a unique perspective on this crazy world

Posts tagged ‘multiculturalism’

the evolution of toronto

We will get back to Chile but first a little more on Toronto.

Toronto is the largest city in Canada and, even decades ago, when I made my first visit and the population was considerably smaller, it was an overwhelming place.  I was fortunate in that, in the early days, I always had local guides.

As a child, Toronto seemed as remote and glamorous as Oz and I had no idea how I was going to get there – just that it was a goal.  My interest was further piqued when I met Nancy who was visiting relatives in my remote middle Canada small town.  She didn’t actually live in Toronto but rather in one of the bedroom communities surrounding it.  A trip into the city was no big deal.  We became pen pals and I plied her with questions about the city.

My first Toronto guide was Marissa.  Somehow my Toronto stories always begin elsewhere.  Marissa was living at student residence in the University of Calgary that summer.  It was a popular accommodation choice for students with well-paid jobs in the oil industry.  She was Italian, the first I’d really known.  The Prairies are too cold to attract many immigrants from sunny climes.

At the end of that summer I was heading to London, Ontario to attend the previously mentioned fancy business school so would be about a two hour train ride from Toronto.  She invited me to visit and stay with her family in Downsview.  The Prairies are scarcely populated.  Not all countries are represented but there is a lot of diversity.  Lots of people have several different national groups in their DNA.  Toronto is different.  There are enough immigrants from certain countries that they can band together and create a replica of the old country within the new.

toronto-iconic-streetcarSo I was introduced to Toronto by way of Italy!  Marissa was first generation.  The house was decorated with lots of Roman looking knick-knacks.  We ate Italian food.  We went to the neighbourhood bakery to pick up cannoli.  There was great controversy because her brother’s girlfriend was Jewish.  I wasn’t used to cultures with so many rules.

That’s when I discovered there were all sorts of cultural communities within Toronto.  Almost any cultural group had enough members immigrating to Toronto that they could band together.  Often a few people started the pattern and then others followed because they knew there was a community to welcome them and immigration would be less daunting.  The early arrivals established a safe place, which attracted new arrivals looking for a mix of new opportunities and familiar tastes and smells.

Modern day Toronto is possibly the most multicultural city in the world.  About half the population is composed of immigrants and over 200 ethnic groups and 140 languages are represented.  This means that Toronto is full of festivals and events.  If you are OK with crowds, that’s when I would come.  There are festivals for almost any interest you might have.

One of my most significant festival memories was a festival called the International Caravan.  Apparently, it died out in 2005 and it wouldn’t be the same even if it did still exist.  In those days, Toronto was smaller and it was phenomenally safe for a large city.  Its nickname was “Toronto the Good”.  The concept of the International Caravan was to get a passport and go to national associations all over the city to try the food and see the music and dance of the old country.

The festival was created in 1969 to try and bring together the various national groups who tended to live in their silos in different communities.  I went to my first Caravan the first year I actually lived in the city.  My boyfriend had grown up in the city and we journeyed all over town, walking countless blocks, even to neighbourhoods with a shady reputation.  Sure, there was haggis and elaborate Ukrainian dancing and I was young and desperate to learn about all the countries I couldn’t yet afford to visit but what it really taught me was that there were all these different neighbourhoods, each filled with a unique character developed by the melding of all the cultures that had settled there.

1985 Toronto was a harbinger of 21st century Canada.  21st century Toronto is a city where you experience the entire world.  Next year is Canada’s 150th birthday so the celebrations are likely to be better than ever.  Check out a festival.  Or just pick a neighborhood and wander.  That’s where you will find the real Toronto, the one that left such an imprint on my life…

kids on a rope :)

There is a short list now of places that I absolutely MUST see and it’s one of those wonderfully pleasant dilemmas each year deciding which destination (maybe two if times are flush) will be knocked off the list.

I have had some wonderful adventures by visiting a place at a special moment in its history so I decided to finally see the fjords since 2014 would be Norway’s 200th anniversary.  And I would start in Oslo on May 17th to see the National Day up close and personal.

It’s definitely a worthwhile endeavour.  I think I saw every school child in Norway!  But it may have just been all the children in Oslo.

That is the focus of the day.  There is a children’s parade to the palace where they are greeted by the king and queen of Norway.  I think I saw them waving on the balcony but I was just floating with the experience so I am sure better preparation would have allowed a closer royal sighting.  But I think monarchies in the 21st century are dumb so…

following the locals :)

following the locals 🙂

I was excited to manage to score a good spot for the parade despite not even being clear on where the parade route was.  The hotel staff were vague (I gather no one bothers unless they know kids in the parade).  The tradition is to dress up in traditional costumes so I just followed a group looking as though they had stepped from 19th century Norway out of the hotel until I saw a big crowd, where I parted company with the people in fancy dress in case they were going somewhere the bouncers were checking for embroidery instead of designer threads.

I managed to get a great view of the parade and sported the sunburn for a couple of days to prove it.  (Do recommend a hat if you watch the parade!)  It goes on for a long time.  I can understand Norwegians shunning it after a few years.  But there are lots of small children.  While not every child is in traditional

wave that flag!

wave that flag!

dress, almost everyone looks festive.

It’s a very cool experience as children are inherently entertaining.  But what is also really heartwarming about 21st century Oslo is the inclusiveness of the society.

Sunday is the day to go to the National Gallery.  It’s free!  Free and Norway are not concepts you normally put together … but on Sunday you can see The Scream, antique furniture and thought provoking modern art all for free!

Combined with the parade, it offered some insight into Norwegian culture (the history is still a bit murky – plan is to clear that upon my return to Oslo).  One of the museums proclaimed Norway the “peace nation”.  And this is where you can score a Nobel Peace Prize.

I love nations with a smart agenda.  I had envisioned Norway as one of those countries that was beyond post-modern – a country of the future.  It has not disappointed.  The museums were interesting and provocative (a big emphasis on human rights and free speech) but what was most gratifying to see was the diversity of children included in the National Day parade.

The whole world was represented.  Not only different skin tones but different facial features.  Some wore traditional Norwegian dress, which really warmed my heart.  I think immigration is a total force for good.  But, if you change countries, you should be madly in love with a foreign national or madly in love with what that foreign country represents.  Some countries posit better concepts than others. If you like your own culture, stay put.  Immigration works when people come to a new place for the right reasons.

I haven’t met enough people yet to have a solid prognosis on 21st century Norway.  But I have never seen such a variety of foreign faces in a European country.  And everyone was included – a handicap did not exclude you.  You just had someone pushing your wheelchair.

a rope of the world :)

a rope of the world 🙂

The small children were attached to a rope to deter wandering.  But the diversity of the rope gave one hope for the 21st century.  As does the fresh air.  Go Norway!  I think there is much the rest of the world can learn from these reformed Vikings 😉


that minority feeling…

Not long ago I was part of a conversation that included the phrase, “oh, you mean the white girl” in trying to identify a new staff member.  I’d never thought about it but realized that the majority of the employees are not “white” and “a white girl” was an easy identifier.  Really made me think about how cool the world has become 🙂  And my experiences being a visible minority.

The first time I realized how oblivious I was to skin colour was decades ago in a bar in LA.  I was there on a business trip and hanging out with a young colleague.  I wanted him to feel comfortable that he wasn’t stuck with me all night so I said, “you can just tell girls that I am your sister.”  He looked at me quizzically and I got the point so I said, “OK, tell them we don’t have the same father” 😉

I have been a minority a number of times now but one of the experiences that really stands out for me is going to China in 2008.  It was just after the Olympics and China was in the news all the time so it seemed like everyone was traveling to China.  But once I arrived, I quickly noted that, as a little white redhead, I was a huge novelty.

I first clued in to that on my run up the Great Wall.  I took a tour and was convinced to do the more challenging route so was practically running up the Great Wall to reach the high point for a panoramic photo quickly enough to get back in time to not miss the bus back to Beijing.

I’d just taken my scenery shot and was about to head down when some teenage boys made hand gestures that suggested they wanted a photo.  I assumed they wanted a photo of the two of them at the top of the Great Wall.  But the hand gestures implied something was off.  They wanted ME in the photo!  Hardly my best look but the first boy seemed quite pleased so his friend, who was obviously more shy, decided that he wanted to pose with me too.  It became a theme of my visit and how I learned my only Mandarin – xie xie – thank you…

The coolest part of my trip to China was coming back to Vancouver and randomly walking down Seymour Street just as the language schools let out.  It was pretty obvious in China that I was a minority but I walked for at least 5 blocks feeling like I was still in China… and it wasn’t jet lag 🙂

The world is changing.  It used to be run by old white guys.  I would really encourage everyone to get out of your own neighbourhood – where you are likely the majority – and be a minority – at least for a week.  It really expands your perspective to get out of your comfort zone.  Enjoy being a visible minority while you have the opportunity 😉   My goal is to encourage the world to intermix so successfully that the concept of being a visible minority – or a “white girl” – will become obsolete…

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