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What It’s Like Being a Visible Minority

This is part of a blog series that started on my personal blog. Welcome to Discovering My Culture: Part 1 (Check out Discovering My Culture: Intro on my personal blog!).

I grew up in Markham, Ontario. If you’re not sure what it’s like in Markham – here’s a quick sheet to show you the demographics in 2011. Essentially 72% of Markham’s population is a visible minority, including 38% Chinese and 16% South Asian. Now let’s compare that to London, Ontario, where only 16% of Londoners identify as a visible minority.

Despite growing up in a predominantly Asian city, I’ve had my fair share of prejudice. Store clerks, cashiers, and strangers have made fun of my parents’ accent.

“What are you even saying? Learn how to speak English.”

These comments would make me incredibly angry, but for some reason I’d always end up doing nothing. When you’re young, it’s never easy to stand up to the adults.

My most recent experience with a racist commentary was made, believe it or not, in one of my university classes. Someone in our class decided to comment on a Chinese last name (I will use my own out of respect of the name that was used) – expressing that the name was ridiculous and silly, like “Imagine if you had a last name like Yau! Ha!”. Funny right? I laughed when they said it, until I took a second to reflect and decide that this comment was extremely unnecessary. Maybe there were individuals in the class that held that last name, how would they have felt? I for one, have friends who have that last name, and I don’t think it’s funny. Let’s paint the scene – picture approximately 70 educated students in a classroom, led by another educated professor leading the discussion. What was the most baffling thing was the fact that these comments were being made in an institution where we are supposed to be learning and growing, and being able to bring a positive impact to society.

As if our last names are a joke – as if our last names do not encompass our family, our history, our culture, and ancestry. Our names DEFINE who we are. They are part of who we are as individuals.

Here’s a video that I found which talks about why our names are so important:

As a visible minority, there will be times where you will be faced with prejudice and racism. Sometimes we like to shake these situations off and ignore them. But we need to remember that most of these people are simply unaware, and how does someone fix something that they don’t know is broken? You can have a great education, but you might never be exposed to the same life experiences as someone who is a visible minority for example. In my situation, I felt like I owed a duty to my friends, to my parents, to my culture, to tell that person that maybe the joke they made, wasn’t so funny.

Be proud of your culture. Don’t be scared to tell people that what they’re saying isn’t okay, but don’t approach it using anger. Most people are willing to listen – but we need to be willing to speak up. Help them discover your culture.


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