#thetimeisnow

Silenced multiculturalism The diversity of cultural backgrounds should be embraced and respected, not assumed

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Recently, I boarded the HSR on a regular Friday morning, I sat down, called my mom, and braced myself for my daily hour commute.

When the bus gets packed, priority seating is given to parents with strollers, people with disabilities and if your mother taught you as mine did, senior citizens. So, when an elderly woman in a hijab got on with a walker, I offered her my seat and assisted her in moving her walker aside. That was my first mistake.

While still on the phone reassuring my mom that I was okay to take the bus without my brother and that Google maps had my back, I started to feel a nudge against my shoulder from an older woman, yelling back to her friend – Suzy – behind her.

It took me a bit to realize that what sounded like one of the many American rally videos on white supremacy, was actually a reality. “These damn Muslims thinking they can take my seat,” the nudging woman said to her friend, though she was clearly talking about me. She brandished her cane at me and screamed towards her friend: “I’ll whack her head off with my cane if she ever tries to get in my way… this is my country! Send them back to where they came from!” I later learned that this old lady’s name was Adeline from her friend Suzy, who was encouraging her.

At this point, I had gotten off the phone with my mom and stood between these two women. I said nothing. I did nothing. I simply stood there, being nudged.

Though we all reside in Canada, not all of us call this country our home. I do. My siblings do. But this is not the case for everyone, and we must consciously avoid opposing assumptions.

On this extremely packed bus, no one seemed to notice what had just happened until my head hit one of the poles and my bag hit the ground.

The operator abruptly slammed the brakes on the bus and came to intervene. Thankful, I stood and looked at him with hope. The operator rushed to the woman and in an barely audible whisper, he said “You better stop what you’re doing otherwise you’re going to get us both in trouble,” walked the woman back to her seat and went back to the wheel. I stood there in astonishment, silent and invisible.

As a new hijabi who has been a Canadian citizen since I was six years old, and a Hamilton resident since I was two, this experience was a shock to me. Though experiencing discrimination was not something new to me, this experience was the only one to bring me tears. Not because I was aggressively pushed on an operating bus, but because I knew that if it wasn’t me, it might have been the elderly woman with the walker.

Though we all reside in Canada, not all of us call this country our home. I do. My siblings do. But this is not the case for everyone, and we must consciously avoid opposing assumptions.

With over 100 different languages, cultures and faiths shared by over 200,000 Canadian immigrants, culturally identifying an individual can be a challenge.

Canada is reputably a country that takes pride in being progressively multicultural and diverse. As students who attend institutions that welcome students internationally to share in our university experiences, it is important to respect understand the backgrounds we each come from.

We are all immigrants. Whether we were born and raised here, or moved here with our parents, or are on a student visa, we each come from different cultural backgrounds that are attached to cultural stereotypes and generalizations. But just like all diverse groups, whether it be gender, race, religion, ethnicity or culture, we all reserve the right to define ourselves the way we choose to. We should all respect each other’s individual backgrounds, and understand that though someone may look like a foreigner, does not mean that they are.

I am clearly Muslim, but when it comes to my race, culture and ethnicity, some may consciously see my physical identity and subconsciously assume my story. But if I have the right to determine my own gender, I should have the right to tell my own story. I should not be left in silence.

As a visible hijab-wearing Muslim, my identity remains what I choose it to be. I am Canadian, and I am Muslim, not one or the other.

In my “back of the bus” experience, I was invisible. And no one should ever have their individual stories silenced by presumption. After all, you know what they say about those who assume.

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Author: Reem Sheet

Reem Sheet's name alone indicates she is meant for a career in journalism. A second year English and Philosophy student, she is the Opinion Editor for Volume 88. An avid writer and volunteer (to the point of volunteering for an organization that organizes volunteers), Reem is firm in her opinions and takes great pride in having a lot of them.