Commentary by Devon Wade, MVC alum and former Delta editor
A very smart woman once told me that there is a difference between living in a country where there are minorities of different ethnicities, and living in a diverse country. And though I understood what she meant in theory, it wasn’t until I visited Toronto, Ontario, in Canada for the first time that I truly understood.
This was my first time leaving the United States and, though I knew that Toronto was known for being an international city, in my mind I didn’t picture what I saw when I actually got there. My experience living in the state ofGeorgiawas being in an area that was predominately black. The neighborhoods, churches, schools, and local businesses were predominantly black. In the state of Illinois where I was born and like most places in America, it was predominantly white.
I was fortunate enough to experience diversity at Missouri Valley College where there is a strong international presence despite MVC being a small liberal arts school in the rural Midwest. But never have I seen diversity on the scale that I did in Toronto.
When someone doesn’t look like the “typical American” or speaks with an accent, a lot of times they are classified as “different.” In Toronto, everyone looks “different” and it is actually their norm, and not only that but these differences are embraced and celebrated.
On my cab ride back from Pearson International Airport, my cab driver (who was of African descent) joked that “Canada is a lot better than America. You will like it better here.” He then went on to explain how different he had been treated in America as opposed to in Canada. While I am a proud American, being a black male in America, I also could understand why he would feel such a way.
He reminded me a lot of a friend of mine named Daniel from back home in Georgia. Daniel is an American of Eritrean descent. I can remember several times when jokes were made about Daniel being a terrorist or being called “Osama Bin-Laden.” This was interesting considering that he didn’t resemble Bin-Laden in anyway and is from a country that had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks on the United States. It was just because he looked “different.”
I am not naïve enough to believe that racism and prejudice don’t exist north of the border, but it’s hard to imagine with the exposure of so many different nationalities that people of East African heritage would be associated with terrorist groups in the Middle East.
With that said, not every observation I made in Toronto had serious social implications. There were also a lot things I found funny. For instance, all the moose, talking bears, igloo realtors, maple syrup salespeople, fully dressed hockey players walking around the street with their ice skates on, (and everything else I’ve seen about Canada on television) seemed to be gone on vacation the six days I was there. I also only heard someone say “eh?’ at the end of a declarative statement twice! (Television lied to me.)
I also found out that in a lot of food establishments you have to actually ask for cheese to be put on your burger, and here I
thought all these years that the cheese was implied. Right after that is when I found out the quickest way to stick out like an American sore thumb was asking if the tea served was sweet or unsweetened.
Another funny thing I noticed was that there seemed to be an unofficial city-wide best-dressed contest. It was as if everyone wanted to be prepared at all times in case a new night club appeared out if thin air. I take pride in my appearance and try to look presentable when I go somewhere but there were still times where I felt underdressed, and that was just walking around the city during the afternoon.
And with all that walking and fast food costing an arm, leg, and three moose, it’s easy to see why the Canadian obesity rate is a lot lower than in America. After a trip to McDonalds, I saw that a McChicken was five dollars. (For five dollars, a McChicken better be able to lay eggs, scramble its own eggs, and serve me those eggs.)
Going to Toronto wasn’t like going to an all new planet, but there are many differences between there and the places where I have lived and visited here in America, but differences doesn’t always have to mean good or bad, superior or inferior. I was able to appreciate these differences and would recommend Toronto to anyone as a place to visit at least once in your life.