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Vancouver, the region, not the city, contained over 2.3 million people as of the 2011 census. It can be difficult to stand out, to feel noticed. This was never an issue for my single-parent mother.
An immigrant, who came to Vancouver, B.C. in the 1970s, like many, searching for a better life than what she knew back home, which happened to be the twin island nation of Trinidad & Tobago.
In the late 80s she gave birth to me. My (Caucasian) Canadian father was sparingly around. It must have been confusing for Canadians to see a brown-skinned woman walking with her white-skinned son. There is no plainer way to state it.
I know my soccer coaches and teachers were always ‘mystified’ by the dynamic and with no father in tow, it made first impressions ever more bemusing.
I remember some encounters better than others and for the same reason many others take note of certain events in their lives. The awkward gazes, inquiries with the word “adoption” extended more often than not, sometimes whispered, though in words still audible to me. But, no matter the context, my mother would respond proudly, affirming just the opposite.
I was never really bothered by these moments. However, I also never cared to consider how those moments made my mother feel. She always seemed OK with everything, but later in life I realized that maybe this was because she always able to hide it well. I, like most children, believed this false façade of impenetrable armour, that those little things couldn’t weaken her.
But as I entered adulthood, she reluctantly revealed a story from her past. When she first came here, she was told point blank to, “fix that accent,” by a manager she worked the switchboard at a Surrey real estate company. And he was serious. She eventually moved on to another job.
There were other occasions of racial epithets, the time when, during an evening stroll around the neighbourhood block, she was struck by a half-filled can of beer. This incident provided her a ticket to the local ER and some choice words for the guilty perpetrators that of course escaped without consequence.
But she never once wished to return home. She never once held ill will against those that held those conservative dogmatisms regarding what it was or is to be Canadian. She was frustrated at times, expressed her anger and emotions.
My mother’s experience shaped my perspective on Vancouver.
I know this city, this region, through the eyes of my mother. Her struggles, triumphs and relentless persistence are synonymous to many of the every day lives of citizens here. Being in Vancouver, in Canada, means opportunity, but it comes at a personal sacrifice, whatever the obstacle may be.
Heritage, skin colour, mannerisms are marked characteristics of every individual and Vancouver is diverse. My mother is an example of the Canadian dream. An immigrant arrived from a poverty-stricken to successfully eke out a living and make this vast country her home.
Vancouver can be a harsh place, there’s no question. But the silver lining is that perseverance runs true and the moments of tribulation only serve to build character and integrity, much the same as any great city or nation.