Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Harmony in a Multicultural city???


I don't know why this memory just resurfaced. It was a crisp winter night (years ago, when I still lived in Toronto) and beautiful, delicate white snowflakes swirled about in the evening air. There was a light dusting of snow on the ground, and the city was lit up with holiday decor and people on their way home from their office Christmas parties. I always thought it was funny that we celebrated "Office Christmas Parties", since many companies had employees that did not celebrate Christmas. Anyway, it was just an appreciation night for employees and everyone was able to enjoy a nice dinner and the company of workmates. Toronto was always a gorgeous city at night.

I said goodnight to my co-workers, and hailed a cab. It was late and I didn't want to take the night bus or the subway. I just longed to be in the comfort of my bed and wait for slumber to take me. It wasn't long before a taxi stopped at the curb. Thank goodness I didn't have to wait long. I had on my thick winter coat and my scarf and mitts, but I still wouldn't have wanted to wait long for a taxi.

"Where to?" asked the cabby, and I told him the address.
Generally, I'm a very friendly person and I love engaging in convesation with strangers. I love getting to know about people's lives and their backgrounds. This cabby was friendly and talkative. He was wearing a turban and I forget where he said he was from. I remember him saying he was Sikh though. Very friendly guy. That's what I liked about Toronto- you could meet people from all over the globe in one city. Imagine all the interesting stories and funny ways how people are connected somehow.

"Where are you from?" asked the middle-aged man, as he looked at me from his rearview mirror.
"I'm from here." I replied.
"No, where are you from?" he insisted.
Getting annoyed now, I said, "I'm from Toronto. I was born here. I'm Canadian."
He seemed to be getting edgy now and his pleasant demeanor started turning into something aggressive. "What country are your parents from?" he demanded.
I happily told him, "My dad's Caribbean/Chinese and my mom's Filipina".
"AHA! I thought so! You're Philippine!"
"My mom's filipina."
"Do you have a boyfriend?" Okay, now this is where things were getting uncomfortable.
"Yes, I do." Even if I didn't, I'd have said that I did, because I was getting creeped out.
"Is he black? White?"
OMG, was this guy serious??? "He's actually French-Canadian" I said.
"I thought so. Philippine women are loose. They go with anyone." I was shocked! Excuse me??? He kept going on about filipina women but the words kind of got lost in a muffled sound. I guess I was tuning him out. I told him, "Stop the car. Let me out here." I gave him my money for the fare and ended up taking the night bus to my apartment.

In a city as multicultural as Toronto, I'd have thought that people co-existed and respected each other. Was I being naive? I was so infuriated! Stepping into the cab, I just thought he was a nice man. I had no pre-conceived notions about him. The guy didn't even know me- he didn't know that I have a university education and that I am a teacher...and just classified all filipina women with 'going with anyone', being either a nurse, domestic, nanny, or prostitute! That just pissed me off! To me, people are people. Everyone deserves to be treated well and with respect. You can't just say all people of a certain culture are one type of people.

Perhaps the memory of this incident has resurfaced because it's a reminder of how jaded and disillusioned that incident made me. I can see how I started off the taxi ride with excitement and enthusiasm, being in the company of a friendly, talkative man who reminded me of a type of father figure. Gradually, I felt the arrogance and the aggression and my idea of living in a city where everyone treated each other with kindness and respect seemed like a childish idea. When I got off the bus, I thought I should have taken his employee number and complained to the taxi company. That wouldn't have done anything though. Not only do you not insult the person who's giving you money to earn a living, but you also don't insult strangers like that. I tried to think up excuses for his behaviour. He's from a country where women are subservient to their men. He's from a patriarchal society. Nah...there is just no excuse for saying things like that. My parents taught us that all cultures and nationalities ought to be respected. It scares me to think what some people may teach their children if they grow up saying things like that cabby did. I'm not angry about it anymore...just sad for him.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've had several encounters similar to yours. Alot of people assumed I'm a certain way because I'm chinese, and it bugs the shit out of me. Imagine what it's like in other cities where ignorance and stereotypes are stronger than just a few impressions and comments.

There's one time in Toronto, I was playing pool with my boyfriend when this woman with puffy hair approached and started chatting away. We were all having a good time when she suddenly asked me what my name is.

So I told her. Then she said, no no - your REAL Chinese name. I said my name IS my real name, and has been since I was TWO WEEKS OLD. And she told me, "I'm a social worker, I know how to pronounce the weird chinese names."

By then, I didn't know what to say except I was getting seriously annoyed -- whatever ignorance makes her think I'm mainland chinese with a phonetic name pretending to be canadianized.

The worst part is that she's a social worker!

Chrissy121875 said...

That is SO annoying! How awful to just "assume" something like that. When I was overseas teaching English in Japan, I was in a bar with some teacher friends who were all from Canada, the US, Australia, England and New Zealand, when this one girl comes up to me (she was a teacher from another town near the one I taught in, and she was from England AND VERY drunk at the time) and she said, "What's your name?" speaking VERY slowly! LOL! We started chit chatting and she suddenly said, "Wow! You speak very good English!" OMG! "Well, I hope so! I'm Canadian!" She still didn't seem to get it and continued to talk to me like "So, d-o y-o-u like J-a-p-a-n? How l-o-n-g h-a-v-e y-o-u b-e-e-n s-p-e-a-k-i-n-g E-n-g-l-i-s-h?" LOL! I was thinking, is this chick serious? I graduated in English Lit and minored in Linguistics and have my ESL certification for Canada and Ontario. What planet is this girl from? Anyway, she was fun. I played along for a while but the next day when she was sober and at a brunch at one of my friends' apartments and saw me, she was embarrassed.

Anonymous said...

Oh, don't even get me started on the shit that drunk people dish out!! LOL

I was in university (UNIVERSITY)of Toronto. My classmates were throwing an exhibition. I saw my classmate and said hi to her when her mom gave me this horrific look -- you know -- couldn't believe an asian person was capable of speaking English, let alone fluency.

Chrissy121875 said...

CuriosityKiller, this is so funny...I promise I won't rant anymore after this comment :) This one woman I know told me once, "I hear Asian women are wild in the sack." I was like, "Uhhhh...okay. I don't know." Then she kept spewing all these generalizations and assumptions she had concerning Asian women. It was actually a bit uncomfortable. I joke around with close friends, but with this person it was just weird. She just thought that Asian women were "kinky" and had these weird ideas. She was also hinting that her husband was off limits. OMG..."Duhhhh" I'm married! (I wasn't married at the time, but I still would NEVER EVER have a relationship with a married man...plus, her husband wasn't even attractive. People are just weird sometimes. Stupid people really, REALLY get on my nerves! LOL!

ahappilymarriedmommy said...

Maybe she was intimidated by you. Or she is probably insecure in her marriage. Has her husband ever cheated on her? Has he ever flirted with you? I've known you for years and I know you'd never do anything like that or even entertain the thought of doing something like that. You're just not that kind of person! She's got problems in the head. LOL!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately there are a lot of ignorant people out there. It's sad to think that some people just don't want to learn or understand different cultures or religions.

Chrissy121875 said...

Hi happilymarried :) Yeah, I know. Ridiculous. That person's husband was a very friendly person and a very good natured person. He flirted with all of that person's friends and I think she was just insecure. I personally think it's wrong to flirt with others if you are in a relationship with someone. If you want to continue that kind of behaviour from your single days, then don't get married. Anyway, no, he never really hit on me, but he was just friendly.

Anon, I agree with you. It is sad and unfortunate that there are some pretty ignorant and arrogant people out there. Strong emotions and a weak mind make a deadly combination :(

caninecologne said...

What a fkn prick!!!

I remember one of my former students of Middle Eastern descent totally treated me like dirt...He talked back to me, was rude and sullen and had a major attitude. I realized later was that in his culture, Filipinos in general (especially Filipinas) are considered low class servants, nannies there. There are a lot of Filipinos who work in the Middle East (and even in Europe) as domestics or overseas laborers. They aren't seen as professionals, even though many of them probably have college degrees. If the Philippine economy wasn't so screwed up, they wouldn't be sending their own people overseas to support their families back home.

Your stories about "You speak English so well" and "Where are you from?" are so familiar. I grew up in South San Diego where there are a lot of Mexicans, Filipinos, some blacks, a few whites, but most people in our area got along. Big change when I went to college. At SDSU, I never saw so many white people in my life. They would ask me how I knew to speak English so well, assuming, of course, that I wasn't American like they were, that maybe I just got off a plane or was a foreign exchange student. These folks would also assume that I was good in MATH!!! Ha ha! Far from it!

I remember one time someone told me, "You speak English very well" (isn't that patronizing) and I replied, "So do you!" They persisted and asked how I knew and I told them I was born here (meaning San Diego). It sucks having to "defend" yourself to ignorant jerks.

Others would ask where I was "from" and insisted on knowing where I was "really from" when I kept answering back, "I'm from San Diego, California". I consider my nationality (American) different from my ethnicity (Filipino American). I don't salute the Philippine flag! But to dumbasses like those people, anyone without blond hair, blue eyes, etc may as well be a foreigner. That kind of thinking just floors me. I don't go up to Caucasians and challenge them on their mastery of the English language or probe where they're "really from"!

I'm glad I don't have to contend with this on a daily basis. There are some parts of San Diego that are pretty open and multiculturally diverse and then there are places that I don't even want to go because it's Klan Country or redneck-ville!

Chrissy121875 said...

Wow! Thanks for commenting and sharing, Canine! I grew up in a predominantly "white" neighbourhood and most of the people who lived there spoke French (when I lived in Montreal). French is my second language and English is my mother tongue.

I know what you mean (about everything you wrote). It makes me sad to see so many filipinas going to North America (or elsewhere) to be nannies or housekeepers. Some of the ones I met were teachers or nurses in the Philippines but came abroad to make money to send back to their families.

Always great reading your comments. I enjoy your blog. It's great! :)

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City girl moves to the country, falls in love, and marries a farmer. She tries to incorporate her city ways with her new country lifestyle and blogs to keep in touch with friends, family & students who live far, far away :) Can this city girl go country? Watch as she learns all sorts of exciting things about life on the farm and in a small rural community. *UPDATE* We are now parents! Our baby girl was born on Nov. 11, 2008 (at 28 weeks gestation- 12 weeks premature, but she's quite the trooper)!!!
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