home again, wherever home is

The INL (Icelandic National League) meeting in Winnipeg was fine, with a number of items I want to pursue.  Here's one worth thinking about:  "Modern Immigrant Experience" was a presentation by a recent Icelandic immigrant to Manitoba.  His name is Sigurjon Jonsson.  Sigurjon is a lovely double name and easy to pronounce (the j is pronounced like y in English), although he said he is often called Sugarjohn. After the financial meltdown in Iceland, a number of people left the country in order to make a living.  Most of them, over 1000, moved to Norway, making an easy cultural transition, he reported, but he and a few others came to Canada, to Manitoba, 79 people in all. Most of them have stayed though he said it wasn't easy. It wasn't the weather, it was the bureaucratic hoops they had to jump through, a lot of paperwork: documents to fill out to prove they were who they said they were, that they had no criminal  record, that they had a trade or a skill, i.e. that they would not be a financial burden to their new country, on and on. Sigurjon said it was time-consuming and, of course, expensive until they could start earning money  He has a degree in engineering and had his own construction company in Iceland but he had to start again from scratch in Manitoba. My cousin Lorna told me that these newcomers were blessed in one way peculiar to their new home.  The large, cohesive Icelandic population in Manitoba was apparently very welcoming and ready to help the newcomers adjust. I remember reading once that the Icelandic population of Manitoba was the same as that of Iceland's capital city, Reykjavik. It might even be higher now,since so many people left after the meltdown. 

Just recently I read Laura Goodman Salverson's book, "Confessions of an Immigrant's Daughter",  back in print after a long hiatus. It won the Governor General's Award for Non-Fiction in 1939. Salverson was the first woman to receive a GG, two, in fact.   Earlier she had won the GG award for Fiction (1937); both books are in English.  The prize had just been established in 1937, by Lord Tweedsmuir.

So the young immigrant was fresh in my mind as I listened to Sigurjon's account of the difficulties of moving to Manitoba.  Salverson's experience was more harrowing, complicated by the pie-in-the-sky, vaulting aspirations of her restless father.  The family moved a lot, pursuing her father's dreams, and suffered poverty and hardships and failure wherever they turned.  Young Laura worked from an early age, trying to contribute to the family's needs.  She didn't learn to speak English until she was ten or eleven years old - and yet she went on to make her (lasting) name as a writer.  

Never under-estimate the power of an immigrant.  We are fortunate to be able to welcome fresh blood and viewpoint and energy into our community. I hope our government won't make it too difficult for them.