We live in Toronto, a very multicultural city. In our neighbourhood, we hear many languages (from Arabic to Chinese to Punjabi to Spanish), and see many shades of skin colour. In our building we smell many different kinds of foods cooking. It is a wonderfully rich mixture of cultures and we can have friends of many races.
However, this doesn't always happen. I teach in a high-school in a similar neighbourhood and this article appeared in the student newspaper The Sprawl in April, 1999. Although it's several years old, I think it still applies.
Emery is a multicultural school. We have all heard this phrase said with pride many times and it is true. As one wanders through the halls, one can't help but notice the different colours and languages represented here. Unfortunately, it is not always as wonderful as most people would think. So what if over 200 countries are represented in one school? It doesn't mean a thing unless everyone learns to interact with everyone else. Of course, there are a few brave souls who scorn unpopularity to become truly multicultural. These people are exceptional folk and do not belong in the category of the average student.
The term 'average student' does not refer to someone with a seventy percent average. It refers to the person who finds it inconceivable to make friends with anyone who isn't of the same race. You don't have to take our word for it. Just walk down the hallway or go to the cafeteria. There are groups of people together all over the place. The only thing that all the different groups have in common is race. It is quite possible that these people do have other things besides race and similar backgrounds in common. One can't help wonder why they find it difficult to find things in common with people who aren't of the same cultural group.
The funny thing is that all these people are essentially talking about the same things: school, teachers, parents, siblings, love lives, etc. With the exception of the above mentioned brave souls, practically all of the school tends to do this. It was once said, by the majority of students in a law class, that this cannot be changed. People are just too comfortable with their own group to start making new friends. This goes along with the assumption that once you've made a couple of good friends, you don't need any more. People say with pride that Emery is a multicultural school. It is only something to be proud of when all the cultures are able to mix together and create a united front.
Reprinted with permission from The Sprawl, Emery Collegiate's Student Voice, April 1999
It takes effort to reach out to people of other cultures and race. Sometimes there is a language barrier. Some people speak English with a strong accent and it takes extra effort to understand them. But it's possible to find interesting friends who share strong interests across cultures.
I think it's easier if you have children. Children, if they are alone, will play with anyone who wants to join them. So we go to the playground without our old friends and make new friends. Sometimes parents get to talking. Or children are enrolled in lessons - swimming, skating, dancing, whatever - and while parents sit and wait for them, they get to know each other. They see each other weekly, exchange greetings, start talking, find they have similar problems with their children, with school, with day care and soon they are exchanging phone numbers, helping with babysitting, and becoming friends. The children make new friends through these classes, too.
Before we became a transracial family, I thought this was a good neighbourhood in which to raise my first daughter. My daughter was/is exposed to role models of every race through her babysitters, her day care providers, the store keepers, our neighbours who are nurses, professors, dental hygienists, salesmen, computer programmers, (unfortunately the school teachers are not yet as diverse a mixture) and so on.