Setareh arrives in Toronto
Setareh is nothing short of magic. A kind and cheerful person who could charm a rock, Setareh came to Toronto in 2009. When she first arrived, Setareh immediately called her family to let them know where she was—safe in Canada. They couldn’t believe it: “You are joking!” they said. They laughed together and breathed a sigh of relief that only comes when you know your loved ones are safe. After the laughter subsided, her parents who were in the United States at the time asked to come visit her. The only problem? She was staying in a shelter. A visit would have to wait. Staying in a shelter would not stand for Setareh’s relatives in the GTA—her second phone call after arriving. They came and picked her up the next morning. Then, they took her to Tim Hortons and invited her to live with them until her apartment was ready.

“Now you know where you are”
One summer day shortly after Setareh moved in with her family members, her uncle took her to Pride. Toronto Pride has evolved over the decades. At the time, it involved a single parade—and more centrally to the story—was new to Setareh. Pride was unfamiliar to Setareh in part because she grew up in and had to flee to places where people could not be openly queer without risk. Setareh simply had not encountered public expressions of queer identity. When Setareh started to feel uncomfortable at the parade, she turned to her uncle quizzically. Reading her expression, he asked her: “Do you know why I brought you here? I want to let you know - you have come to a free country. From now on, you know where you are.”

Starting over again and again… and again
This memory of freedom to be oneself has stayed with Setareh over the years. So too has her experience of moving into her first apartment. The church sponsorship group assisted Setareh in finding a great apartment and secured all the furniture. They also helped Setareh and her then-husband move in and get set up with bank accounts. In the process, they built friendships that far outlasted the sponsorship period.

Setareh was finally in her own place.
Yet as many newcomers to Canada have experienced, this settling down would be one of many. Setareh moved multiple times in her initial years, experienced difficult family transitions, navigated life with a physical disability, and lived through “culture shock… everything.” Life in Toronto can be wonderful, but it can also be incredibly hard on newcomers in ways that go unseen by Canadians. Case in point: On her first day in Toronto, Setareh was pushed down by a stranger at the CN Tower. But Setareh is tough. She got back up and continued on, displaying the resilience she would embody time and time again as she rebuilt her life in Toronto. Through relationships forged in kindness and incredible determination, Setareh eventually went to school, built a home, and made countless friends.

Building community with humour, hope, and kindness
Setareh’s citizenship ceremony stands as a testament to the big and beautiful life she has created. Typically, new citizens have been allowed to invite one guest to attend the ceremony. Setareh somehow missed this detail—and showed up with 16 people! Friends from the original sponsor group joined together with family members and newer friends to celebrate Setareh’s remarkable, ongoing journey in Canada. Thankfully, all 16 guests were given special dispensation to join. They watched on proudly as Setareh was called to the front and later plucked out of the line to meet the judge—pictured here. Beaming and laughing, Setareh looked back at the community she’d built in Toronto, one she had forged in her characteristic humour, tenacity, and unfailing kindness.



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