When Neeti and Vinay Mehrotra came to Canada as 26-year-old newlyweds, they had no idea what to expect.
“We didn’t know a soul here,” she says. “We had two suitcases each, and $1,100.”
Many people have asked what made them decide to come to Canada, she says, and she finds it a difficult question to answer.
There wasn’t the amount of information available online that there is today, but they knew they were looking for opportunities, and thought they would find them here.
They are both engineers, and they had seen an advertisement in a newspaper saying that Canada was looking for professionals.
“We were young, and we really didn’t know what we were doing. We didn’t think too much about it. We just felt that the world was our oyster.”
Looking back, she says, they are grateful it turned out to be a good decision, although they didn’t have a lot to base it on.
They had no friends or family in Canada, but Vinay’s brother was living in the U.S., then in Texas and later in California.
“We thought, well, Canada is next door to the U.S. We’d be able to visit. But we’ve been back to India more than we’ve been to the U.S.”
With both sets of parents and siblings still in India, Neeti says she’s tried to return once a year, usually only for a week, because of the UPS store they operated on Mississagua Street until this month, when they were forced to close.
“I love going home, I love the nostalgia, but I could never live there again. The person I have evolved to be is a Canadian. This is who I am. I belong here. Looking back, I am glad we didn’t move to the U.S.”
When they came to Canada, they lived in Mississauga for eight years, but it never felt like home. Although there was a large population of people from India, “they had their own groups, their own families,” says Neeti. “We had no friends. Nobody ever talked to us.”
The day they moved to Niagara-on-the-Lake, she says, “I told my mother I’d found my place in this world. Within a day or two, I had spoken to more people than I had in all the years in Mississauga.”
They had come from a small community in India, “at least small by India standards,” she says.
It was the kind of community “where if you sneezed, someone told your mother. That was what we found here. If someone saw my boys, they’d tell me they were behaving nicely. It’s that kind of community.”
In Canada, and here in NOTL, she says, they are richer in this country and this community than she ever could have imagined. “Not richer with money. Our lives are richer. We have so many friends, and this is such a great community. The friendship and support we found there, that will never go away.”
Mehrotra had done her share of giving back to the community. She volunteered at Parliament Oak while her kids were at school there, and felt fortunate to have great teachers and families at the school. She recalls taking about 15 women and their kids to her temple in Niagara Falls to celebrate India’s major holiday, Diwali. She found saris for the women
to dress in, lots of bangles for them to wear, and off they went to have dinner at the temple. At Parliament Oak, the school celebrated international days and cultures, so that all children would feel at home. “It was such a great school. My boys had a wonderful childhood here. We were blessed to have such a great school for them.”
Her older son is attending the University of Waterloo, where he is studying astrophysics.
Her younger son is studying computer science at the University of Toronto. Neeti says she couldn’t imagine a better place to have raised her children, who now have a world of opportunities before them.
Neeti also volunteered with the local branch of the Canadian Cancer Society, lining up canvassers for the annual April door-to-door campaign.
And she joined the Rotary Club of Niagara-on-the-Lake, for many years handing out burgers for the Rotary barbecue on Canada Day.
That won’t happen this year, but she is delighted that their two sons will be home with them, that she will be able to celebrate the day with them, and the life they were able to make for the family in Canada, and especially in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“When we visited the U.S., it seemed everyone was trying very hard to be American. In Canada, you can just be who you are, and be proud of it. You don’t need to change who you are to be Canadian.”