What living and growing up in Canada has taught me is that the notion of “acceptance of all” is not a concept that is introduced or implemented everywhere in the world. This was not something that I ever even considered during my time in Sri Lanka. On the other hand, I never thought about being judged negatively due to my skin colour until I was exposed to it by moving to Vancouver.
I understand why it is different in North America though. I was only a baby when the attacks of September 11, 2001 happened. Yet, I feel the repercussions of it when I walk into a group interview. I feel them when I visit my sister up north because suburbia does not give grave looks to just anyone. I feel them every time I walk into an airport or down the street. It just means that I have to smile twice as hard.
They say that you don’t know what you have until you don’t have it anymore. This is true. Undeniable acceptance of all cultures is great, so long as it is not paired with assumptions. It is irritating when people assume that I am Indian, or when they label me as “brown,” because “it’s basically the same thing anyways.” It is not the same thing, and I’m a proud Sri Lankan-Canadian.
The worst case of assumptions I’ve ever experienced was when I visited Saskatoon with my family last summer.
Let me set the scene for you. It was thirty-one degrees in mid-August 2015, and we were heading home from our big Vancouver-to-Winnipeg family road trip. We had been stuck in the car until, finally, we stopped at a restaurant. They had Wi-Fi, and after hours of endless fields, we were grateful.
The waitress at the restaurant handed us menus for samosas, biryani and other Indian foods. I was confused because I wanted what the (Caucasian) man eating at the next table had: a burger and a plate of fries. I waited ten minutes and asked the waitress if I could have what he was having, to which she replied, “Oh, you wanted the Canadian menu?”
Thinking about it now, I would say that maybe I overreacted just a tiny bit. That is what living in a city like Vancouver does. I am not saying that multiculturalism does not exist in Saskatoon, I am sure it does, but I had never been in a situation like that before.
Let’s just say that in a partially calm manner, my sister and I spoke to her and the manager (who was Punjabi, which left me even more surprised). Then we proceeded to leave and eat at KFC, which didn’t make me feel any better.
The moral of this story is simple. This was not an act of racism. The colour of my skin should not determine how I get treated.
This experience made me more thankful for living in Vancouver. We take our diversity for granted, but it is important to realize that diversity varies everywhere. Unfortunately, not everyone gets to live in a city that is so enriched with culture like Vancouver is. Multiculturalism and acceptance are two things that you do not get to fully recognize until you are put in a situation in which they are not as apparent.
I can honestly say that I have spent half my life growing up in Sri Lanka and the other half here, in Vancouver, Canada. Admittedly, I am glad that my parents chose Vancouver, Canada as opposed to anywhere else.