My experience with integration in Vancouver

Photo by Jennifer C. | Flickr

These days, many Canadians are proud to call our country multicultural and diverse. Along with saying ‘eh’ and living in igloos, Canada is also known internationally for being a kind and welcoming place. As a nation, we can look back to Canada’s history and the decades of oppression, negligence and exploitation of minority groups and say that we have changed. Because most citizens in Canada were at some point immigrants, there’s an ongoing debate about whether Canada is assimilating or integrating people.

Like most Canadians, I immigrated to Canada. Granted I was just three months old, therefore all I’ve ever known growing up were the streets of Vancouver. Seeing as I am half Asian and half European, I’ve often thought about my ethnic identity and whether I fit in with either culture, not to mention in North America, a completely different continent.

French was my maternal language, then came Chinese. When I entered kindergarten, I didn’t know English. During the day, I went to a French school and in the evening I attended Chinese school. To this day, I’ve never been to an English school, so how is it that English is currently the language I’m most comfortable with? Whichever it is, assimilated or integrated, I now feel like a Canadian more than ever, having mixed my two ethnic cultures to form a new one.

I was lucky to be exposed to different cultures in my childhood by participating in festivals, events and through the different community centres my parents registered me to. I was able to meet many other children from diverse cultural backgrounds; at a very young age, multiculturalism had become my reality.

I remember participating in numerous theater classes. A notable performance was that of a play inspired by Anne of Green Gables a couple of years ago. I had read the book before learning the play, possibly the first Canadian literature novel I’ve enjoyed. However, thinking back, I don’t remember learning about or doing obvious ‘Canadian’ things, because for me, Vancouver’s identity was shaped by those who inhabited it.

Another memorable event that I fondly look back on is the historic 2010 Winter Olympics. I remember a joyful and exciting ambiance, the big screens where we would gather to cheer on our favourite hockey team and the voices of so many singing our national anthem. It might be nostalgia talking, but to me, I was seeing different cultural groups coming out to celebrate being Canadian… in addition to all the gold medals we won.

A distinct memory that has stuck in my mind throughout the years is that of my visit to eastern Canada. After meeting people in small majoritarily caucasian towns, I realized the importance of diversity. Multiculturalism in Vancouver has allowed me to broaden my point of view of the world, in turn making me a more empathetic and tolerant person. The people I met coming from those small towns were most likely not malicious with their offhand remarks, but rather misinformed and narrow-minded.

Growing up as a mixed child has been confusing at times, for others and myself. To give my personal point of view on the matter at the beginning, Vancouver has made me feel more integrated than assimilated. Thanks to the diversity of cultures, traditions and religions, I’ve never quite felt like an imposter in this city. Other places in the world and even in our country aren’t as tolerant to multiculturalism. So even with all its flaws, I know how lucky I am to be able to live in Vancouver where celebrating differences is seemingly encouraged.

Because I grew up in the city, I have a limited perspective on this subject. It would be interesting to extend this conversation to other immigrants, those coming from completely different cultural backgrounds and speaking different languages. Do they feel more integrated or assimilated in the City of Vancouver?