Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dear Kingston, I'm Not An International Student

After an eventful evening at Zappas Lounge the other night, it took forever to hail a cab. Forever. I can't explain to all of you how excruciatingly cold it was. And so, resigned to the fact that it would take 20 minutes for a cab to arrive, we hurried into Mac's Convenience Store at the corner of Clarence Street and Ontario Street to warm up. Trust me, we needed warmth. Fast.

(Pretending) to look around for something to purchase, we wandered around until we caught sight of a girl watching us curiously. She didn't look that much older than us. In fact, if I had to guess, I`d say she was in her second year at Queen's.

Staring at us transfixed, the girl slowly walked forward, cocked her head to the side, eyes opened wide, and stopped directly in front of us to say the following:
"Oh my goodness, you girls look so... exotic looking. Are you international students?"
Hi. Martin Luther King Jr. just called. He wants a word with you.

At first, I didn't know how to react. Actually, I wandered off for a few minutes to giggle uncontrollably to myself before I went back. I know it wasn't a laughing matter, but I couldn't believe she was equating the colour of our skin to an automatic assumption that we were of the ~foreign visiting kind~

News Flash. Coloured people are born in Canada too!

She then continued with the following gem:
"Wow, your accents are really good. Where did you learn how to speak English? How do you like Canada? I know the weather isn't the greatest for ethnic people."
Oh, dear Superior One. You're incredibly perceptive. You're right, English was tough to learn for a yellow immigrant girl like me. Sometimes, I still pause during conversations to pull out my trusty English Dictionary. Lasting legacies of ESL class, you know? Don't worry, I'll do you proud and learn Western colloquialisms one day. Once I get over my inferiority complex over my thick Asian Chinese accent, of course. Also, I eat rice, perpetually use chopsticks as my primary utensil, constantly flash the peace sign in every picture, and scrub my skin with lemon juice every night so I could be as white as you.

Uh. In case you were wondering, that was sarcasm.

Back to my story. So after a few minutes, we realized that our cab would be at Mac's any minute. Thinking that the girl was out of earshot, my friend Shellane was confused. She didn`t know whether to be shocked or amused. Please, you don't get this treatment in Toronto. "She thinks we're international students because we look like this!" she marvelled in horror, pointing to her own skin. Yes, Shellane. She really did.

Okay, in all honesty, I wasn`t offended, really. I don`t think any of us were. We honestly didn`t know what to think. It`s not like we get this treatment often, particularly since we`re from Toronto. However, I suppose I can see where she`s coming from. Apart from the student community surrounding Queens` immediate area, Kingston isn`t the most diverse city out there. And, common sense speaking, what you don`t know or don`t see often can naturally, genuinely be perceived as foreign. Mind you, I`m not condoning behaviour that`s even borderline racist nor am I condoning ignorance. But I suppose, playing devil`s advocate, I understand where ignorance stems from, which is why I don`t think I was offended in the situation above. The lack of awareness, the lack of knowing still exists in smaller cities. And how can you know about something you don`t know about? You know what I mean?

It`s interesting when behaviour like this happens. I`m taking a Canadian Politics field course this semester, and the readings each week have all, in some way, touched on the idea of diversity and accommodating differences in Canada. I love the popular conception of Canada as a diverse, multicultural, cultural mosaic that recognizes and appreciates differences no matter where you end up in this country. But truthfully, while there are regions that reflect this cultural mosaic, others are beyond homogeneous. And it`s interesting to see differing approaches to diversity, even within my own province. But that`s just me rambling. I`m sure there`s more to this that I haven`t touched on, but I`m tired and I haven`t slept in a few days.

While some people perceive the numbers of immigrants in our country as a detriment, multiculturalism can also be our greatest strength. So let`s all be aware of our diverse backgrounds, hesitate when approaching stereotypes, and be sensitive and understanding of our differences, yes?

P.S. Oh, right. By the way, Kingston, for the millionth time, contrary to visual stereotypical indications, I'm not Chinese. I'm Filipino. Please learn the difference. Perhaps that'll stop you from approaching me at the Grizzly Grill with advances of "Chinese? Chinese? Ni Hao!" Also, I'm not a fan of sushi, fried shrimp, or anything remotely resembling seafood. Does that take care of all the Asian stereotypes?

“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.”
- Maya Angelou

"Anger makes you smaller, while forgiveness forces you to grow beyond what you were."
- Cherie Carter-Scott

"Irony is when we smile at those we despise, and engage in bitter arguments with those we love dearly."

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