The Canada Diaries: multiculturalism & the authenticity of Chinatown

Day 2 | July 25th 

There is a Starbucks on every corner of this city… Sigh… In other news…

Today on Yonge St. myself and Melodie went in search of Toronto’s coach terminal. Our accents instantly revealed our Britishness to Michael who grew up in Birmingham and Nottingham. Michael is a construction worker who took a diversion from his work to direct us. He spoke about how his parents migrated from the UK to Canada, he has stayed in the country because he “knows how to work the system.” He tells us that “when you come to Canada, the multi-culturalism lives” and “everybody knows where they come from.”

This rang true as I thought about our Taxi driver who told us he was from India, the Cuban woman who served us in Denny’s and Michael himself who is from the Caribbean (I’ve unfortunately forgotten which specific island.) Everyone we meet does seem to know where they “come from”, and exactly why they are here. There is a general acceptance of difference, and on the surface, space for every individual to follow through their purpose without judgement or major disturbance.

Toronto’s diversity cannot be denied. As an avid people watcher (people are a direct reflection of the soul of a place), the only large community groups I have observed at this point are East Asian. I believe, just as many currently are at my University in London, many East Asians (Korean, Chinese and Japanese for example), travel abroad as exchange students during the summer. This is what I observed here in the central area of Downtown Toronto – especially on the long road that is Dundas Street, divided into East and West.

From Dundas Square (which looks very much like Times Square in New York, or Trafalgar Square in London), we followed Dundas St. West all the way down to Kensington Market. Led here by Melodie’s smart quest for “Toronto’s hipster area.” We had had enough of walking the city centre, and what we wanted were the culturally rich areas of Toronto – the Peckham’s, Camden’s and Shoreditch’s (if you’re a Londoner).

On Dundas St. West is Toronto’s Chinatown, I cannot emphasise just how authentic the environment was! I was in genuine awe! I really experienced the respective cultures being in full control of the space and having the freedom to represent their culture through food, architecture, art and lifestyle. From the Chunghwa driving school, to the mature women who sit on stools selling fresh produce in conical bamboo hats (known as “dǒulì” in Chinese)there is a strong eco-system here – a real sense of “home away from home” for the Chinese people who live study, work, eat and socialise in this large space.

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Arriving in Kensington Market felt like the sight of a friendly smile in a hostile environment. Toronto had been quite predictable up until today, today was vibrant and culturally exciting. The area was booming with a wide variety of music, food, crafts and trades. From J-poison’s record shop to the ‘Jerk Spot’, to the Vintage Depot store.

So many spoke of Caribana, the street carnival happening in Toronto next week. With the event inspired by carnival in Trinidad, we gathered from conversations that Caribana is where the black community here come together in numbers, and everybody looks forward to it! “Can’t you extend your stay?” is a question we were asked with the utmost sincerity.

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Anyway, tomorrow is day one of the Diversity in Organisations, Communities & Nations conference! So an early night is needed, especially with having to adjust myself to the time difference here.

 

We used today as an opportunity to take in our surroundings, get our bearings right, for myself to gather inspiration for my writing and to in part celebrate my birthday. I have spent the last hour rehearsing and presenting to myself. Pretending that I am my audience, preparing and ensuring that I articulate myself well. This practice, has calmed any anxiety I may have been feeling, I feel ready to go and represent tomorrow.