I am originally from Malaysia – a country that prides itself on being multicultural – but I spent the majority of my childhood abroad. I have always thought that my exposure to different countries and cultures meant that I have a firm understanding of multiculturalism.
Despite my international upbringing, I spent the majority of my childhood in diplomatic enclaves of foreign countries. I was mostly situated in neighbourhoods occupied by diplomats and expatriates, not immersed in cultures different from my own. Hence, my experience of living in Vancouver as a foreign national without the comfort of being surrounded by my fellow countrymen, has been particularly eye-opening, as it has forced me to re-evaluate my understanding of multiculturalism.
Since my move to Vancouver to pursue my undergraduate degree, I have come to realise that multiculturalism should be more than just a buzzword for “what makes Vancouver amazing.” Of all the places I have lived in, Vancouver definitely stands out to me as the most diverse and multicultural place. The city boasts a very diverse demographic – a cosmopolitan city where individuals with roots from different corners of the globe can be found.
However, what makes Vancouver multicultural should be about more than just its statistics. Multiculturalism has affected the social and economic landscape of the city, especially with the thriving businesses and communities of different cultures, and this is something Vancouverites should be proud of.
For example, the neighbourhood of Kitsilano recently celebrated Greek Day with a street carnival featuring the best of Greek culture. Kitsilano is also home to many authentic Greek restaurants, grocers and small enterprises, like barbershops. Meanwhile, in East Vancouver, a walk down Main Street will expose pedestrians to Filipino restaurants, remittance services to the Philippines and various social hubs for the Filipino community.
These experiences can be found with the Korean and Italian communities in the West End and on Commercial Drive respectively. In addition, I am also reminded of the First Nations and Aboriginal communities of this land when I encounter the beautiful artworks, at Stanley Park for example, around town. What is more rewarding is that one can see a diverse clientele visiting and engaging with these establishments. People of different cultures are open to participating in the culture of others.
However, Vancouver’s story as a multicultural hub is not entirely perfect. There have been debates in the city recently after a recent wave of immigrants were criticised for not fully integrating themselves into the local community. The lack of integration, according to critics, has ruined the identity and cityscape of Vancouver while negatively affecting aspects of the city’s economy, such as housing prices and employment opportunities. The lack of integration among several groups of foreign nationals has sparked debates about the identity of Vancouver as a multicultural hub, and peoples’ levels of tolerance and acceptance.
In addition, the welfare of First Nations people has been a public concern, and it is disheartening to see a culture not being able to flourish to the extent of others.
Despite the imperfections, I believe that Vancouver has a lot of potential to be a multicultural hub on a global stage. My experience of writing for The Source only affirms that conviction as I have engaged with business owners, non-profit executives and government officials who are determined to make Vancouver a more multicultural city. They are very keen in sharing their culture to the local community, whether through public events or business engagements. In addition, I hope that Vancouver and its people will continue to welcome and support the ambitions of people of different cultures. Similarly, I hope that every individual, regardless of their culture, would continue to contribute to this city and give back to the city that has supported them.