By: Michael Dennis
“I think I have seen a light shining strong across the river, the day will slowly overcome this cold… I keep paddling firmly, and deep within I smile… there is a voice calling me, ‘keep rowing, keep going!’”
These are the words that open Izad Etemadi’s play We Are Not the Others, a play that aims to explore immigrant struggles through the real stories of immigrant women in Hamilton.
The performance was held at the Art Gallery of Hamilton from Nov. 11 to 13, and is the result of months of collaboration between students of McMaster’s School of Social Work, members of Hamilton’s Immigrant Working Center and writer/director Izad Etemadi.
Many of the stories presented in the play were collected from the research conducted by Prof. Mirna Carranza from McMaster’s School of Social Work.
“The show is based off of research. Everything in this show has happened to someone in this city, which I think is the coolest part of it,” explained Etemadi.
“I have tried really hard to keep their words as close to what they said in the interviews.”
Through a display of monologue, song and poetry, the play provides a multifaceted view into the lives of immigrants and the struggles they have to endure in order to live a normal life.
“People are not fully aware of the systems in place for immigrants in Canada. Sometimes it’s really set up for failure,” said Etemadi.
“We want to showcase the real struggles that these women have to go through. Not only taking care of their children, supporting their husbands and getting recertified in whatever field they studied back home, but also working 12 hours a day in a job that is hard on their bodies, and trying to navigate this new world in a system that is sometimes unhelpful.”
The play explores many of the barriers that prevent a smooth transition to Canada, such as language.
From being unable to make friends on the playground to not being able to find fulfilling work, without being fluent in English, many immigrants find themselves alone in an unforgiving society.
“We want people to feel those struggles,” said Etemadi.
“Maybe when they are in a grocery store and someone can’t speak English very well, instead of jumping to judging them in a negative way… maybe think ‘what has this person had to go through just to get here’ and ‘why can’t they speak English?’… There is one story that we have… of a woman who says, ‘I never had the privilege to learn the language, because I had to work whatever job I could.’”
Yet, as Etemadi explained, theatre allows us to develop deep and personal connections to individuals we would otherwise never meet, it allows us to move past labeling someone as “the other.”
For example, a woman from Mexico comes to Canada and finds love, only to be confronted with a number of challenges. She struggles to provide for a husband with a progressing illness, and to pay the mounting bills while her husband is unable to work.
It is through the work of a compassionate social worker, however, that she is able to start caring for herself and find a community where she had none.
The play closes the same way it opened, with poetry. “We are not the others, we are just like you, we may have not been born here, but we belong here too.”
The play reminds us to reconsider what we call ‘the other’ and to listen and empathize rather than judge.
Moving forward, Etemadi and Carranza hope to use this performance as an education tool and to make it freely available through the School of Social Work’s website so that all students can listen and learn.