I consider myself extremely fortunate to have been able to grow up where I did. During my childhood, no matter what school I went to, there was always a wide range of students with different racial, ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and different lifestyles, experiences and interests. Not only was everyone included, but everyone was also celebrated. As a young girl, I did not understand the significance of diversity. I have to admit that perhaps the only reason why I loved it so much was that it meant more food and games on Multicultural Day.
As I entered high school, however, things around me changed. Our classroom slowly became more homogeneous. One year, two students (one girl, one boy) of First Nations descent left. The next year, we lost a Latina with whom I was very close. There was no more Multicultural Day nor Multicultural club. It didn’t bother me too much at first: there was still a pretty large group of Chinese Canadians like me that I liked to hang around with.
During high school, I fell in love with learning new languages, partly because of my family’s tendency to go traveling, partly because of my Latina friend who left. I took advantage of the courses my school offered, learning both French and Spanish. Through these classes I began to rebuild my understanding of other cultures and the rest of the world. But I didn’t just want to learn about these incredibly rich cultures – I wanted to share them. The problem was that there was no one to share them with.
The fact that my school was becoming less diverse, and less culturally aware, bothered me. I observed that my language classes were getting smaller, and my friends were starting to go to a coffee shop at lunch on days when the school served naan and butter chicken or chow mein, instead of sandwiches or pizza.
However, once in a while, something would happen to assure me that hope for cultural diversity at my school was not completely lost. For example, once a year, the junior school would celebrate their Multicultural Day. Music would often flow up to the senior school. Students would dance along and sometimes head down to join the younger kids if they had spares. When a new exchange program opened this year, more than half of the students in my grade applied, including myself. The thought of being able to go to another country, in this case, France or Spain, for two months, was extremely thrilling to any teenager.
High school students are busy. Maybe people were dropping language classes simply because they couldn’t fit them into their schedule. Maybe students were going off campus for lunch simply because the library is right beside the coffee shop.
I want to be a part of a community that is comprised of people from all over the world. I want to be a part of a community that is interested in learning about different cultures. I want to be a part of a community that is both accepting and expressive. And I think that my school, however flawed, represents that community for me.