Abbotsford: the city I call home, yet the city I always want to escape. After completing my BA in international development studies and political science at UFV, I packed my bags and booked a ticket to Turkey, where I’d be teaching English for the year. At first, with the city being in such close proximity to Europe’s border, I didn’t spend much time thinking about my safety.
Soon enough, reality kicked in. The stories of violence, terrorist attacks, bombs, refugees floating at sea, and protests became daily news. Such atrocities were “normal” to the Turkish people — it wasn’t the first time they experienced such terror. Journalists were being jailed for speaking out against Erdogan, a president seeking dictatorial powers. The major airport was bombed with hundreds of foreigners waiting to depart flights. Two weeks later a “coup” to take down the president was staged. The spillover effects of war coupled with the stress of being a Canadian in a city of millions made me feel uneasy. I thought to myself, if I died here, who would know? It was time for me to come home.
Before I departed Istanbul for Abbotsford, I thought I was coming home to my safe “bubble” of a town. This thought too would be tested. After reading of the increased drug-related crime and gang violence in Abbotsford, it made me feel disappointed that such activities were taking place while the world was ripping to pieces abroad. I couldn’t believe the number of young individuals being killed from gunshots. I thought to myself, this is not much different than the circumstances of Istanbul. It’s truly disheartening to see this in my city. It makes me want to leave.
In Istanbul there lived many minorities: Armenians, Kurds, Syrians, Jews, and others among them. After the fall of the Ottoman Empire, a nationalism had taken hold — many, though in the majority, believed that in order to live in Turkey, one must be a Turk. This means speaking Turkish and partaking in Turkish norms. Many of these minorities have been forgotten, and no one seems to care, or if they do, they are too afraid to say anything.
It saddened me to see such divisiveness abroad. But to come back to Abbotsford and see it here deeply moved me. I see the west side of Abbotsford home to predominantly people of “South Indian decent,” and the east side home to anyone that’s not. It’s evident that a physical divide is present, but what caused it? I think it comes down to strong cultural beliefs, lack of education, and fear. Such fear has created a monumental shift from a society meant to be inclusive, to one that clearly is not.
I’m unsure of how such a divide came to be, perhaps it’s always been there, or perhaps it’s escalated to something beyond ignoring. This reality moved me to raise awareness of the issue and bring light to the divide that no one seems to be talking about, or they’re too afraid to state its facts. There’s a clear issue of gang violence in Abbotsford, of which South Indian youth are the main participants, but there’s also a group of people extending hate throughout the city. Expressions like KKK flyers and white power graffiti painted on schools, it makes me feel uneasy, and it makes me want to do something about it.
I know I can’t stop people from acting in such a way, however, if I can get people to think about the issue by hearing my perspective, maybe it will make a difference in some way. It saddens me that people, rather than getting to know their neighbours would rather be quick to make generalizations, extend hate, or altogether distance himself or herself from anyone different. I too, believe such divisiveness has allowed the gang violence to occur; youth who don’t have a sense of identity are confused with “am I Canadian or am I Indian?” They need to find their place in society, so they hang around those who look like them and where they feel the most empowered.
Overall, I think it all comes down to fear; fear of the “other.” The truth is, in the end, we all have a story, we are sharing this place, and this place is built on immigrants. This doesn’t justify not integrating into society, but rather to blend it and portray a true image of the Canada that people from across the world could only hope to be a part of.
This being said, I invite you to take part in raising awareness of this divide by joining myself and members of the community this month, Friday, May 26, 2017, on a walk across Abbotsford. I hope this walk will not only inspire and motivate Canadians, but also those of a different cultural background to embrace a more inclusive society; one that shares the common language of English and isn’t afraid to exercise it in order to loosen such a divide.
For details of the walk, email Priya directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.