Canada claims to wag a stern finger on discrimination of any kind. So even if you are inked green, unsure what gender category you fall under or speak the dialect of Antarctica, legally a landlord cannot refuse you as a tenant, even in an uptight, upper class neighbourhood.
This does not mean there is no demarcation of any kind. New immigrants tend to huddle together and watch their own ethnic television channels in micro neighbourhoods.
There are suburbs where certain races are more visible than others. Brampton is alive with a flourishing Sikh community and the finest Chicken Tikkas. South Asian sweets and savouries outsell Poutine at many turns in Mississauga. For the most authentic Chinese Dim Sum, head north towards Markham. The majority of all immigrants here are of Asian origin. Caribbean, Somalians and Middle Eastern people are clustered in Etobicoke. Similarly, Woodbridge is very Italian.
However, do not be quick to bring out your placards and denounce this residential segregation as racial discrimination.
This division is based more on social, cultural and professional comfort over anything more mean. The familiarity of being with known people lets new immigrants like refugees, the linguistically challenged or those allergic to mundane sandwiches to seamlessly integrate into the Canadian fabric.
Coming back to our own story, neighbourhood selection was not based on any of these.
For us, a location based on commuting convenience was more important than sharing samosas with our brethren. So we chose to camp in the modest apartments of Etobicoke, a stone’s throw away from the Islington subway station, till we could afford something more impressive.
Interestingly, there were more people celebrating Eid in this area than Christmas or Halloween. My daughter went to a school where over 40 languages were heard during the Parent Teacher’s meeting. Toronto certainly was not as “creamy” as we expected it to be. There was a multitude of colours, flavours and textures to the city, each celebrated for its uniqueness.
This is where Canada largely differs from the USA, even though the country is globally dismissed as America’s conjoined twin.
Unlike the USA, Canada is not a melting pot where immigrants rush to shed their ethnic accents in an effort to fit in. Contrarily, Canada has a “mosaic” approach where ethnicity is celebrated.
It is common to see kids attending school in a hijab. You can shop at Wal-Mart in your traditional Indian sari, sit at the local pub in your African Gele head wrap, look for Sushi in your Japanese Harajuku doll-like attire or wait at the subway station exit in a Scottish kilt, without being made to feel like a fish out of water.
Just make sure you wear something under that kilt. The wind is strong here!
If you choose to go without one, or accidentally forget, there is a good chance it may go unnoticed. Toronto is liberal where nudity is concerned.
It is perfectly legal on some occasions and locations to flaunt your butt tattoo.
Go ahead and twerk at the world famous Annual Gay Parade (at your own risk) or sun bathe in the buff at selected beaches like the Hanlal Point at Toronto Island. It’s all about human rights and the freedom to express yourself. Why let a bit of G-string stifle you?
That does not mean that the European settlers have always been this broad-visioned.
They certainly did not greet each immigrant from Asia and Africa with a hug, kiss and free maple syrup. Or go skinny dipping with the Latin Americans in Lake Ontario to feel one with nature. Canadian cultural liberalism is a relatively new trend.
Up until 1966, non-European immigrants were often given the cold shoulder and told to stay put in shoddy social ghettos. It’s only in 1976 that The Immigration Act brush away discriminating policies.
Thankfully for the country, it was these very immigrants who valiantly grew the country’s population and the economy with it, letting no ethnic clothing get in the way of national progress.
The Greater Toronto Area is now said to harbour over 5.15 million residents with immigrants from as many as 169 different cultural origins.
And yet, what is glaring is the absence of the original inhabitants of this beautiful, “liberal” nation. In my entire first year in the GTA, I barely came across any Inuit people.
Somehow, somewhere, in this vast multicultural mosaic, the striking Native American Indians, the original inhabitants of this land, have got lost.
Where were they?