There is no universal immigrant journey, but many Canadian newcomers share a common experience: Someone back home misses them dearly and wants to see how they’re doing.
Capturing the backstories behind this special exchange is “First Photo Here,” a new Instagram project that shares the first photos newcomers take in Canada.
Watch the video above to see series curator Joella Cabalu share some notable submissions.
From eating an iconic cheesy Canadian dish for the first time to anxious rain-soaked arrival woes, the Instagram page is filled with photos shared from around the country. Some are filled with wonder over snowy backdrops and mountain views; others snap cherished memories with family or friendly Canadians.
Then there are the less straightforward entries, that were clearly snapped for a specific audience: A sleeping silhouette, a shot of an open refrigerator. Of these ones, Cabalu makes ample use of Instagram’s caption format and gives space for people to reflect on what their life was like back then.
Just as eye-opening are the entries where captions put a different spin on what viewers may assume. A selfie of a young woman in a parka, like that of project participant Huda, may appear fairly ordinary when we come across it on our social feeds. However, behind her portrait is a startling reality: Huda took the photo to inform her family of her safe arrival, right before applying for asylum.
Cabalu said the project is meant to bust stereotypes about how the newly arrived should feel about their newfound home. While some may feel ecstatic, not everyone’s first impression of a place they’ve never been to before will be pleasant.
Other perspectives may be coloured by a rollercoaster of emotions related to leaving friends and family behind: Laura, a newcomer who fled violence in Colombia, wrote that she felt confused and unsettled when reflecting on her first photo.
“We really wanted to challenge the narrative that immigrants should be grateful,” she told HuffPost Canada. “That is true, but at the same time they hold other emotions like loss and grief.”
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