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Lack of diversity means our children are missing out

By: Dee-Ann Schwanke

  |  Posted: Saturday, Jul 21, 2012 06:00 am

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Earlier this week I had an engaging conversation with the owner of a local business. He spoke about his previous employment as a tax auditor for the provincial government and the limitations he experienced as a visible minority. For 18 years he watched white people move up in seniority while he remained in his position without recognition or advancement. In 1993, he quietly left, and has since been serving the St. Albert community successfully for 19 years.

Canada is recognized as one of the most multicultural countries in the world, yet in our corner of the country, we’re rather pale. The 2006 census showed that Alberta consists of 14 per cent visible minorities. Edmonton is at 17 per cent, with some neighbourhoods nearing 33 per cent. St. Albert, however, is at four per cent.

Our isolation becomes apparent every time I visit the store or stroll the farmers’ market. I also see it when attending an event at one of St. Albert’s schools. As youth parade across the stage, the number of visible minorities is shockingly low. We are a remarkably homogeneous group – like a large batch of almond cookies.

When I was a young farm girl, I was secluded from people from different ethnic backgrounds. When I was 12, my family had the privilege of hosting a young man named Simon who had just moved from South Africa. His father was white, and his mother Filipino. In 1948, when the National Party officially enforced apartheid, his father had lost the right to own property and live with his family where he had always lived. Forced to move to an assigned area, he never saw his siblings again until the 1990s when his sister’s will requested that all her family be reunited at her funeral.

It was into this world that Simon had been born. He had seen the worst of segregation and discrimination in his young life, including witnessing children his age being gunned down in the schoolyard simply because they were the wrong colour. In his early 20s, he came to Canada and found a home on our farm, where we had never met a man of different colour.

My father is a principled man and took it upon himself to demonstrate true, meaningful fairness in every possible way. Simon became my brother. He shared equally in the chores around the farm, as well as the benefits and rewards. As time went on, he began to learn the Canadian perspective of equality, and his life was altered. He now lives in Devon with his wife and children, and calls us his Canadian family. His healing during that significant time of transition in his 20s did not come from reading about diversity in a book. Rather, he learned it from fixing fences in our fields and eating pyrogies in our kitchen.

Now in 2012, as shocking as it may sound, St. Albert children are missing out. Living in this city may bring them parks, recreation, the arts, events, safety and education, but it doesn’t bring them the practice of inclusion. They don’t see colour on the faces of their school friends. They seldom taste the flavour of foods from other countries. They don’t recognize the scent of sweetgrass, nor hold the hand of a child with different skin tone. They don’t hear the melody of different languages. Their senses have missed out on the joy of diversity.

I doubt that St. Albert will ever approach the provincial average for ethnic representation. I do hope, however, that we grow towards it. We are Canada. Our multiculturalism is watched and respected throughout the world. Every step St. Albert takes towards a multicultural community is an adventure into the world.

Dee-Ann's and her husband’s children have visited 14 countries. Her daughter, a 2012 graduate of Paul Kane, is currently working in Ecuador.


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