First arriving in Canada at age 11, Joanna thought life in Cameroon was so much better. But her perspective soon shifted. (Submitted by Joanna Kanga)

Immigrating to Montreal from Douala put my privilege in perspective

CBC | The universal rights enjoyed here come at a high price in the Global South

Privilege is a heavily discussed concept lately. The term has been used to emphasize each other’s version of “luck.” Privilege can be associated to class, ethnicity, gender or sex, and it is experienced by anyone who has the opportunity to escape any form of injustice or misery via a special right, advantage or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.

But privilege can also be very relative. For some, it is simply sleeping on a comfortable bed, for others it can mean being granted refugee status among a long line of candidates.

In my case, the privilege was financial. I’m an immigrant and I believe every immigrant experiences a form of privilege over those in their home country, because immigration is a luxury.

I was born and raised in Douala, a city in Cameroon in Central Africa. When i first arrived in Montreal at the age of 11, I remember being impressed by the clean and wide streets, but very disappointed by the fact that I did not have a driver anymore. It was a different lifestyle; I had been accustomed to butlers, nannies, drivers and dinners at large tables. Now, I had to take public transportation (a sign of poverty in my city), wash my own clothes, make my own breakfast at a smaller table. I realized this was normal; most people were doing it. I remember thinking, Douala was so much better.

Unlike my brother and sisters, who arrived in Montreal after high school to study, I came at an early age for surgery due to severe scoliosis. While it is a treatable and common disorder, the operation could not be performed safely in Cameroon. Mild scoliosis does not typically cause problems, but more severe cases, like mine, can affect breathing and movement above the psychological distress caused by the physical deformation of your body.

Thanks to the financial situation of my parents, I was able to receive the best health care and education in the world. That made me realize the fanciest conditions were not found in my home full of butlers and extravagant dinners, but abroad were even those without butlers could simply live longer. I did not think Douala was “so much better” anymore.

In Development as Freedom, Indian economist Amartya Sen argues that the unfreedom of poverty places limits on human capability and choices, constraining well-being. According to Sen, poverty is not just based on income, it is associated with political, social and economic unfreedoms also known as living standards.

It was difficult to consider myself poor in Douala. I lived comfortably, attended the best academic institutions, had the latest gadgets and travelled abroad. My parents’ level of income was high enough to afford commodities that could improve our living standards, but not structurally change them. A different structure meant moving to a different country.

Growing up in Douala, Cameroon, Joanna enjoyed many material luxuries. But she came to Canada when she needed medical treatment. Submitted by Joanna Kanga (Submitted by Joanna Kanga)

Escaping the social and political insecurity in Cameroon made me realize my privilege in relation to those living in my home country. However, I also realized that my purchasing power, as powerful as it was in Cameroon, was not so powerful here. My currency was a barrier in the North.

The financial privilege that catapulted me to Montreal was incomparable to the privilege held by those not benefiting from the same material standards I was accustomed to. The average Montrealer does not have a butler, a driver nor a three-floor house with a wide garden and a gate guarded by a security guard. But the average Montrealer does have access to decent health care, education, a social safety net.

The UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that it is my right as a human being to have access to these things, but such access depended on where I was born.

For those born a bit further south, those “rights” are only available to those who can afford them. Even from our point of relative privilege, my parents had to sacrifice a lot to afford my health care and education abroad. Those sacrifices opened my eyes to the level of poverty in my home country.

My financial privilege saved me, but it is incomparable to the one held by Global North countries. Global North countries have the right to hope, immigrants from the Global South have to afford the hope.

CBC Quebec welcomes your pitches for point-of-view essays. Please email [email protected] for details.

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.


Check Also

Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy sentenced to jail in historic ruling

Paris (CNN) A French court on Monday sentenced former President Nicolas Sarkozy to three years …



    Guinea ………2


    ** MY TAKE **

    The so-called “one and indivisible” LRC was again humiliated PANTS ON FIRE.

    LRC will soon start celebrating her independence day ( January 1st) since SC is gone for good

    • This Ambaharam thing will make people like you run mad… I am sure good morning to you now is LRC. Even when the topic is not your Ambaharam you still try to make it one… Get a life! The topic for discussion is Immigrating to Montreal from Douala put my privilege in perspective

      • Southern Cameroonians told the CRIMINALS ruling their imaginary so-called “one and indivisible” LRC to respect the territorial integrity of SC. That notwithstanding, foreigners were transported in armored vehicles surrounded by terrorist BIRs to play in Victoria. The ancestors of the indigenes of Victoria humiliated the team from LRC with a four goals to zero punishment. This punishment was part of the cost of the genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity perpetrated by LRC terrorists in SC. Of course, more costs will follow in due course. This will include the loss of Ndian oil since SC will SURELY separate from that God-forsaken INFORMAL union after the war.

        GENUG IST GENUG!!!!

        • I thought you AMBA said no CHAN will be played in Limbe.
          What even makes it interesting is BBC reported the match was played in Limbe Cameroon. it’s like no one knows of your comedy ambazonia country. hahahahaha

  2. Your dad young lady is among the cabal that have plundered Cameroon who are you fooling. What butler’s and nannies are you talking about .We all know Cameroon so well shame on who ever your dad is .make Canada no kill you there.

elementum et, at ipsum leo sit tristique