If you were to see me in school, I’d most likely be surrounded by Asian friends, but even though they all look more or less alike, their roots sprawl across the entire globe. One of them is an international student from Vietnam, and another grew up in rural Japan. I think that having friends of all backgrounds is pretty cool. Once in a while you get to hear about all the things they and their family do, and it reminds you of how different people are and how fascinating others’ lives are. Of course, none of our cultural practices or skin colours really affect day to day life. We still spend our time complaining about homework and making plans for the weekend. We don’t talk about our background because it’s just not relevant most of the time.
The thing is, I didn’t realize that Vancouver was special regarding multiculturalism. I assumed that the diversity I saw in school and in the community was common the world over. I made friends of all ethnicities and ate “funny” foreign foods in school without giving it a second thought. Multiculturalism was just a lame school concept to a 10-year-old me. It wasn’t until I traveled abroad that I realized Canada, and especially Vancouver, is incredibly unique in its sheer diversity. There was a massive drop in diversity even when I travelled to other major Canadian cities, not to mention the rest of the world. Take japan, I was there this past spring break, and though it was tourist season, seeing a white or a black face amongst the crowds was like finding El Dorado.
Something I’ve noticed since attending high school is how the word “multiculturalism” is becoming increasingly abstract. We have the occasional Multicultural Day to “celebrate diversity,” but no one really attends the events. We discuss how multiculturalism affects our nation, but we never discuss how it affects us on the individual level. Gradually, I’ve stopped seeing the multiculturalism around me, and the word became just another academic term to discuss in socials class but not something I experience every day.
How multiculturalism has affected me is a bit harder to define. There are small things like the fact that my friend couldn’t come with me to a barbecue because he follows Jainism. There are also larger consequences to my character and personality. For example, what if I never moved to Canada? Well, I’d probably be in a classroom with 29 other Chinese kids somewhere in Xi’An. We may learn about other cultures’ customs and traditions, but I’d certainly never experience Diwali or Passover firsthand. How would that change me as a person? How would it affect my group of friends? Living in Vancouver has exposed me to different cuisines and festivals. But more importantly, I feel more comfortable around different people and cultures.
I didn’t think much about multiculturalism before writing this article. I didn’t even notice its existence. Multiculturalism is so omnipresent here in Vancouver that it’s woven into the very fabric of society. It’s easy to spot once you start trying; I can see it everywhere from the school cafeteria selling souvlaki to singing the national anthem in both English and French. Though we can’t always see or hear multiculturalism, it envelopes us every waking moment in this beautiful city.