or ‘Stop The World I Want To Get Off!”
By Dennis Tkach. This is the first of four essays reflecting what I perceive as powder keg issues of today that earn our attention and define us. How we think, how we feel and how we act. To one degree or another these social issues resonate with everyone. For some, interest may be little more than a candle flickering in the wind… for others, a raging bonfire of passion and resolute mindset. Whatever the camp in which you pitch your opinion tent, I really don’t care. As you read on, my personal viewpoint will become quite clear. Do I care what you think of my opinion? Not really. My purpose is two fold. First… to make you think, ponder, and consider how you came by your position. Second, and this will prove to be the really difficult part… for you to try and understand who and the why of those who oppose your beliefs. If you can meet these two objectives… you will become a better person, grasshopper.
Standing on a hill of observation over seven decades in the making, I, and others of my generation have watched, first hand, the march of social advancement from WW11 to the present. In a nutshell (an apt simile,) I believe the progress of the human race, as it marches into history can be summed up in the phrase ‘Two steps forward… one step back’. Two smiles for every grimace.
In my time I have been labeled a pessimist and a cynic. However, like Mark Twain once commented, “I am an optimist… who never arrived.” I am a cynic with a master’s degree in trying to understand the human condition.
We are products of our upbringing. Like DNA each generation leaves its indelible markings on the next.
I grew up in the north end of Winnipeg, a struggling blue collar but ethnic rich environment. The street where I spent the first twelve years of my life was predominantly populated with Jews and Ukrainians… along with a smattering of Polacks and Germans. Aside from the old rabbi who lived next door to me (who hated anyone not circumcised) as neighbors we all got along famously. My best friend from the age of 5 was a German, replete with lederhosen, he and his family recent immigrants from post war Germany. Our family dentist, a Jew, lived across the street from us. As neighbors, everyone on our block knew each other and respected each other’s religions and rich traditions. Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, Jew or atheist, in this microcosm of multiculturalism, we got along.
I do not recall ever seeing a black, brown or yellow face in elementary school or in the entire patch of my north-end world. At the invitation of my next- door neighbor, Hymie, as a 10 year old, I attended a boy’s Jewish summer camp and was the only ‘goy’ present. I went to synagogue on Saturday and though I never understood a word that was spoken, even at such an early age, I began to nurture deep seated roots of fascination and respect for the religion, cultures, (and food) of those different from mine. (Schnitzels, latke and matzos are among my favorite foods.)
Growing up, racism in a mild form was indeed present, generally in the form of ethnic jokes. But we never regarded them as hurtful. I laughed just as hard at ‘hunky jokes’ or being called a ‘bunyok’. There was never cruelty or animus behind such tags, at least, none that I ever perceived. Today we hear of a resurgence of neo-nazis, white supremists, anti-semites, Muslim haters or whatever label one wishes to apply to these troubling human beings. Regrettably, like weeds in a garden, hate mongers and fringe crazies will always be with us.
However, closer to home, I add the following observations, which announce to me that even in the 50s, in Canada, there was a definite undercurrent of racial and class prejudice. I had two aunts who were ashamed of being Ukrainian. Both married men of British lineage and both were quick to adopt their husband’s heritage. One of my aunts always referred to herself as ‘Scotch’. She couldn’t even get the nomenclature correct. My wife, who is Scottish, still rolls her eyes when the memory of her first meeting with this aunt evoked “we are also Scotch”. This 100% Ukrainian aunt even had a lone bagpiper skirl laments during her funeral AND in front of her home after the funeral service.
I never saw one iota of racial intolerance in my mother until I was a young man. At the age of twenty I went on a date with a young lady of African lineage. When I casually mentioned the fun evening I had to my mother, she shocked me by breaking into tears of dismay, telling me I had to stay with my ‘own kind’. THIS was a revelation for me. I also once dated a British ambassador’s daughter who lived in the upscale Wellington Crescent part of Winnipeg. When I rang her castle doorbell I was greeted by a real live butler. When I mentioned this to my mother, she simply replied, “you have to stay within your own social class.” Really, mom?
In my high school, population less than 700, there was one African-Canadian. George was very popular, high profile, and liked by everyone. We also had three Asians in our school. 3 out of 700! Imagine that, Richmond or Vancouver! Whether they were Japanese or Chinese, it mattered not. They were simply ‘school mates’. For the students of the West Kildonan Collegiate Institute, graduating class of ’62, I am proud to say, we were color-blind.
Let’s now jump into the present. In the U.S.A. it took a so called invasion of Mexican immigrants (that was always there, a necessary vital part of the agronomics of America), along with a terrorist threat from Islamic extremists (which caused a broad overreaction in branding whole countries as persona non grata solely because of their religious convictions) to cause fear and paranoia to rule Uncle Sam’s day. Ah, but not Saudi Arabia from whence came most of the terrorists who have declared hatred and war on ‘the imperialist swine’ south of our border. Yes, Saudis, oil and money indeed, talk the loudest. There is also the ever-present racial clash between African Americans and ‘white washers’ with red necks, an eternal remnant of the civil war. Did you know, as late as the 80’s, there were still billboards in the deep south with a caricature of an old rebel soldier proclaiming “Hell No! We Ain’t Quit!”
In Canada, and particularly in B.C. the punch in the face to multiculturalism came when the government opened wide it’s doors on immigration saying, “If you have the money, dear Asians, you can come on in!” You are welcome to pay exorbitant prices for real estate because you can. So what if this drives market prices up to the point where home grown Canadians will never be able to afford single dwelling homes in the lower mainland? By corollary you are also responsible for landlords who raise the rents to current jaw dropping heights. (Of note and in comparison, my first apartment, a beautiful one bedroom Tudor style on Nicola in the west end of Van cost me $110.00 a month.) My head hurts over the problems this poses for some of my adult kinder, all brought about by this hideous manifestation of greed. Of the seven deadly sins, for lotus-landers, greed must be recognized as the deadliest of all.
On a positive note, (yes, my fellow lower mainlanders, there is a sun behind those rain clouds), most immigrants, poor or wealthy, are hard working, intelligent people who only want to improve their lives and those of their children. This desire for betterment should be the worldwide mantra for all. There is a strong case for swelling the population of the true north with new Canadians and I am all for controlled growth. We are geographically bigger than the U.S.A. but with only 10% of it’s population. The land of the maple leaf has a lot of space to grow and develop.
Multiculturalism is a good thing. In describing this particular issue of the day, I would say with absolutive definitude, “two steps forward, only a babystep back.”
Next week: Morality