I live in a city that has about a million people. When my memory began, there were about a third of that. The ethnic and racial composition of my home town has changed greatly in the last forty years. Like any mid-sized city, it’s a natural progression to become more cosmopolitan.
When I was a kid, the people who were different from me weren’t from Syria or Columbia. They weren’t from South or East Asia. They weren’t gay or any other member of the LGBQT community (I don’t think there is a community centre). They were French. Or they were Protestant. And they looked like me. If we were on a bus or on the ice, I couldn’t tell that they were different from me or my family unless we compared swears or prayers.
I’m over fifty and I can probably come within one or two of naming every kid I went to school with up until grade six who was First Nations, Indian, Jewish, Jehovah’s Witness, Jamaican, Chinese, African-Canadian … really, there might have been fewer than a dozen and I can name ten.
My Grandmother didn’t want my mother to date a Protestant boy. I was sometimes embarrassed in public school when I knew the Catholic version of the Lord’s Prayer when all my Anglican friends thought that was weird. Every hockey dressing room I stepped into started out with the French kids on one side and the English kids on another. Until we played a few games and won and lost and bled for each other. Then we started sitting with our line mates and our defensive partners, language be damned. Foxhole friendships made as eleven year-olds.
I was on the bus today. Coming from an appointment downtown. I am a straight white male, English speaking, who has had all the opportunity in the world. And I was riding with a lot of new Canadians and soon-to-be Canadians and when I made a point to put down my phone and stop looking at Facebook, I looked at some people. The kids I would go to school with if I were a generation or two younger. The people I may have played soccer with and high-fived had we won a tough game. An Asian woman and her infant beside a Middle Eastern woman and her infant. They had similar strollers and the children laughed just the same because they couldn’t yet speak different languages and the mums each loved the beautiful weather and didn’t look forward to riding the bus in the winter. They, we, you and me, are all the same. It’s so obvious when you look for it.
So here’s to Stewart, Pauline, Gary, Narayan, Brad, J.P., Kerry, Kenny, Joanna, and Chris. I hope it wasn’t that bad for you.
It should be just so obvious. But I guess it still isn’t. Maybe some day.