I like to think that as a Canadian and recent immigrant, my circumstances offer me a unique perspective on my beloved city that I have chosen to live in. I assimilate as best as I can and as much as my alcohol tolerance can afford and yet maintain an outsiders perspective. Most of the time I take the cultural differences in stride and in good humour; I mean, no one can be as perfect as us smug Canadians, right? (Apart from the Dutch, perhaps.)
This past weekend, however, I think I was finally overwhelmed by the gaping canyon between myself as a Canadian and myself as a Canadian living in a foreign country.
Sunday evening, around 11.00pm, myself, Paul and two friends were in Pollokshields getting some dinner at a popular take out joint. Suddenly an older white dude who, strangely enough we all knew as he is the father of our friends' girlfriend, came storming into the restaurant, pushing past Paul and our friends who were outside, and demanded to know if the shop owner had seen any youths running about.
"Have you seen three young men running about in the last minute?"
Confused, the Pakistani shop keeper and I looked at one another. Nope, we hadn't seen anything.
"Our friend just had his head kicked in and is on his way to the HOSPITAL IN AN AMBULANCE! We're pretty sure who is responsible but I want to know if you've seen anything!!!"
Again, the shop keeper replied he hadn't and I concurred - we didn't see anything.
"I HAVE LIVED HERE FOR OVER 20 YEARS AND THIS HAS GOT TO STOP! THIS HAS GOT TO STOP!!!!!!!!!!!!"
And just as quickly, our friend's Dad ran out of the shop into the night.
And the "this" that he was referring to? I can only assume he meant random violence or perhaps, racial tensions that may or may not exist in the area.
As we took our food order back to the car, Paul told a story of how one of our friends had been randomly punched in the face, on that very street, by a huge South Asian dude when they were teenagers. We then drove past a plaque for Kriss Donald, the 15-year old boy who was abducted, beaten, and murdered in Glasgow in 2004. And it was only last month I read a disturbing article about two immigrants (one from Mongolia, the other Sudan), who were severely beaten with bricks and clubs.
And I thought, "Where the fuck am I? The deep south of America circa the 1960s? Some apocalyptic dystopian city, as seen in Children of Men? Was I really that naive to think that Glasgow was such a wonderful and friendly place?" I was so upset that I burst into tears, embarrassing myself and my stiff-upper-lip British friends.
My friend, Claire, attempted to appease my emotions and attest that such matters happen in all major cities. I nodded and bit my lip to stop any further blubbering.
Now, hang on a minute but....I honestly cannot remember the last time someone had their head kicked in in Toronto because they were black, white, Catholic and so on. While you may be shot for being in the wrong place at the wrong time (i.e. the boxing day shooting of 2005), I can't recall anyone recently having the shit kicked out of them because of their skin colour or religion in Toronto. Then again, maybe it does but it is unreported.
Maybe my blubbering is not only a "Toronto thing" but a generational one as well, having been born eight years after the Canadian Multiculturalism policy was created by Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on October 8, 1971 (becoming embedded in the Canadian Constitution in 1985). And I don't know about your high school history and law classes, but I seem to recall learning about the Canadian constitution at least once every goddamn day! Or maybe it has something to do with coming from a country ENTIRELY populated by immigrants (apart from the Aboriginal people of Canada, obviously).
Whatever it was that night, I suddenly felt really naive and...middle-class Canadian. Maybe I just don't get it.
Maybe Claire was right; maybe that sort of stuff happens in all major cities - even Toronto? I don't know if that shit goes down in Toronto (I'm doubtful), but I would love to hear from fellow Torontonians what their thoughts are. Claire was right about one thing - it was something straight out of Do the Right Thing: