There are multiple factors you need to consider when planning a move across the Canada/U.S. border, whether your goal is to further your career, find a more enjoyable lifestyle, settle closer to your family, or experience a new culture. It can be daunting to uproot your family and give up what is certain for what is unknown, including the dynamics of the neighborhood in which you choose to put down your new roots. Will the neighbors be welcoming of a new family? Will you feel safe and included? Will you feel accepted and understood? This is especially important for diverse families, as neighborhood choice may have an even bigger impact on your experience in your new home.
Learning the history of the neighborhoods you are considering may help you select the best one for your family. Practices such as redlining once limited where people could live, and inclusivity was not commonly practiced. Although laws have changed, attitudes in particular areas may be entrenched. Discriminatory policies, though no longer allowed, can continue to impact populations, and the welcome a diverse family will receive will vary be community.
Examining the ethnic diversity of the neighborhoods you may wish to live in can also be helpful. Areas vary by the concentration of different ethnic groups who live there. A neighborhood primarily made up of just one or even two ethnic groups—whether your own ethnicity is represented or not—will have an entirely different feel than one with a multitude of ethnicities.
My personal experience is as part of a biracial couple. We initially moved to a new city for its proximity to work and family. We chose a suburb of a larger city because it seemed like a family-friendly place to raise children. We then zeroed in on looking at houses without giving much thought to the specific neighborhoods they were in other than the quality of their schools and how far we would need to commute to work.
When we found a home that ticked off all our “most have” and “nice-to-have” boxes, we were quite surprised that the seller’s real estate agent discouraged our agent from having us place an offer. He said that the house would be “too dark” for us. In retrospect, I realized he thought we were the ones who were too dark! However, we were very excited about the property and ended up purchasing it anyways.
While the neighbors were cordial, they kept to themselves. When my husband would spend time working in the yard, it was not uncommon for passersby to ask if he was available to do handyman work at their homes. We think they thought I was his employer. The local students seemed to find it hard to understand our family, too. Overall, we were not as comfortable as we should have been.
After several years, we moved to another neighborhood in the same city about 10 miles away. Racism is everywhere of course, but the neighbors are friendlier, the school administration has been sensitive to racist incidents without any prompting, and an African priest serves as a highly regarded local church leader, promoting inclusivity.
My advice to other diverse families is to spend some time in the neighborhoods you are considering before you start looking at homes. Walk around, watch families at the park, and talk to people about their experiences living there, especially people who share your background or ethnicity. If you cannot find any, be wary. Finally, listen to your instincts. Had we stopped to think about what the real estate agent was telling us, we might have chosen our current neighborhood all those years ago.
Moving state to state, province to province, or country to country is no small task. While many focus on the financial and tax implications of such a move, a prudent individual understands the importance of a happy home life where all individuals are accepted and treated with dignity.