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Unseen

Growing up as a visible minority of immigrant parents in a predominately Caucasian town in Canada, I gradually learned that many people in that town conflated my parents' English language ability with their intelligence. It was almost as though for many, the subconscious mind automatically assigned a positive correlation between language proficiency and intelligence. The thinking must have been something like: Well, they run a variety store and I have to dumb down my words when speaking to them, so they can't be very smart.

I saw the same thing with an uncle who ran multiple cafes and an aunt who operated a dry cleaning shop. And years later while in chiropractic school, I observed the same dynamic in the way that some native English speaking students and teachers viewed Japanese visa students who took a limited course load each semester because of the language barrier.

If you are an "insider" in such cases as I was with my parents, aunts, and uncles, you are well aware that there is virtually no correlation between an immigrant's non-native language ability and the depth of their thoughts and feelings. In fact, in most such cases, my view is that the pain and frustration that often accompanies the life of an immigrant and the prejudices that come with it often leads to a broader understanding of oneself and the world, for better or for worse. Put another way, there's often a lot of depth within the person who struggles to articulate their thoughts in a language that they adopted in their adulthood.

Sometimes, when I share information or a view in this newsletter that someone doesn't agree with, I receive a message telling me that I need to stay in my lane and that chiropractors are not real doctors. While I feel no need to defend my views or credentials to such people, they remind me of the same folks who looked down upon my immigrant elders without really considering their unique circumstances and backgrounds.

In my case, few people outside of my family know that my parents lost virtually all of their life savings in the real estate crash of 1989-1990. Given this devastating financial loss and my dad's decision to shift gears and become a pastor of a small church, the reality was that our family was deeply in debt just as I was about to start university. At that time in Canada, it was possible for students who did really well during their first 2 or 3 years of undergraduate studies to gain acceptance to one of a handful of state-subsidized medical schools in Ontario without completing a full four years of undergrad.

As I approached the middle of my 2nd year of undergrad, I recognized that I would not be one of the few who would be able to gain entrance to medical school without more years of undergraduate and possibly graduate study at a Master's or PhD level. Though I lived as frugally as possible, there were still many times when I did not have a dollar in my wallet. I made it through those days on student loans and two bursaries that I was lucky enough to receive from my college, which I remain deeply thankful for. All the while student loans loomed over me, as did the interest payments that my parents were making on their debt with my dad's 30K salary. My mom did all that she could, taking on overnight shifts at a 24/7 donut shop plus tailoring jobs that my aunt was kind and generous enough to have available for my mom.

The bottom line is that given our circumstances, I became laser focused on finding a path to become a doctor as soon as possible and earn enough money to pay off our family's debts, including my student loans. This is what led me to find and attend the National University of Health Sciences in Lombard, Illinois for their Doctor of Chiropractic program. I was able to start after two years of undergraduate studies, was able to combine the first two years of credits there with my credits from the University of Toronto for a Bachelor's degree, and go on to earn my doctorate and begin working full time as a "physician that treats patients for their illnesses without the use of drugs or surgery" - this description of the scope of practice of a chiropractor was quite compelling to me.

Staying on a path to eventually get to medical school and increasing my chances by applying to schools all around the world were not options for me. And looking back, I am grateful for the road I took. I extracted everything I possibly could out of my education and felt that I could stand toe to toe with just about anyone when it came to health sciences, including clinical sciences. The path I chose allowed me to begin working full time by the time I was 23 years old, and I continue to give thanks for being able to give my parents lasting financial relief.

I know I am not alone in my journey. Over 20 years of private practice working alongside other health care providers including medical, osteopathic, and chiropractic physicians, nurse practitioners, nurses, and physician assistants, I consistently found that there was no single group of health care providers that stood above the rest in quality of care delivered. Of course a health care provider must be highly knowledgeable and proficient in their specialized skill sets including diagnostic abilities, but beyond these foundational requirements, I found that the greatest determinant of quality of health care is how much the provider actually cares about the well-being of those they seek to help.

I have a lot more I can share on this topic, but circling back to the tendency that some people have to make incorrect assumptions about others, I'd like to take this opportunity to acknowledge those who strive to see what lies within others regardless of their socioeconomic vibe, including how proficient they are in a language they may have adopted as an adult - isn't this precisely what dog lovers appreciate most about their furry children, that said children don't give a hoot about how we look, where we live, what kind of car we drive, or how popular or educated we appear to be?

It's not only the immigrant worker who travels on public transit to get to their second or third job who likely has unseen depth within. Real struggles, hopes, and aspirations live inside all of us, including those who look like they are living happily ever after. Yes, it's essential to walk through life with discernment, recognizing when people have less than the best of intentions, and setting appropriate boundaries with such people, but there is much wonder and moments of deep connection and fulfillment to be experienced when we strive to see what lies underneath each person's socioeconomic vibration.

 
 

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Comments

I don't always get to all of your newsletters, but this latest one moved me to comment. I'm not surprised that some would tell you to "stay in your lane." Such reactions seem to fit with the general anger that can be seen today--mostly online but also in live reactions to politics, COVID (or a combination of the two), and too many other things.
I appreciate your perspective. You seem to be "just what the doctor ordered," a voice that calls on us to be kind, reasonable, and generally decent while you give good advice on health and other things.
So this is just a long way of saying thank you. I appreciate what you do, as do many, many others, I'm sure.
PS - I can relate a little bit to your father. I am a pastor who started in the mid-90's with a $20K salary. Things have gotten a little better since. While I have not been the greatest at managing money, the Lord has faithfully and generously provided. Our 4 children are grown and on their own, although we still see them plenty, which is great. Is it wrong to say it's especially great when the two kids and their spouses with our 5 grandchildren come? I didn't think so. Thanks again!

Thanks so much for this article. And also thank
you for such a wonderful blog. I receive notification
of your blog posts and read each one carefully.
I wonder if you have ever thought of writing a book
about your life and overcoming difficulties in life that
we all face at times. Thanks again! Warm wishes Elise.

Your and your family's personal experiences have undoubtedly been similarly lived by numerous new Canadians...among whom our family is counted.
The criticisms of "a thousand cuts" are so unnecessary, unreasonable and impossible to justify...except to say...it is extremely difficult to fix ignorance, closed-mindedness and above all...rank stupidity.
Thank You for setting the fine standard for all of us to follow.

How fortunate you were that you did not go to med school! I know so many Koreans who were in similar or better situations, busted their backsides to go to med school, now they are stuck dispensing pills...they don't even have health knowledge to care for themselves or their families, all they know are pharma products. This is after thousands of years of traditional asian medicine that they didn't realize they needed to study.

I would like to know if all those haters would have the guts to say the same things in your face. I believe they are mostly racist ignorant cowards that have nothing better to do. Good people don't waste their time insulting other people. They usually have a life and they are out there helping others. I have been living in the U.S. since 1987. I made friends from many diferent countries, including South Korea, so I have heard a lot of stories regarding ignorance and racism.

I have been going to a wonderful chiropractor for many years. Most doctors today are only medication pushers so I prefer alternative medicine where they treat the whole person, not just the symptoms.

Please keep doing what you are doing. You are doing great!