Illustration: Sheri Kim

Coming to Canada was not easy for my parents. Moving is never easy, especially when it’s to another country and away from family. When my family immigrated, I was too young to understand what was going on; this story has more to do with my brother.

My brother was born premature with many difficulties. In Saudi Arabia, he visited doctors frequently. For at least a year and a half after his birth, my mom didn’t see him at all because he was kept at the hospital. Eventually, the doctors recommended that we move to America for better treatment. My parents were reluctant to move because all our relatives live in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia; leaving home was the most difficult decision my parents had to make.

Once we moved, it was tough for us to adjust to living in our new neighborhood, surrounded by people who didn’t know us. Life was difficult because we were constantly struggling to purchase things we needed. We had issues with rent and food, but luckily my dad had support from friends to help him sustain our family.

My sisters and I were born in Chicago. I was young so I don’t remember too much, but we lived with my uncle. Then, in 2002, another horrifying incident occurred and we were kicked out of America: my dad found out that the government was deporting illegal immigrants from Chicago’s South Asian communities, particularly Muslims. This was around the time 9/11 happened, so the deportations were most likely fueled by Islamophobia.

My family was forced to leave, and we fled to Canada as refugees. My parents had to go to court for my brother because the Canadian government refused to provide him with medical treatment. The court agreed to let us stay, on one condition: my brother could not return to America for ten years. At this time, we even made it on the front page of a newspaper; the media was highlighting stories of fleeing refugees, and my brother’s story was published a day after we left.

My brother’s health improved, but he was again hit with conditions in 2012—his ailments were more serious this time. He would either live life in constant pain and suffering, or die.

Until then, I had not realized how difficult the experience was for my brother. It was when he was admitted to the hospital that I understood how scared he must have been, not only for himself, but also for us. We would always visit him at the hospital, hoping to hear good news.

My brother always managed to surprise us by staying calm throughout the whole procedure. Many tears were shed. There were many moments when he felt as though he wouldn’t make it. Those were he saddest times of our lives.

His doctors from Saudi Arabia and America came together to find a way to treat him. After at least five surgeries (two of which failed), he finally got better. These surgeries ended all his sufferings.

Today, he lives as normally as possible. At times, it is still difficult for him to understand things easily, and he still needs a wheelchair to go to places. However, he no longer lives in constant pain. Despite all that he has been through, he remains as happy as ever. Because he understands what it feels like to be depressed and experience countless nights without sleep, he is always there to comfort us when we feel sad. He lets us know that everything is okay.

I believe he’s the strongest one of us all. There are times when people are a bit disrespectful to him, but that does not stop him from being the better person. People are quick to judge, but I know my brother well. I know that he will always see the good in others.

I am grateful for my brother, because if not for him, my family wouldn’t have come to Canada. Living in Canada has taught me many things. I have grown up in our country’s culture and diversity. I used to think that the world would always have something against me and my religion; however, living in Toronto completely changed my perspective of others. Everyone is friendly and people aren’t as judgemental as they are in other countries.

In such a diverse city, everyone understands each other. My brother is now a healthy and happy person. He has had support from family, friends, and even his favorite baseball player! I still remember his joy when the Ricky Romero came to visit him at the hospital. My brother’s medical difficulties have taught me to appreciate every second spent with loved ones.

I respect everyone who has supported my family throughout these difficult times. We regularly visit our relatives back home, and each trip is always an unforgettable experience. I realize that distance means little when family means so much.