Those who travel frequently expose themselves to the nuances of each new “world” even when they exist in a shared country. From the true metropolitan cities to small, mountainside villages each place has a breath and pace independent from the rest. There is a tradeoff though, an exchange of city bustle and diversity for the countryside’s ambiance and natural beauty. Only a few places can fuse the two, and Vancouver is one of those few.
Vancouver also has the great honour of being tied for first place with Toronto as the most diverse city in Canada (according to a 2011 study by the National Household Survey). There are only a handful of places on this earth where if you took two random people off the street at any given moment that the chances are neither of them will come from the same ethnic background –
it is only too easy to imagine that here in Vancouver.
Vancouver has made itself the picture of universal unity over the years, boasting proud members of many diverse religions (Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Christians and more) with ample representation of any culture’s cuisine (the real question in Vancouver’s food scene is where CAN’T you find sushi?) But, with this great pride and badge of cultural diversity comes the responsibility of maintaining freedom, respect and individual cohesion; this responsibility is the test that puts the fears of xenophobia and the horrors of ostracization on full display.
Many residents of other cities (and even whole countries) struggle under the fear of losing their own identity in the rush of new faces; it is a fear that has galvanized neighbourhoods the world over and led to headlines with an equally alarming frequency.
All too often people scream “assimilation” as if homogeneity is the end to our fears and diversity the cloud that rains on us. It is a fear that exposes the worst of human habits. It is a fear that does not exist in Vancouver. It is a fear that has no meaning in a city where your boss could be white from France, a coworker Chinese born in Richmond, your bus driver Pakistani by way of Toronto and the person standing next to you Songhees First Nations. What place does xenophobia have where immigrants work hard to meet new friends, enjoy the pleasures of city life and share their stories openly and freely? Where can ignorance hide when street signs break language barriers, and every summer is filled with cultural festivals as diverse as the countries represented in each neighborhood.
Vancouver has made itself a home for many; intolerance is not one.
I was born in Victoria BC, not far from Vancouver, a scenic drive and picturesque ferry ride away. Like Vancouver, Victoria has been blessed with mountains, greenery, the ocean and a relaxed spirit. But Victoria lacks a certain flavour, a type of character that oozes up from the streets or a style illuminated by store windows. Victoria, though close in proximity, is far behind in diversity. It has attained both a peaceful quiet and an odd but subtle monochrome; it has earned its moniker as the “home for the newly wed and the nearly dead.” The jubilant faces that don’t quite blend and the cacophony of distinct languages sets Vancouver at arm’s length from almost any other place on earth and with the mountains, oceans and its pocket-sized techno metropolis vibe Vancouver stands further away.
But this is not a city that sees itself as the center of the world or even the world encapsulated. Vancouver is a city that welcomes the world and offers all sorts of things to bring the world in closer. The ugliness that mars many cities cannot be seen in Vancouver, and its of use to no one that anyone is exactly the same. Freedom isn’t free, but here, diversity is on the receipt.