The first time I heard it, I was standing at the intersection of Mariner and Como Lake. I was walking home from school after rugby practice, quietly swathed in the spring evening air — warm, sweet and calm. With my cleats in tow, I waited for the light to turn green thinking only of my mom’s cooking and my bed.
Suddenly, a car stopped at the intersection. A man rolled down his window and yelled out the N-word. He spat in my direction. It landed on my neck. The year was 1990. Exactly thirty years ago.
My story is not unique. Canadians of various roots and cultures have faced hate and discrimination at some point in the history of our country. The Irish read signs “No Irish need apply”, Italians faced physical attacks, Indians were rejected from our docks, Jews subjected to antisemitism, Japanese deemed enemy aliens, Chinese imposed with a head tax.
As a nation, we are far from perfect, but we can always be better.
COVID-19 has demonstrated the best of our community. The harmony we witness across our neighbourhoods every evening honouring our health care professionals. The phone check-ins, grocery shopping and delivery for our seniors. The neighbourhood block dinners that support local businesses. Our neighbourhoods represent a rich diversity of our collective humanity.
Conversely, the pandemic has also surfaced some underlying hard truths. There has been a sharp rise in racist behaviour and hate crimes witnessed across Metro Vancouver. Last week, an Indigenous woman says she was punched and told to ‘go back to Asia’ while walking her dog in East Vancouver. Prior to that, a man punched a woman and yanked out her hair on a Vancouver bus after berating two Asian women and allegedly shouting, “Go back to your country; that’s where it all started.” Caught on camera, a 92-year-old Asian man with dementia was attacked at a convenience store in a racially motivated incident.
Our neighbours and friends are being targeted and subjected to racisms and hate crimes. Surely, we are better than this.
These troubling events remind me of standing on that street corner, someone’s hate running down my neck. I remember my state of shock, my body going cold. I stood there violated and afraid. By the time I reached my doorstep, I couldn’t muster the courage to tell my parents. I kept it from them for these thirty years.
Being abused for your heritage or your appearance is a violation of a basic human right: dignity. The wound from such violation is not easily forgotten. It leaves scar tissue that forever alters a person.
I emigrated to Canada from my parent’s native North Africa when I was ten years old. One of the characteristics that defines us as immigrants is that we never lose sight of the fact that living here would not have been possible if it were not for the extraordinary capacity of our community and the tremendous generosity of our country.
Together, we have the ability to shape these Tri-Cities to be a place of welcome void of bigotry, racisms and hate. Our collective aspiration must be unity, community and acceptance.
The spirt of our community rests in our ability to support and lift each other up during challenging times. This is the spirit of our Tri-Cities that we know and love. ( CBC Radio interview )
By Adel Gamar
CEO & Co-Founder, Gamar Leadership Group Ltd. | Educator, Adviser, Optimist | Dedicated to inspiring and helping people achieve great things, together.