Sunday, January 13, 2008

Why I would like a gay neighbour…

a Chinese one, too and a Jamaican market at the corner:

Like many other urban dwellers I would like to talk about diversity, but really what I hesitate to talk about is segregation. The truth is that you can have diversity intertwined with heavy segregation.

In Toronto, we have large populations of people from the Chinese descent, Persian, Indian, Caribbean, Italian, etc. However, naturally you see that immigrant communities have selected certain geographical locations to congregate. The same has happened with Toronto’s large gay population.

A good explanation for this phenomenon is that groups of visible minority share common interests such as religion (place of worship), cuisine (local food market), culture and code of conduct. But a deeper look reveals that by congregating in one geographical location, they can build a support network that in many areas has resulted in electing one of their own as the member of the parliament for political leverage.

Sounds great. You may ask why not?

While this seems a strategy for first generation immigrants to bear the difficulties of living in a new country and provide a familiar support network for survival, I don’t see this favourable for the second generation. The same principles apply to the queer community.

Segregation brings a big host of problems, the most important of which are intolerance and cultural gap. Children who grow up in a rather closed ethnic community experience difficulty trying to merge with the bigger urban society, when time comes to leave home. At the same time, the majority that has lived in a dominant (e.g heterosexual Christian white) Canadian environment could show Resistance to the alternative (ethnic/queer) culture, simply because it is foreign to them.

The news is not all that bad. Fortunately, many second generation immigrants choose to reside outside their own ethnic community and integrate with the bigger society. Educational institutions have a great role as well in representing the cultural mosaic of the urban environment. This is one of many reasons that I have always loved and admired my university: University of Toronto.

However, it is not all perfect. There is still heavy segregation in many urban centres where large population of immigrants live. Fortunately, this did not result in publicly-funded religious schools in Ontario, as pitched by the Conservative Party during the provincial elections. However, such segregation has resulted in patches of poverty and affluence and an invisible culture of intolerance.

It is not easy to find a neighbourhood where I can have a gay neighbour, a Chinese one and a Jamaican market at the corner.

Immigration does not necessarily come with integration, but rather segregation. And segregation in abundance, could lead to a cultural of fear and urban violence.


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