara Dennison-Ellerton

Growing up, I had always lived in a small town. Port Elgin was a tight knit lakeside community where everyone knew each other and worked at the same place. About three hours from Toronto, the town of 7800 people was fueled by a nuclear power plant named Bruce power, supplying the area with a stable income contributing to the town’s generally high income status. Almost everyone in the town was employed by the plant with nuclear operating jobs, construction jobs, and planning jobs. Regardless of the job being worked, the company paaid high rates in an effort to compensate for potential radiation encountered on the job. For these reasons, the area was constantly developing and creating an upper middle-class neighbourhood with a variety of beautifully constructed homes. The entire town lives in an idealistic world where the economy is essentially unrealistically inflated due to the power plant. My family however, did not fit this perfect image. Since my parents were young and had no post-secondary education, and they had previously worked hard in retail jobs. My dad getting into the plant was a big deal and opened a lot of doors for our family, even though it would take a while to adjust to these changes.

In 2009 when I was beginning high school, my parents decided to build a new house in one of the neighbourhoods. Moving into the house felt amazing, as my dad had been working at the plant for a few years now and everything was changing. Our new house symbolized freedom, in that it was no longer time for my family to be on a strict budget, but it felt as though we had finally made it into the image of Port Elgin. I lived in this house all throughout high school. The basement began to hold all the stories of my friends and I when we would sit on the black leather couch with all the lights off and just talk for hours. The downstairs living room held a lot of family history. The living room was the place where movie nights and Christmas would take place, where my sister and I would argue about who sat in the comfy part of the sectional with the perfect view of the mounted TV. The kitchen was where I had learned to cook, with marble countertops which I still admire to this day, and the driveway was where I first began to panic behind the wheel of my parents’ old equinox.

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During my first year of university I opted to stay in residence. Pulling into campus I felt so much excitement, everything seemed so different. The townhouse I was living in was dated and dirty, but it was a symbol of my independence, living on my own for the first time. When we walked into the house, there was an overwhelming stench coming from the fridge and an abundance of dust on the baseboards. My bedroom was much smaller than the one I had at home, yet I was overwhelmingly excited to decorate it. Living on campus was a captivating environment for me as it enabled me to witness diversity for the first time in my life

Characteristically, small towns are known for their limited cultural diversity as they are typically predominantly white. In Port Elgin, there was no sign anywhere of any ethnic restaurants, and most businesses aside from McDonalds and Subway were local. Unlike most small towns where the areas could not afford local businesses to thrive, the businesses in Port Elgin were typically owned by wives of men who worked at the plant and were ran as hobbies.  In Mississauga. I could go anywhere and see ethnic restaurants, and I was surrounded on campus by people of various races and ethnicities. Mississauga was a stark difference from my experiences in Port Elgin, as there is a lack of local businesses, many in the process of being shut down, and an overwhelming abundance of chains.

The townhouse symbolized a lot for me. It was my first time being on my own, and it enabled me to see communities in a different light. It was drastic seeing the stark difference between Mississauga road and Fowler drive, an economic diversity that I was not accustomed to seeing, let alone living in. My roommates and I had grown up very differently, we spent hours on end discussing these differences, and the ways in which these differences had influenced our decisions.

Even though living on campus was a serious change from my previous suburban living experience, the stark contrast is what allowed me to grow up. Both houses meant for me that I could be independent in different ways, but it wasn’t until I was fully able to see the different ways that people live, that I began to internalize my surroundings and adapt to the ever-changing city lifestyle, and the transition to adulthood.


Tanara Dennison-Ellerton is an undergraduate student at the University of Toronto specializing in Criminology and Socio-Legal Studies with a minor in Sociology. She’s interested in inequality pursuing a career within the legal profession with specific regard to serving those disproportionately impacted by the overall structure of the legal system.

Changing Definitions of Community: Moving from Ahmedabad to the GTA

Changing Definitions of Community: Moving from Ahmedabad to the GTA

Written by Aesha Patel

Spending ten years of my initial life in the heart of Ahmedabad, India had a significant influence on me. I lived in a 3-bedroom bungalow, situated in a relatively middle class neighbourhood called Navrangpura. Since it was common to live with extended families in India, I lived with my parents, uncle, and grandmother. Our house was marigold, and had a big porch with a wooden porch swing, and a spacious front yard. I loved everything about my home: the huge terrace, my mom’s garden, and even the cactus in our backyard that I fell on when I was five. However, the reason why I loved living there had nothing to do with the house itself; rather, it was the communal life of our neighbourhood that made it home.

During summer vacations, when school was out, I would get together with all my friends from our neighbourhood, and we would play hide and seek, tag, cricket, and other games. During summer, we would spend every single day together. Everyone would wake up, get ready, and gather outside my house. We would play together till noon and then go home for lunch. Often times, one of our mothers would offer to make lunch for all of us, and we would eat together. Since summer afternoons were really hot in India, we would spend them indoors playing Super Mario Bros at one of my friends’ houses. Later in the afternoon, we would either play outdoors, or ride our bikes together. At night, we would play cards, charades, or antakshri on someone’s terrace, and even have sleepovers sometimes. Our parents never worried about us since many of our dads played together when they were kids. Evidently, people often did not move houses for generations in India.

Not only were children strongly connected, but so were the mothers. Every day in the afternoon, women would get together, as most of them were housewives. They would discuss their family lives, tv shows, gossip, share new recipes or techniques they may have encountered. Families would get together to celebrate someone’s success, and they would get together to mourn someone’s loss. People even sent food to someone else’s house if they were unable to cook for a couple days. If parents had to go out, their neighbours would baby sit for free.

Moreover, people would even get together in our community to celebrate the important festivals like Navratri. For example, people would dress up and get together at night to dance during Navratri. During Diwali, people would light firecrackers together while others sat aside and watched. Similarly, individuals also celebrated Holi together as they would play with colors and water in the afternoon, and light a bonfire at night. Thus, it was a closely-knit community where residents knew each other personally and shared some of the most important aspects of their lives with each other.

Consequently, adjusting to my life in Toronto after my family moved here was difficult for me as the change was quite significant. I grew up in, and was used to living a communal life back in India, but after coming to Toronto, I did not even associate with my neighbours. Initially, my parents and I moved into an apartment building in Scarborough. The neighbourhood comprised of various, similar looking, apartment buildings surrounding each other. However, it was very difficult for me make new friends, since children barely played outside in larger groups.

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Even after moving to Brampton, the lack of communication among neighbours surprised me. When I initially moved here, I believed that we would get to know some of our neighbours more personally since they too were Indian. My assumption rested on the fact that we shared the same background; thus, they would be accustomed to a communal life as well. However, I found that individuals here do not engage in meaningful conversations with one another. The individualistic culture that is prevalent in Western society deems it unnatural to have close ties within the neighbourhood one lives in. The idea of privacy dominates social ties to a great extent. For example, I do not even know the name of my neighbours here. I occasionally smile at them and greet them when I see them around the neighbourhood, and that is all the communication we have. Moreover, individuals even celebrate festivals confined in their homes. Be it Christmas, New Years, or even birthdays, celebrations occur behind closed doors.

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Regardless, moving to Toronto was not bad by any means. Individuals may live private lives in Canada, but the community is very multicultural. Consequently, I was exposed to different cultures by connecting with Canadians. On the other hand, I only lived among Gujarati people in India, and was only surrounded by that one culture. Thus, after moving to Toronto, I gained a lot of knowledge about different cultures, which I believe has made me a more considerate and inclusive individual.

Aesha Patel is a 22-year old Criminology undergraduate student, studying at the University of Toronto. She has lived in Toronto for a very long time, but there is still a little bit of India inside.

Embracing Change: Settling Down and Growing Up in California


Embracing Change: Settling Down and Growing Up in California

Written by R. E.

Privacy, adaptability, sharing, rebuilding, embracing. These are the traits and abilities I had to acquire at a young age as I moved from country to country with my family. It seemed that everywhere we moved our neighbourhoods reflected each other. They were safe and mostly middle class, but if you walked a little further you would find yourself in a lower class region.

My story begins in Cairo my birthplace, where I lived with my parents and two older siblings in a small apartment located in the neighborhood of Giza. The apartment had two rooms, a bathroom, a small kitchen and living space. The bathroom was painted baby blue, it had a baby blue sink and a baby blue toilet, it was an odd decor and it reflected the rest of the apartment, which was compact with vintage furniture and a big chunky TV located in the coroner. The bedroom, which I shared with my siblings, was very simple it had one closet and two queen-sized beds. Across the street there was a mosque, and when it was time to pray the mosque speakers would play the prayers loud throughout the neighborhood, it was calming and gave the community a unified feel.

At the age of four my dad got a job as a computer programmer in the U.S, so we packed our things and moved to Minnesota leaving behind all our relatives. Once again awaiting us there was a small apartment 2 rooms, a bathroom, a small kitchen and living space. I don’t remember much about the details of this home because we didn’t stay long there, but what I do remember was the building’s pool. In the winter I would float on my back and watch the snow fall gently on the glass dome which covered it. This was my first time experiencing snow and it excited me, so less than a year later when my dad told us we were moving again I was sad to leave the white winter behind. Little did I know that I would experience snow again later in life.

It was the spring of 1999 when we arrived in Los Angeles; we were picked up by a company limo and driven to our new home. I stared outside the window as we approached a big gate that read “The Promenade.” Walking in the first thing I spotted was a pool surrounded by palm trees and beach chairs, I remember my dad looking down at me with a big smile and saying, “I told you there would be a pool.”


But that wasn’t the only thing this three level-gated condominium had. That day exploring with my siblings we found a park, two hot tubs, and a gym. Even though our apartment was small and consisted of two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a small kitchen and living space, I loved this home and everything about it. For the next five years this home became the site of many memories, it was where I met my best friend, had my first pet, where I learned how to ride a bike, swim with out floats, and swing on a swing set. There was always something to do and some place to explore within the promenade, so I always felt safe roaming around on my own within the gates. Our apartment was on the first floor so I never used the front door; it was easier to just hop out the balcony to get to the pool and park quicker.


October 30th, 2000 my little brother was born adding one more body in an already crowded apartment. His crib stayed in my parent’s room until he was old enough to share the bedroom with the rest of us. It was definitely not easy sharing a room with three siblings. We had only one T.V in the corner of the room which we fought over constantly, and we had two bunk beds in the shape of an “L.” I remember being able to hop from the top of one bunk bed to the other; the room looked like a jungle gym, and some how it never seemed to be a problem. The warm California weather always kept us outside, so fights over the T.V, the lights being on, or music being played, seemed to just happen at night when only some of us were ready for bed. Privacy became an issue the older we got, especially because we were different genders. I wondered If my dad eventually planned to move us to a bigger home but those plans didn’t matter anyways because came summer of 2005 we were packing again and headed to the airport, this time to Canada where I would learn again to adapt, embrace, and rebuild in a new home.

R. E. was born in Egypt, raised in California, and settled down in Mississauga at the age of 10. She is an open-minded student who loves to meet new people and learn about different cultures.


Becoming Independent: Childhood in East Mississauga

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Becoming Independent: Childhood in East Mississauga

Written by Nerissa Harrypersad

The earliest memory of a home that I can remember was living in an apartment building in East Mississauga, from the age of four to five and a half. Although I lived in a townhouse, in West Mississauga, from birth up to the age of four, I cannot recall any memories of living there. The apartment building in East Mississauga marked a lot of memories for me. Although I was young and lived there for a short period, I still have vivid memories of the environment as it relates to my childhood.

The apartment building was located on the intersection of Ponytrail Trail Drive and Fieldgate Drive in Mississauga, very close to the border of Toronto. To the east and south of the building were other apartment buildings, to the north of the building was a complex of older town houses, and to the west was a park and a shopping plaza. The shopping plaza contained a No Frills, I.D.A. Pharmacy, a dollar store, a family-owned bakery, and a Coffee Time. The area itself was old, yet well-maintained. It was a clean and safe area.

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Our apartment was located on the tenth floor – the highest floor in the building. It contained two bedrooms, one bathroom, one living room, a kitchen, and a balcony. Overall, the apartment was small consider that it was shared by my parents, my year-older sister, my uncle and myself. My parents, sister and I shared a bedroom. It was a room that could only fit two beds and a dresser. My uncle had the second bedroom to himself. We were a close family and my parents and uncle would always take turns looking after my sister and I.

My parents and uncle immigrated to Ontario, Canada when they were in their late teenage years and worked very hard to make ends meet. My mom worked days at the dollar store located across from the building, my uncle worked days at a warehouse, and my dad worked nights at a warehouse. My uncle and parents would contribute to paying the rent, while also saving up to buy a house together. This left my sister and I to learn independence at a young age, where most days we would be left at home with my dad, who slept most of the time due to working the night shift and my mom and uncle being at work.

My sister and I spent many days entertaining ourselves. Whether it was summer or winter, we always enjoyed playing outside. We would dress ourselves, make sure to ask our dad for permission, and go outside to have some fun. Some people might see this as neglectful, but my parents taught us at a young age how to be safe and what to do in emergency situations, like call 9-1-1. We learned at a young age that my parents worked hard to pay to bills and we had an understanding.

The one place my sister and I always enjoyed going to was the park located next the building. Naturally as kids we were drawn to it. We would always go on the swings, play in the sand, and hang on the monkey bars. My parents always taught us not to go far from our building, and the park was the place we always chose to go to. The other place we always visited was the dollar store, located in the plaza next to the park. My sister and I always had an attachment to my mom and we missed her when she was at work. When we felt lonely at times and needed her presence, we would walk over to her work and pay her a visit. She was always happy to see us.

Living in this apartment building taught me how to be independent growing up. It taught me how to do things on my own at a young age. Also, watching my parents working as hard as they did to make ends meet taught me the value of money. It taught me that I would also have to work hard to make a good future for myself.

Something that I was too young to understand back then was the inequality that was involved as part of the struggle my family experienced. My parents and uncle faced inequalities as immigrants. They all had only completed high school in Trinidad and Tobago, where their education levels did not benefit them in Ontario. My mom once told me that when she lived back home, her aunts would brag about having a good life in Canada, and the reason why she came here was because she took their word. Little did she know that coming to Canada as an immigrant from the Caribbean was a struggle. My parents and uncle here came here with nothing, and little resources were provided to help them succeed as immigrants. For this reason, my parents have always raised me to value my education and to pursue a career that will benefit me financially.

Nerissa Harrypersad is currently a senior student at the University of Toronto- Mississauga, completing a Specialist in Sociology and a Major in Criminology. Raised by Trinidadian parents and coming from a rich Trinidadian culture, she is particularly intrigued by other cultures, while consistently learning something new about her own culture every day. She loves the study of culture and what it means to come from a particular ethnic background.

Life in a “Ghetto”: Growing Up in Cooksville


Life in a “Ghetto”: Growing Up in Cooksville

Written by Mahek Basar

Our apartment, lying atop a butcher’s shop, is located on the commercial intersection of Hurontario St and Dundas St. What once used to be the downtown of Mississauga is now considered one the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the city. Known across the city for its major intersection, often referred to as “10 and 5”, Cooksville is the city’s most densely populated area. Growing up, I recall children at my school referring to it as a “ghetto.” That was before we moved here. Eight years ago, my parents moved from an apartment building to this commercial unit because it was the only three-bedroom apartment we could find for under $1000. Our previous one-bedroom was becoming too cramped as my brother and I were growing up and demanding privacy. This apartment’s proximity to major Canadian banks like TD, Scotia Bank, RBC and CIBC; grocery stores like Food Basics, Price Choppers, as well ethnic supermarkets; City Centre, and cheap food places like McDonalds, KFC, Subway and Bar B Q Tonite were a bonus to the reliable and frequent public buses (19, 103, 1 and 101) travelling in all four directions.  My parents reasoned its amenities were well worth the extra $200 from our previous rent.

When we moved, the matriarch of the three-generation Pakistani family living atop the Indian takeout warned us it was impossible to fall asleep because the fire trucks emerging from the fire station to our north and ambulances from the hospital to our south ran multiple times during the night. But we were used to noise. Our previous apartment was on the side of Queen Elizabeth Way. So we packed our second-hand furniture and moved to our new home.


I was given the smallest room. It was windowless, and half the size of my 11-year old cousin’s room, who lived in a suburban, detached, four-bedroom house. But none of this mattered, because for the first time in my life, I had a room of my own. I decorated the walls with Harry Potter posters, inspirational quotes, and pictures. If I was upset with my parents, I would seek refuge in this 12 by 14. If it was too noisy to study in the living room, I would relocate to my private study. If I saved money and wanted to hide it from my brother, I would stock it away in my sock drawer. Thus, for me this room wasn’t just a place to sleep in.  Rather, it was a symbol of my independence. It allowed me to showcase my responsibility to my parents by keeping it clean, and in return I would earn the privilege of staying up late. It also allowed me to exercise my sense of control. The room’s décor was under my control; I decided that the Harry Potter posters went on the wall, but the Twilight ones didn’t because the timid Bella Swan wasn’t as inspiring as the intelligent Hermione Granger.

Furthermore, I came out of my shell in this room. In our previous apartment, I used to sleep in the living room. I could not decorate the walls there because the living room was a shared space. Moreover, any personal touches I made would be exposed to anyone who came to our apartment. Hence, my sentiments and my feelings would be exposed to prying eyes. But in my private room, I had the freedom to express myself creatively without feeling judged or exposed. Therefore having a private room not only instilled independence, control and creativity in me, but also improved my self-esteem.

Oftentimes, our apartment can be a nuisance. For example, the dense population in our neighbourhood and the constant police presence which drives up insurance rates make it difficult to live peacefully. In addition, the landlord wants to increase our rent by $500, a significantly larger amount than our previous rent increase of $100. When we refused to pay an extra $500 for our rent, he started making our lives miserable. He would shut off our heating in the middle of a winter night, or refuse to install an air conditioner in the sweltering heat of summer. If we complained about the mouse infestations, he would retort he is not a cat that can get rid of mice. He is well aware that we won’t report him because we don’t have the funds or the time to defend ourselves in court-a common condition in housing which puts tenants at a disadvantage. As a landlord, he has the upper hand, and he takes complete advantage of his position. However, if we are forced to leave, I will always reflect positively on this apartment.  It does not matter how many different apartments I live in, as this “dangerous” apartment, with a mean landlord, will always remain significant to me, because it was in this apartment where I transformed from an adolescent into an adult.

Mahek Basar is undergraduate student at University of Toronto, majoring in sociology and molecular biology. She would like to study and practice medicine through a sociological lens by providing health care to underprivileged populations.

She is the founder of EOFP-Educate Orphaned Females of Pakistan, a non-for-profit, charitable organization which seeks to provide underprivileged, orphaned girls in the rural areas of Pakistan with school supplies.