Ask the right questions before you vote
By SHAGORIKA EASWAR
Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto once again made it to the top 10 most liveable cities in the world, ranked on stability, culture and environment, education, infrastructure and health care.
And the September issue of National Geographic has something for Torontonians to celebrate. It also, conversely, contains a message that should cause concern.
The article reveals that “Toronto is marked by the highest degree of self-segregation, despite being among the study’s most linguistically diverse cities”.
This doesn’t come as a surprise. We had all the anecdotal evidence pointing to the growth of ethnic hubs, we just lacked the quantifiable data, which the study provides.
In Tweets of Many Tongues, Monica Serrano describes the study which measured levels of integration in the world’s major cities.
The world’s major cities have always been melting pots for immigrants. Do newcomers congregate in ethnic enclaves such as San Francisco’s Chinatown? Or do they scatter, getting fully absorbed into their new homes? To track integration, researchers took Twitter data from some 50 cities worldwide to identify language groups and their residential neighbourhoods; findings were then compared with those of the city’s native-language speakers. By reading the Twitter patterns, researchers concluded that diverse and well-integrated immigrant communities like those in London exist in less than half the cities studied. In the rest, the data show varying degrees of self-segregation, with immigrants who share the same language sticking together in the same part of the city.
Toronto’s “comfort zones” for newcomers are viewed largely in two diametrically opposite ways by the mainstream community – either as places where one can find exotic food and fashion or as eyesores.
I recall Amita Handa talking about meeting teenagers while researching her book Of Silk Saris and Mini Skirts. Some had such a distinct Indian accent that she assumed they were newcomers to Canada, only to learn that they were born and raised right here.
We all come with our accents, a lilt, a way of pronouncing certain words, that sets us apart. But kids tend to adopt a “Canadian” accent very rapidly as way of fitting in. But the girls Handa spoke to only ever interacted in their neighbourhoods and schools with people who spoke exactly like them, and thus retained the accent.
This lack of interaction with the larger community is the issue that is raising its ugly head.
Brampton East MPP Gurratan Singh was recently heckled by the leader of the National Citizens Alliance while attending MuslimFest. According to media reports, the man said, “You’re hiding, bud. I’ll debate you any time.”
How long before a woman walking down the street in a sari and bindi or a bearded man waiting for a bus are attacked?
Should this happen, I’m pretty sure the acts will be condemned. People will rally around the victims and pledge support. Just like everyone did when a school trustee made racist remarks, when a mosque was attacked or when the billboards calling for a halt to immigration popped up across the landscape.
We can celebrate the fact that the public outcry that ensued ensured the bilboards were quickly pulled down and the parties involved were left offering weak explanations or distancing themselves from the act. Or we can sit up and take note.
When Maxime Bernier, leader of People’s Party of Canada (the same party behind the billboards) allegedly refers to the 16-year-old Greta Thun-berg who is being hailed as a beacon of hope by environmentalist across the world, as mentally unstable, we should worry. Because while a majority may have been outraged by the remarks, the man and his views are gaining traction among a few.
When an opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun argues that “diversity is a weakness as far as the economy is concerned” we should become aware of the undercurrents. When, according to other media reports, a whopping 46 per cent of Canadians are just 200 dollars away from insolvency each month, we should know that anti-immigrant sentiments are bound to be given oxygen. More immigrants equals fewer opportunities for “Canadians” being the logic. That it is a far more complex issue than that is not the point. The logic may be flawed, the fears around integration and the economy are very real and should be addressed.
A marriage, any marriage – whether it’s between two individuals or between multiple cultures – takes work. It takes mutual understanding.
Maybe instead of just condemning the man who heckled Gurrattan Singh, invite him to the table for that debate.
An old skill called rafoo in India mends tears in fabric. Not your regular darning, this takes threads from the fabric itself and uses such fine, delicate stitches that it is well-nigh impossible to spot the tear.
It’s time to take those threads from the society, to invite dialogue, and mend the fabric, before battle lines are drawn, before communities retreat further into their safe zones like it is happening in parts of the world we come from. When we’ll avoid eye contact and rush home and then wait by the window for loved ones to return safely.
Yes, that is not who we are and we are not there. Yet. There is still time.
Talk to your local representative, to the people seeking your vote in this election. Ask them the questions (some of the questions, not all) that Hasan Minhaj asked prime minister Justin Trudeau on Patriot Act.
Ask them about their climate change policies.
Ask them what they are going to do to create more jobs. Ask them what their plans for immigration are. And what their plans are for immigrants after they get here.
Are they going to help create a unified Canada or more isolated silos which they can mine for votes?