I have never had the skin tightening feeling of growing out of a space, of packing a suitcase and finding my somewhere new. Vancouver is my perpetual somewhere new, a community transient, fluid and ever-evolving. It’s my someone new I met in passing on the SkyTrain. It’s my new discovery of an Indian-Chinese fusion place on my street, and it’s the new multicultural festival being put on in Stanley Park this summer. I don’t need to find a somewhere new because Vancouver is not the same place it was 20 years ago, and it certainly won’t be the same place 20 years from now.
Moving to Canada and finding my home in a sea of foreign faces was never a part of my narrative, but it is the reason I am here now. My great-great-grandfather sailed from his native Punjab to British Columbia nearly a hundred years ago, searching for a better future for his family in an unknown and unforgiving world. He came to Canada to work on the railroad and had a hand in helping expand the tiny Punjabi population through his work building the first temple in British Columbia. However, throughout his time here, he never gained acceptance and was never viewed as an equal. His story is not so different from many others who have experienced immigration in Canada. Being from a family of original Punjabi pioneers, this is a story that has been reiterated countless times, held up as a reason to be grateful for being born in an era of change. It has also given me the understanding that British Columbia has not always been this multicultural mosaic of communities and acceptance.
When my mother and father grew up in Surrey in the 1970’s, they were the only non-white kids in their entire high school. They had to face daily discrimination, relentless bullying and intolerance because of how they looked and the religion they practiced. They never gave up hope for a better future, of a more tolerant British Columbia. The fight for acceptance from the immigrants of the past is the reason why we can have Vaisakhi in Vancouver, and why I have never been sneered at or endured racist slurs on the street. There will always be struggles as a member of a minority, but sometimes it is easy to forget just how far we have come on the backs of the people who fought before us.
Diversity in my parents’ generation meant being able to find one or two other Indian families in their town. Diversity to me meant growing up in a classroom where you could fling a dart haphazardly into a map and find someone who had roots there. A classroom where you could take Mandarin and Punjabi as second language classes. I am reminded of how much Metro Vancouver is growing when I stop in my daily commute from work to admire the paper lanterns set up in shop windows for Chinese New Year. How the sky is littered with light and the air is filled with the cacophony of firecrackers from all the families during Diwali.
In my opinion, British Columbia has transformed into a society where differences are celebrated and shared, a far cry from the classrooms that my parents attended and the mills that my great-great grandfather worked in. It is the reason why I have never wanted to find my somewhere new, because I am not alone in my otherness. This is why I am proud to be from British Columbia, it is a community that has evolved from its past, and I am looking forward to how it will keep evolving in the future.