Not my first winter
Having lived in Canada for nearly 14 years, one could say that snow has become a natural part of my life. I expect that every winter, an unreasonably crazy amount of snow will cover Regina, leaving behind icy roads, heaps of shoveling to be done, and happy children wanting to build snowmen and forts.
But, it seems many people still think it is right to ask, ‘so, you must be shocked to see all this snow for the first time, eh? I bet it doesn’t snow where you’re from.’
Perhaps what’s even more disturbing about this question is that it’s masked behind a very stereotypical and oriental tone – be it intentional or not. People see someone who doesn’t look like them or dress like them, and the automatic assumption is, ‘oh the poor immigrant, running away from her war-torn country to come to Canada.’
Let me give you an example.
This weekend, a friend and I were in Victoria Park, when we were approached by a curious woman. Typically, I think curiosity is a great trait to have. Curious people are usually not afraid of asking questions and learning new things. Curious people are open to discussing issues and expanding their horizons. But, there are the occasional curious folks who aren’t so much interested in learning something new, as they are looking to reaffirm their previously held beliefs.
In any case, we were approached by this woman who wanted to know how we felt about seeing all this snow for the first time. The woman never asked us where we were from, or our names, or how we were doing. She just saw two uniquely dressed individuals that didn’t fit into her understanding of, dare I say, ‘normal’ Canadians. The conversation became more entrenched in oriental stereotyping as she went on to describe how peaceful of a country Canada is, and how lucky people are to have a place to come to when they are fleeing countries like ours – countries that are ridden with corruption, war, and violence.
When did being a Canadian mean an individual had to lose his or her individuality and identity, to fit into what is perceived to be a Canadian? Why are immigrants seen as ‘poor souls’ running away from violence?
While perhaps curious to hear our thoughts, the woman approached the conversation not willing to learn something new, but rather wanting replies to reaffirm her stereotypes.
These divisions we end up creating – the ‘them’ versus ‘us’ syndrome – really destroys our sense of community. We all have our individuality and we express ourselves in different ways. This isn’t a bad thing. This is a beautiful part of what creates a healthy society. Our differences encourage diversity to thrive. In the multicultural mosaic we live in, why push for assimilation when we can enrich ourselves with the different cultures, traditions, and practices that surround us, and celebrate the stories and histories that people bring to this country.
At the same time, we also need to remember the roots and history of our Indigenous brothers and sisters. Canada has its own history of colonization and occupation that we cannot forget, and all of us need to remember that we have come to live on this land as guests of our Indigenous hosts.
So, let’s not divide and conquer. Let’s not go into conversations looking to reaffirm what we believe. Let’s actually take the time to see people, hear what they have to say, and engage in their stories and histories.
Photo illustration by Edward Dodd