A kind of rice raises hundreds of people = all kinds of people in this world = It takes all kinds to make a world.

By Sunny L, June/2020

2020 is becoming a year of learning, teaching and adapting.  Topics have arisen about the new virus, isolation and, also, racism.  Diversity, and how the world is reacting, are also now conversations all parents need to have with their children, no matter background, culture and experiences.  So, where should we begin?  Our humanity depends on real stories we can share to help bring some understanding and much-needed tolerance.

Here is my story about coming to Canada, that I’ve shared with my son.

I grew up in Macau.  Macau is an island near China and Hong Kong; it was a colony of Portugal until 1999. When I was living in Macau, Macau only had a population of 235,000 and HK had 4.9 million, Macau was considered a very small city.  But one thing Macau locals were proud of is the “blend of Portuguese and Chinese cultures, and its gambling industry.” People move into Macau because of economic factors, as it was also known as the “Asia Las Vegas.” Some people have been quoted to say that a Macau casino makes a Las Vegas casino look like a dump. (I wouldn’t know, I was too young when I was there!)

Multiculturalism was never taught at school despite the multitude of languages that surrounded us.  I had Portuguese neighbours; my teachers were mainly from, Burma, Philippines and Singapore. My friends were from Indonesia and Vietnam.  I spoke some English but with a different accent, and a foreigner could never decipher my nationality based on my accent.

I am so grateful that I grew up in such an open and accepting environment, where there weren’t any racism issues. It felt inclusive and the many cultures seemed to live in harmony in this melting pot of Macau.

My parents always said the following to me and my siblings: “It takes all kinds to make a world. “ It means diversity is essential – the world would be incomplete if everyone were all alike.

Upon landing and settling in Victoria, BC, my early teen years were very hard.  You can lose your identity as you navigate what you need to do to fit in a new culture.

Immediately, my siblings and I started to notice that we were treated differently, or ignored entirely.  The school system was, of course, not the same as in Macau.  I remember I was so lost in my English Class; the teacher and the students were talking about a TV show, but my sister and I had no clue what they were talking about. I didn’t know what to do or say, when called upon. I knew I wasn’t in a secure environment, and it would not be okay to say I was feeling lost.

Back in 1979, there weren’t any English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, and I felt the teachers treated us like we were aliens from outer space. They had no idea of how to communicate with us, and they had no training or methods of teaching us. I gathered pretty soon that there was no way we could stay in a regular classroom and expect to pass those courses. Instead of finding a way to teach ESL students, the teachers would send us to the library to self-study.

Would this be considered racism now, or were the teachers just poorly equipped to deal with foreigners?

My new Canadian friends called me “Cooly,” and because I didn’t have any idea that it was a racist comment, I just went along with it. My confusion grew as I also got called a “banana,” which meant “yellow outside and white inside.” I sadly began to learn that my differences were the first things some people saw.

In retrospect, I learned some great lessons in life too through these experiences. I now have a deep understanding and empathy for new immigrants. Even though I never reached my goal of becoming a teacher myself, I did open a childcare centre and preschool. In 2004, I completed a training program called “Teaching Young Children English.” Implementing this program in my daycare centre was a full-circle moment, as I had the chance to teach some of the youngest, newly-landed immigrants. This program became one of the first children’s ESL programs in Vancouver’s downtown area.

As I told my son, as he grew up, we are all different, but we are also the same.  I believe children should never be shielded from learning explicitly about race and racial differences, especially once they’re old enough to be curious about it.

I was thankful that my early childhood experiences in Macau were inclusive, but even when intolerance rears its ugly head, I continue to have a deep faith in the humanity of people, individually, and within their communities. I believe they can learn, and approach what they don’t understand about their newly-landed neighbours with a possibility of respect and openheartedness.

It takes all of us to also make it a kind world.

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