by Province deputy editor Ros Guggi
I didn’t speak a word of English when I started kindergarten in Ontario.
My dad, from Austria, and my mom, from Yugoslavia, met on the boat to Canada in the early 1950s. They were in their late teens and early 20s, fleeing the poverty of postwar Europe. I was born here, but we spoke only German at home.
We were considered “other,” on our street and in my school. My full name is Roswitha and I cringed whenever I started a new class and the teacher made a big deal out of trying to pronounce it. My last name, Guggi, was just as tough. I just wanted to fit in. But being of German descent in the ’50s and ’60s wouldn’t allow that. There was a lot of hatred of Germans after the war and parents passed that on to their kids, who passed that on to me in the schoolyard.
Successive generations of immigrants to Canada have gone through the same things. There was discrimination against the Irish when they first came, and the Italians, and the Ukrainians. In my school, most folks had last names like Smith and Jones and Carmichael.
If your name was different, you didn’t fit, and you felt it.
Now we are no longer a country of largely British and French descent, First Nations people or European immigrants with hard-to-pronounce names.
Since the early ’70s, most of our immigrants have non-European ancestry.
They’ve been coming from Asia and India and the Philippines, with hard-to-pronounce names.
The streets of Metro Vancouver are filled with visible minorities, who have brought their culture and values with them. But many newcomers are living in self-segregated areas, where they are close to their own kind and don’t need to mix with the larger community.
While we look like a model of inclusivity, it’s clear many new immigrants don’t feel welcome. There are tensions bubbling beneath the polite surface of our official multiculturalism in B.C. and they are in full roar in Quebec. Our aboriginal people feel disenfranchised and experience open racism.
We felt we needed to take a look at race and racism in our community.
It’s the hardest project I’ve undertaken in more than three decades as a journalist. And it is the bravest project our team has done. The writers have been tasked with exploring racism without provoking it. What we do want to provoke is a community discussion about the issues that divide us, and what needs to change to make ours a more inclusive place.
Over the next 17 days, we’ll be exploring all aspects of the issue, and we’ll be encouraging you to join the conversation. While we want this to be an honest discussion about issues of race, culture and values, we do not want to become a platform for racists. We will be doing our best to vet comments so the conversation is constructive, rather than destructive.
Before we started work on this multimedia series last spring, I met with many community leaders to discuss the issues we should explore. We thank them for their insights and help in opening doors for us. They include Mo Dhaliwal, Ujjal Dosanjh, Tung Chan, Alden Habacon, Naveen Girn, Wade Grant and Janet Austin. My colleague and friend, Province Deputy Editor Fabian Dawson who immigrated here from Malaysia in 1988, provided invaluable advice.
We also want to thank the scores of people who opened up to our journalists about racism they’ve experienced.
The essays of nine community leaders will appear, along with your feedback, throughout the series.
Please read the series and check out the compelling online videos and multimedia features we’ve produced. Then join this very important discussion by sending your stories about racism you’ve experienced or your thoughts on the issues we’re raising to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tell us what you think needs to change. How can we make this province a more inclusive place and create a better community?
Ros Guggi is The Province’s Deputy Editor and the project leader.