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Unity and Harmony in Diversity

Q: On a scale of 1-10, how will you rate the diversity of your community (i.e. school, neighborhood)? Why?

A: I live in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada, which is a diverse community consistently ranked as the most "Asian" city in North America. I would say that Richmond is a 7 out of 10 in terms of diversity. We have a high population of Asians, especially Chinese immigrants, and I can see that reflected in my school, where the majority of students are Asian. In particular, many students are from East Asian countries like China, Japan, Korea, etc. In terms of diversity, I would rank my school as a 5 out of 10. This ranking is because we have a very high population of Asian students, and I don't see many other ethnicities represented as much in our school community. 

This situation is also reflected in Richmond as a whole - again, while the Asian community is dynamic and prosperous, we don't see many other ethnic groups represented as much, unfortunately.
Canada is a very multi-cultural country. But because Canada is situated in North America, people often think of white people when they picture my community. However, from my area, this stereotype is not wholly accurate, because if I walk into a mall on a random day, I would probably see more Asians than Caucasians. 

Q: People often think that racial diversity means that "as long as there are different races in a society, there is diversity," but in fact, racial diversity really means that all races are being represented equally. Does this lead to a further misconception towards racial diversity? Why is it significant? 

A: With our current generation, we are exposed to people of all races and ages, especially with greater access to media and information. We are able to see more and different people represented in our media, such as on Instagram, on YouTube, and in classrooms. In terms of misconception, I don't think it's that much of a problem for younger generations. But amongst older generations, diversity could be something more foreign, and it takes more understanding for them to see what racial diversity means, and how identity contributes to your personal experience.

Q: Do you think people of your community are accepting of minorities? Moreover, since you've said previously that the majority of your community is Asian, if one day, all of a sudden, the majority of your community changes to another ethnicity (e.g. African Americans, Hispanics), will people's level of acceptance change?

A: Because the majority of the population are immigrants, people are generally more willing to perceive things from different people's perspective - this is what I really like about my community. I believe that even when the social dynamics were to change, in general, I don't think it would be much of a problem to worry about. 

There was an interesting debate on the local shops that have only Chinese signs, and a lot of people argue that English should be made a mandatory language when naming a store. There is a problem because non-Chinese people could feel excluded when a shop has only a Chinese sign.

Q: Are people of color more unified in racially diverse societies, or in societies that are less diverse?

A: In more diverse societies, people of color do tend to stick together because of shared interests, language, culture, etc. They usually have more things in common. Even in my school, I tend to gravitate towards my Asian classmates and friends, and I could also see this amongst my peers. 

If I had to choose one of the two cases, I would choose the former. For example, in my school, we have a lot of Chinese students, and those students do tend to stick together. To some extent, this is a trend in most circumstances, but I think this is understandable. When you're away from your home, sometimes even away from your family, your friends, and the living environment you're so familiar with, you tend to gravitate towards people or things that are familiar. Usually, this vulnerability comes with living at a place that isn't entirely your own, and you would tend to find shelter and find a home in the community. In other words, you are finding "home" away from home. 

Q: Are schools doing an adequate job of advocating for diversity and combatting racial discrimination?

A: In general, our school does a great job welcoming international students into the community, and I have been an international mentor since grade 10. I helped and worked with the school for orientation activities, Parents' Information Sessions, and I regularly check on the new students to help them get involved in our community. However, there is definitely room for improvement because, in a lot of the schools in Richmond,  there are stereotypes around international students.

In my school, most international students come from well-off, upper-middle-class backgrounds. I noticed that there was a harmful stereotype that characterizes international students negatively. One reason I got involved in being an international mentor is that I speak Mandarin, and a lot of students talk to me about their struggles from adjusting to the new environment, and how they feel neglected and discouraged because of language, stereotypes, and cultural barriers. I did not want those reasons to prevent these international students from becoming a part of our community. A lot of my friends and I share mutual sentiments towards students who struggle to get used to the new environment, and we all work hard together to ensure that they can be fully immersed in the learning experience in our school.

Q: Considering your personal experience in Mainland China, to what extent does the lack of social diversity impact people's perception towards equality and global-mindedness?

A: I was born in Wuhan, and I went to a public primary school in Shanghai until I was eight. From what I remembered, I was the "odd" kid in my class, mainly because I did not look like everybody else, and I also had dietary restrictions since I am a Muslim.


Unlike my Pakistani father, who went to a culturally diverse international school, the public school that I went to was rather homogenous, and I was one of the very few people of color there. Looking back, I felt self-conscious about my identity since I looked different and had slightly different values. Nevertheless, I was still treated equally by teachers and students. I think it is because when we were young before we went to middle school, conceptions around culture and race are not deeply rooted in our minds yet. Discrimination is a concept that settles in later on in life, especially in high school. Very often, these ways of thinking (e.g. discrimination and racism) are what we are taught from society through means such as social media. 

Therefore, I would say that although the lack of racial diversity did make me a little uncomfortable about my differences, I was still treated equally by the teachers and students, and I had a pleasant learning experience back then. Now, I go to school in Richmond, Canada, a place that is very multi-cultural and open-minded. Many of my friends are from diverse backgrounds and ethnicities, and I know a lot of people with interesting and unique experiences. I think there are a lot of positive outcomes when students with different backgrounds get together and share their opinions about racial harmony and open-mindedness. I believe all schools should encourage their students to do so.


Shana Ahemode is a Chinese-Pakistani Canadian passionate about international relations and civic engagement. She uses her platforms in Student Government and Yearbook to advocate for inclusivity in her school community. In the fall of 2020, she plans on attending the University of Pennsylvania.


Interviewed & Edited by Ivy Zhang

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