As told to News reporter Tyler Olsen
I immigrated to Canada in the mid-70s as a child. Living in the Fraser Valley and Mission, I remember wherever we went, we would get called Paki or Hindu.
People didn’t know what’s India or Pakistan; those were the terms that were used in those days. And with that always came: “Go back to where you came from.”
At the time, as a child, I felt I was invading somebody’s country and maybe it was justifiable. It was just the norm that happened on a daily or weekly basis.
As I grew up, as I became a Canadian, the knowledge of this being my country became stronger and dear to me. I’ve had numerous incidents where I was shopping and people would say “Hey you, what are you doing in our country. You’re not supposed to be here.”
I lived in Penticton and I was walking and talking in Punjabi in a bank and these people came and confronted us and said “You guys are talking a different language, you don’t belong here.”
For me, this is my country. So when somebody says that, it’s because they look at my colour, and my colour is brown so I have to justify myself as a Canadian, versus a white-skinned person.
That’s not acceptable for me or anyone else. That’s not fair. How do they know what my contribution to this country is? Nobody knows. I volunteer, I do everything I need to do as an individual.
A few days ago, there was a weird incident – a complicated thing – where a guy thought I didn’t know what a truck was. He said: “In Canada, this is what we call a pickup truck.”
I thought: Oh my God. Still?
My kids are born and raised here and I feel I’m Canadian-born. I was born in India, but I don’t feel that. I’ve been here forever.
We eat each other’s ethnic foods, celebrate different cultural events, we travel and wear clothes from all over the world and visit other religious places. Some even marry different ethnic and religious people. So where does racism fit into all of this?
All these incidents are happening where people are judged by their colour or facial features. COVID seems to have brought out the devil in some people.
I would have hoped we could unite as a world. Instead what we see is a fight on two fronts against the virus, and the oldest affliction of man: racism.
Racism is systemic. Back in the ’70s people used to openly say it, but since it became not the norm to say things like that, it’s inside their head.
There’s a percentage of people who still don’t like people of colour or people with other ethnic backgrounds. But they keep it inside, suppressing it, and it seems COVID just brought an anger out. It makes me very upset that we have to face this now. Where would Canada and B.C. be without multiculturalism? Without these people coming into the country and doing jobs in farming and industries that we take for granted.
It’s not fair and people need to wake up.
I also wonder: Is it really racism, or is it a fear of change?
I’ve heard numerous times when people say: “You’re taking over our businesses, you’re taking over our jobs.”
It’s a feeling of losing who you are. But no one’s losing anything. If you’re an Indo-Canadian or you’re Italian or Japanese, you should be proud of who you are. But nobody, except for First Nations, are from here. Just because one generation came 30 or 100 years earlier than the other one, doesn’t make it their country.
People need to think about these things before they hurt someone, because it is hurtful. If somebody wants to criticize me because they don’t like the way I do something, I’d rather them say that to me than saying, “In this country, we do it like this.”
When racist attacks happen, people don’t say anything. They just think it’s their problem.
People have to say, “This is not acceptable. I’m not going to accept this. These are our neighbours, these are our friends and our country-fellows. “
And if someone has a fear of a culture, they need to go see what that culture is all about. The fear is a wall people build inside their heads because they can’t see what’s on the other side. They need to break that wall down and go and see what that culture is all about.
They’ll see it’s not much different. We all want to have good families and good lives, we just add different flavours to it.
Lakhwinder Jhaj is longtime resident of the Fraser Valley.