Hello again from the land of traffic, line ups, and retail!
Another fine week living in the Roney’s basement. We now call ourselves "the people who live under the stairs" and that seems to elicit a few interesting responses. Halloween was fun despite the lack of trick or treaters. I carved a pumpkin, which I haven’t done for years, I also baked the seeds and ate them – yum yum! Martha, the next door neighbour and I, bored by the lack of door action, grabbed our drinks (wine & a martini repsectively) and some plastic bags and hit the cul de sac for some goodies. No one was able to guess our costume – alcoholics – which seemed fairly obvious but they did get a good laugh and we got candies and chocolate in return (a fair trade indeed).
While waiting for our upcoming trip to Little Cayman, the Prez and I have, sadly, not been up to anything terribly interesting. That does not mean, however, that my little brain is not buzzing with all kinds of nonsense. We watched the movie "Ghandi" this week which I have never seen from start to finish. If you have never seen it, or if it has been a while since you last saw it, it bears watching. I have heard and read mixed accounts of what type of person Ghandi really was but, saint or sinner, no one can deny that this man accomplished what most of us would consider impossible – the ousting of the British empire from India through peaceful means and the uniting (however temporary) of Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus.
I’m fairly ignorant about the Indian culture, although not quite as much as I used to be, and I have to admit that India is very low on my list of places to visit. Watching the movie and knowing a little bit about India’s more recent history, including the terror and atrocities suffered under the rule of Indira Ghandi, I thought about the East Indian kids I went to school with.
I grew up in North Delta, which is now often referred to as "North Delhi" because of the high Indian population there, but it wasn’t always that way. In 1974, the year we moved there, Delta was as WASP as it gets. Our neighbourhood was whiter than a movie star’s teeth. We did have one black family that lived kitty-corner to us, but very briefly and I can’t say I remember them at any barbeques or Xmas parties. As a kid, I found other races exotic and fascinating in a they’re-cool-when-they-live-in-far-off-lands-but-not-so-cool-when-they’re-two-houses-down-the-road kind of way.
In the early 80’s the Indians began to arrive. We called them East Indians but they may have come from any part of the country, we didn’t ask nor did we care. We knew them by their houses – lime green, bright pink or yellow, with the unmistakable odour of curry wafting from them. They might as well have come from planet Grogonia, that’s how different they seemed to us.
In junior high school they were openly despised by most of the kids. The Indian kids were walking targets for adolescent torment; the girls in their brightly coloures saris and tiny sandals (worn even on snowy days), the boys always acting ridiculously macho in tight (non-flared) Kmart jeans, cowboy boots, gaudy gold jewellry and turbans (for some). Pakis and Rag Heads, that’s what the kids called them. They huddled together during lunch time and we all avoided them.
Was I a racist?
I didn’t think of myself in those terms. I did not call them names. But I also did not stop anyone else from calling them names or try to defend them in any way. Looking back, it was good old fear and ignorance that kept our cultures apart – and that is the foundation that racism is based on. So, yes, I will call myself a racist at that point in my life.
As someone who has lived in places where I was the visible minority who didn’t speak the language, the idea that new immigrants should damn well learn the language and blend in seems naive at best and mean spirited at worst. I have tried my best to do both; it is difficult and by no means guarantees acceptance. Besides, there are a lot of things like about my culture and I don’t want to give them up no matter where I live.
There is a very anti-immigrant email circulating in cyberspace credited, of all people, to Robin Williams. Be aware that this email is a hoax. But hoax or not it has some very inflamatory statements in it designed to push all the right fear and ignorance buttons. I think what folks in North America tend to forget is that we are all the descendents of immigrants and, in the case of europeans, our forefathers and foremothers were not exactly known for their willingness to blend in. So let’s look at some of the most familiar anti-immigrant battle cries and see how they fare with the first immigrants to North America (I won’t call them settlers because the land was already settled by other folks!).
#1 – If they want to come to our country they should learn to speak the language! Yes, I’m sure the colonists diligently sought to learn Cree, Cherokee, Mohican, Haida, Coast Salish, or whatever the local dialect was in their chosen area.
#2 – Criminals are coming in to our country. I say if we find out they’re criminals we should just ship them back to where they came from! In England, criminals were offered a choice between death by hanging or deportment to the colonies. Yes ladies and gentlemen, don’t kid yourselves, along with all those pious pilgrims came a healthy dose of lawless scumbags.
#3 – And speaking of criminals, these immigrants come here and bring all their turf, gang and religious wars with them! Oh, you mean like the British and the French? The Italian and Irish mafias? The salem witch burners? You mean like that?
#4 – They should learn to blend in. I mean, having your own beliefs is fine but they should still learn to dress like us and integrate into our culture. And that is why so many historic illustrations and paintings depict the colonists wearing traditional first nation’s clothing and getting together for a nice pot latch
#5 – They call themselves the ‘minority’, ha! We’re the minority, they’re taking over our country. Well, this one really needs no explanation, does it?
#6 – They come here and just take advantage of our systems! Hey, what do ya say you give us all that land over there for these beautiful shiny beads? Oh here, we’ll even throw in some whiskey just because we like you!
OK, OK, I could go on and on but I hope you get the point. But before the "you’re such a bleeding heart liberal" emails come flooding in, let me clarify a few things. I strongly believe immigration should be tightly controlled, criminals should be kept out and new immigrants should make an effort to learn the language and culture of their new country.I also know from first hand experience that white people do not own the patent on racism and that many other races are far more intolerant than we are. I just also believe in the inevitability of evolution. We white folk came in and took over North America, through mostly violent and deceitful means, and someday someone may take over from us. If we wake up one day and find that there’s barely a white, english speaking person to be found it will suck for those of us unwilling to adapt, but not for the racial majority – just as it sucked for the indigenous people when we all moved in.
I suppose my point here is that it is healthy to stop thinking in terms of "us" and "them" but simply, "we". We are good and bad people. We are people who want to work hard and succeed and we are lazy bums who want to live off welfare. We love our friends and families, we hate our enemies. We try to do the right thing but we often fail. We are human.
I wish I’d taken that frightening step across the line of "us" and "them" at Burnsview Junior High. I bet in that huddled mass of immigrants were some really cool people with interesting stories to tell. I wonder if I had done that would other kids have followed? If one tiny man in a loincloth could bring down the most powerful empire in the world could I have brought down just a small social barrier? I’ll never know.
"Be the change you want to see in the world."
–Mohandas (Mahatma) Ghandi
Want to learn more about India’s culture? Some good books: A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry (heartbreaking), The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy (an eye opening look at the caste sytem), The Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Movies: Ghandi, Bend it Like Beckham (to name just a few).
Until next week I hope this finds everyone healthy, happy & lovin’ life! Namaste.