By Ariel Garlow
Scanning through an early November edition of The Silhouette, at least two articles brought to mind what I’d been musing on ever since I first arrived at Mac.
Tutorials would start up for the year, everyone would introduce themselves, talk about their hobbies, their family, the city they were from. Ancaster, Burlington, Toronto or somewhere much further out of the area. What I realized is that very few of my classmates actually came from the city I was born in, and the city in which we all come to learn and grow here at McMaster. For a university in Hamilton, I wasn’t meeting very many Hamilton-born students. In many ways I think that speaks well of our campus, that students are willing to travel out of their way to get an education here.
At the same time, there’s a particular vibe I get from many of my peers about their feelings towards our Steel city. First, they often know little or nothing about Hamilton, its history, monuments and key features. This is something most people will readily admit as they ask me directions or ask about a certain bus route. Second, that they have no desire to learn about Hamilton and would rather continue to view it through their disdain as this “dirty city”.
“Ew, Hamilton is so grimy! I can’t wait until I’m done at Mac!”, “Haha, yeah, Hamilton locals are such creepy bums!”, “My mom expects me to take the Barton bus to school! Yeah right mom, what are we, beggars in the Great Depression or something?”
These are all real things I’ve overheard at my couple fascinating and educational years at this school. Which tells me one of the biggest reasons for the hatred or disgust of my home city – we’re just “too poor” for the elite students from neighbouring, wealthier cities. I’m pretty sure everyone knows that neighbouring cities view Hamilton as the slums, the grimiest part of Ontario. I’m not sure if students coming from Ancaster or Burlington know what sort of reputation their hometowns have earned (Key Words: “Daddy’s Trust Fund”).
I thought about these things as I scanned the two articles, one on Committing to community and another entitled Who are our 1%? Income inequality seminar educates Mac about poverty, both by Aissa Boodhoo-Leegsma.
And I know why my home has this reputation. Don’t think I’m ignorant to our grime, our stench, and our trash-filled alleyways. Don’t think I argue against all of the criticisms. Just because a few wealthy business-starters have swooped in to steel city with their theatre groups, organic smoothie bar slash vintage dress boutique, and their fair-trade artisan cheese stores with free Wi-Fi (a great deal of gentrification in the recent years) that doesn’t mean we’ve begun to garner respect from the elite. We’re still the city of dusty bumpkins to many.
But I ask those students, who despise and chuckle at the “gross Hamiltonians”, am I one of them? Am I a grimy little inchworm? “Oh no” they’ll say, “Not you, you’re different! You’re clean and intelligent and you’re going places!” Ah, I see, I’m exempt. How about my mother? How about my late grandfather or grandmother, surely they were this “Hamilton scum” you talk about? My best friend from fourth grade? My sister? How about my cat, is he “Hamilton scum” too?
What’s the dividing line between who’s “Hamilton scum” and who isn’t? If I came home every day in elementary school to my mom watching Jerry Springer and a plate of Kraft dinner, if I was raised by a single parent on welfare, now Ontario Works, and went to a soup kitchen at Christmas, if I wouldn’t be able to even dream about post secondary without OSAP, if my can of beans comes from the food bank, am I the so-called poor dirty Hamiltonian you despise? Or, if you know me personally, am I another human being with ambitions, emotions – a heart, a mind?
I don’t want to be pessimistic about it, even if I’ve seen many failed attempts of students trying to be more humble, ranging from 5 Days Homeless For The Homeless rallies on campus which had a coffee machine and a DJ (note to students: if you’re trying to represent homelessness, you should know the homeless can’t afford dub step and dark roast) or even Occupy McMaster where the upper-middle class white male honours student chants “I am the 99%!”. I want to know that our students can connect with the community they live in without holding such pretensions. I want to know that even though many will never experience poverty, they will try their hardest to understand what poverty is like, and how widespread it is, in Hamilton.
To have some of my classmates see both the good and bad, to see real equality advocated, to embrace all this little smudge on the map has to offer. If there’s one simple thing I want you the reader to take out of all of this, it’s be aware of this community and become proud of your part in it.