The Landing of Columbus is one of eight large scenes in the Capitol Rotunda, all iconic to Americans. Half show the European immigrants whose descendants founded the United States.
Kieran Edling, Brian Monkman and Jennifer Khurana have something in common with these adventurous souls – the three came to the United States in search of opportunity.
Though, admittedly, their paths were a little easier.
These three are all Canadians, part of a diaspora of more than 800,000 living and working in the United States. Like many of their American neighbours, they’re deeply engaged in a political race that will affect their futures.
The three are also members of The Globe and Mail’s network of Canadian expats, a group we put together to translate U.S. political issues for readers back home during the 2012 election. (Read more about the project) A few of us met in September in the nation’s capital. The Capitol building was the first stop on our Washington tour.
Kieran Edling left Toronto for La Salle University in Philadelphia in 2006 on a swimming scholarship. He’s now working on his MBA. He’s got at least a year left before he graduates, and then a few more months on his visa to find work or he has to move back to Canada.
“I’ve been very fortunate,” he tells me later. “I’ve been here for six years now, in school. ... I’ve had a lot of opportunity here, but I worry that with the economy that opportunity might not still be there for me. Because I would like to stay – at least for a little bit.”
Mr. Edling likes the spectacle of Washington’s monuments and has visited the city a few times. “It’s built to impress,” he says.
It was Brian Monkman’s idea to meet up in the first place. Mr. Monkman, who lives near Harrisburg, the capital of Pennsylvania, has been south the longest. He jumped from former tech giant Nortel in Ottawa 13 years ago, before the crash, and now works in network security.
We stop by the Canadian embassy on the way to lunch. The modernist building (designed by B.C.’s Arthur Erickson) is the closest embassy to the Capitol, an indication of the two highly integrated economies.
Mr. Monkman tells us how much he used to like the embassy’s Canada Day parties, where expats would gather on July 1. The embassy downsized the celebrations last year, to much dismay, in the name of austerity.
After we tour the National Mall – a park studded with breathtaking memorials to great men and awful wars – we’re planning to meet up with another Canadian expat.
Jennifer Khurana is a human-rights lawyer who has lived in Washington for a few years, after a career abroad that included a stint at the International Criminal Court in the Netherlands.
Ms. Khurana is impressed by the U.S. work ethic – but also puzzled by it.
“I feel bad for people here. They’re struggling. They work so hard,” she says.
As Ms. Khurana points out, they don’t take much time off. The United States is one of the few industrialized countries without guaranteed leave for employees. Canada is much different – it mandates at least two weeks of paid leave, with eight federal statutory holidays.
Maternity leave is even worse, Ms. Khurana says. Canada allows for 50 weeks of paid leave that can be shared between parents. The United States? Twelve weeks – unpaid.
Kieran Edling, Brian Monkman and Jennifer Khurana are all in the United States on visas. While they’re voracious political observers, none of them can vote.
Their American spouses, on the other hand, can.
Kathy Monkman, Brian’s wife, from nearby Maryland, is an ardent Obama supporter. She says the President’s done the best he can in a difficult, polarizing environment.
Holly Biro, Mr. Edling’s girlfriend, from New Jersey, will be voting for the first time in her life this year. She had one big reason for finally going to the ballot box. “Honestly, because I just don’t like Mitt Romney. I don’t want to see him become the president.”
(It should be noted: Canadians are naturally a Democrat-leaning bunch, as was confirmed for me in a recent chat with the head of Republicans Abroad in Toronto. We do have Republicans in The Globe’s network of expats, though none of them could make it to D.C.)
We wrap up the day with dinner in a trendy bistro in the U Street corridor. Like many neighbourhoods in downtown Washington, it’s gentrified after many years plagued with crime. The sidewalks are packed with Saturday-night partiers and the neon lights of Ben’s Chili Bowl blaze across the street.
I think of the other two who planned to join us, Stefan Neata and Michelle Curry. Both were held up by the opportunities that brought them into the United States.
For Ms. Curry in Baltimore, it was family. Her husband, a soldier, had to suddenly report for duty on the weekend, leaving her to watch their two young children at home.
For Mr. Neata in New York, it was his job. He came to the United States to study at Harvard, and is now an investment banker on Wall Street. He e-mailed us on the eve of the meetup at 9 p.m., telling us he was still at work and likely to be there all weekend.
I ask Mr. Edling, Mr. Monkman and Ms. Khurana if they plan to stay in the United States for the long term. Ms. Khurana says the goal is to eventually get back home. Mr. Monkman is more considered – it depends on the circumstances, but he’s happy here.
Mr. Edling would like to stay. But for him, it all rests on opportunity.
This is part of our U.S. Election 2012: Canadians in America series– expats talking about life and politics south of the border. Check out our map showing many of the contributions from across the country.