Yesterday at a tech conference I 'met' this lady. It was break time (in between speakers) and I grabbed a light snack from the cafeteria and sat down at a table. The place soon grew busy, and before long, someone approached my table, pointed to the empty chair opposite mine and asked, "Is this taken?"
I said "No" and looked up. She was a South Asian lady, quite older, clutching a few tech magazines in one hand and a muffin in the other. She mouthed 'thanks' and sat down. I went back to my sandwich.
"Are you Indian?" The relative silence of the table was suddenly broken.
"Bangladeshi", I replied.
"Oh I thought so," She gushed in Bengali. "I am from Bangladesh too! Hi!"
"Um, Hi." I politely replied to her in between mouthfuls. Atleast she wasn't going to start breastfeeding a toddler any time soon. Suddenly, she asked me what I thought about the last speaker.
"He was good," I answered, "though honestly I found his accent a bit too hard to follow."
"That's the problem with this country." She announced suddenly. "Too much diversity."
"I beg your pardon?" [yes I really said those words]
She continued, "This country's major problem is multiculturalism. You see, we have too much people here from too many places in the world. There's no Canada anymore, it's time we recognize multiculturalism is a dirty word. What is Canadian culture is now being demoted. What is a Canadian dress? What is Canadian cruisine?"
Oh boy. A brown female skinhead.
"When I came to this country in 1980," she continued, "you could count the number of immigrants on one hand. Now you can smell curry from across the street! The immigrants are taking over."
I told her, politely, that I disagree and wanted to finish my meal. She wasn't deterred.
"You see, if a black person wants to open a Black Cultural Association in a college he is welcome to do so. If a white person wants to open a White Students Association he will be termed a racist. The college won't allow him to do so."
I told her it depended on the person's intentions - besides there is a thing in North America called 'black culture' but there is no unified 'white culture' - white people came from many cultures - but she was not to be denied.
"I even wrote an essay on this." She told me. Oh great - I began to feel really pissed off - all I wanted was to eat my over-priced-tuna-coz-all-else-was-bacon sandwich in peace. And then I allow someone to sit at my table. Someone who is probably here in Canada due to multiculturalism denouncing that fact. And now she was giving me the url of where I could find her 'essay'.
"We should all promote Canadian culture. We shouldn't celebrate different clothes that people wear as if it's a good thing. If the school wants to stop me from wearing a turban or a hijab what's the harm. I am in Canada. Let's be Canadian."
I have heard enough.
"Maybe," I quietly replied, "being Canadian means being multicultural. When we celebrate multiculturalism, we celebrate being Canadian. When we are tolerant of other cultures, it's because tolerance is a Canadian value. And when we allow the person the freedom to wear a turban or a hijab, and the freedom not to, it's because that freedom is part of being a Canadian."
I finished my sandwich in silence.