On the first day of my journalism class, not only was I late but I was lost. My classroom was located around a corner, tucked away, nearly impossible to find. Unfortunately for me, everyone else managed to find it.
As I walked in, interrupting my professor, all of my classmates turned to look at me. I stared back at them scanning the room for a place to sit. In a room of about 20 people, I was one of three people of colour. For the first time in my life, I felt like an outsider. I wanted to quit the program altogether within the first two weeks, not because someone had said something to me, but because I felt like I didn’t belong. I had never been a minority in my neighbourhood and now all of a sudden in that classroom, I was alone. Being in that room made me feel insecure about who I was; I looked different, I thought differently and no one could pronounce my name correctly. The lack of understanding between the collectivistic culture in which I grew up compared to the individualistic culture of my classmates made me overwhelmingly uncomfortable. I knew I had to be the one to adjust.
Growing up as an Indo-Canadian in Southeast Vancouver, I was surrounded by culture. In school, we celebrated Multicultural Day where students dressed up in traditional attire and learned about the different cultures we all came from. Because diversity was all around me as a child I thought all of Vancouver was multicultural. It only made sense, right? We hear about it all the time, politicians and media outlets rave about the mosaic that is Vancouver, but what they don’t tell you is that diversity is limited to the neighbourhood you live in.
The community I live in today is a result of generations of immigrants that came before me. When my mother arrived in Canada from India about 30 odd years ago, Vancouver was a very different city; it was here that she learned what racism is. She and her siblings were mocked for wearing their traditional Indian clothing, the way they spoke and the food they ate. They were unable to find jobs and encountered racism regularly. They had to adjust. Their experience was one of many faced by immigrants who moved to this city to create a better life for their families. As a result, neighbourhoods like my own were formed; little pockets where people from different cultures gathered to live so they could help one another and be a part of a community that understood them.
Today, my neighbourhood is occupied by Indian grocery stores, Asian bakeries, Greek, Filipino and Thai restaurants, among many others.
Every year, the community comes together to celebrate Vaisakhi – a festival that marks the harvest in Sikh culture. The inclusive event features a parade, performances and an abundance of food being given out. Many come dressed up in traditional Indian attire, people form long line-ups to get a taste of what’s been cooked and Indian music flows through speakers.
It wasn’t until I began University that I realized the limitations of diversity.
University was just the beginning, the more I ventured outside of my neighbourhood the more I realized that all my life I had lived in a bubble. Other than a few specific areas, Vancouver lacks cultural diversity. We talk about diversity, we celebrate it, we pride ourselves in it, but when I walk around parts of this city, I feel the same way I did on my first day of class.