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You don’t actually need to be an immigrant to be an immigrant. Born and raised in Canada, some would think I would be as “Canadian” as the next person. But society tells me otherwise. I have not been through any immigration process, I have not had to apply for citizenship and I do not peak with an accent. But my tanned skin and my name make me perpetually foreign. In a country that promises newcomers a better life, I have been rejected as a candidate for employment strictly because of my name.

I found an online job posting for a customer service representative position for a shipping and packaging company. I opened up a profile and submitted my resumé. Within a few days, I was sent a personalized email from HR regretting to inform me that they had better candidates for the job. I was disappointed but their response sounded fair. However, I was still in need of a job. So I kept checking over the next few days for other job postings and noticed that the one I applied for was still posted. If they had better candidates for the job, why would the posting still be up? is what I thought. I had the urge to investigate, and so I decided to create a new profile and submit a new resumé, but with only one change: my name.

In a country that promises newcomers a better life, I have been rejected
as a candidate for employment strictly because of my name.

I changed the name on my resumé to Christina Sullivan and created a new email account to match. The very next day, I got a call from HR asking if I were available for a phone interview. I accepted and played along. She seemed to be pleased at the end of the call and wanted to schedule an in-person interview; that is when I decided to interview her. I began with a small question: do submitted resumés get personally checked or are they checked by a computer? She said that she personally reviews each resumé. I asked how many people make up the HR department. She said it was just her alone in the HR department. I knew then that it was her that rejected my application.

This is when I informed her that I applied for the job a few days earlier but was rejected. She sounded confused. I went on to say that I submitted the first resume under my real name.

I could sense that she was in a panic and asked me what my real name is. I told her that she would not find the first application because I closed down that profile before I opened a new one, in case the computer system realized they had two identical resumes save for the name of the applicant. She quickly began to deny all accusations but I told her that I still have the email she sent me rejecting my application. I asked her if she wanted me to forward her that email, to which she declined.

The company website advertises themselves as an equal opportunity employer, and so I confronted her and asked her why, if the company is an equal opportunity employer, would my application be rejected solely based on my name. She had no answer and in a panic tried to deny any wrong-doing.

After hanging up on this call, since I was getting nowhere with her, I received calls from senior management twice daily from the west-coast U.S. based headquarters. Because of the time difference and my school schedule, I could not answer nor return their calls.

The voicemails they left only asked that I return their call, nothing more. This is where the story ended. They got let off the hook; they could have potentially been sued and the company’s reputation could have been jeopardized. I regret not acting more, as this was blatant discrimination. I still carry this experience with me every day of my life.

 I still carry this experience with me every day of my life. 

That day I realized I will always be seen as an immigrant in a country I was born and raised in, a country that I was once proud to be a citizen of. That day, I learned what discrimination is and how it feels to be denied a job because of something so irrelevant. Did the woman from HR deny me because she didn’t know how to pronounce my name? Was it because she assumed I would have an accent? I may never know the specific reason, but the bottom line is that it was an act of discrimination; my name held me back. Should I start to hate my parents for giving me this name, for giving me tanned-coloured skin, for being immigrants? Absolutely not! The problem is not in my name, or in the colour of my skin, or anything personally related to me. The problem lies in society’s perception of immigrants and of who and who not are qualified and deserving of employment.

I now know personally how difficult it is to find employment, to be discriminated against based on my heritage. If everyone turns a blind eye to this type of discrimination, it allows other forms of discrimination to exist and to be ignored. If this is how we treat Canadian-born citizens, I can only imagine how worse settlement experiences are for real immigrants. How will we avoid a Canadian economic crisis in our aging population if we do not accept immigrants as real candidates for job openings?

Article By Shahzi Bokhari | Photo by Michelle Drew

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