By Shae Hadden
live in a country where multiculturalism was once the watchword of a
generation. I attended high school in a ‘multicultural district’ in an
inner city, took several language courses at university and hung out
with people from diverse racial, social and cultural backgrounds.
Today, I am disheartened to hear how ‘terrorist paranoia’ creeps into
our everyday lives and has us question whether we will accept new
people into our lives.
Today, two of my cousins asked for my
perspective on something that happened to them recently. They each,
obviously, had opposing perspectives on what had occurred and wanted me
to objectively give my opinion. Their story goes something like this…
young woman of Chinese descent, an engineer by trade, is living in our
city, working here temporarily. She has no friends or relatives here
and has been attending a downtown church in an effort to meet people.
Before arriving in our country, she had ‘met’ one of my cousins’
brothers over the internet, found out that one of their family
ancestors had been a missionary in her family’s area of China, and
basically, begun a friendly dialogue with him. When she heard that one
of the family’s elder members would be visiting our city, she called my
cousin to invite them both to meet her at her church.
three (cousin, elder and young woman) met, exchanged pleasantries and
decided to spend a bit of social time together sailing. During that
short trip, the young lady revealed that she knew much more about my
cousins’ family, and mentioned she was looking to meet more people here
(specifically young men). She made no requests for money or time—simply
asked to be connected to more people.
My cousins were both
unsettled by her forthrightness and knowledge about their family, and
asked my opinion of this scenario. Both of them had very different
interpretations about this woman and what she was about: either she was
a spy, sent to establish herself for some long-term objective for her
country (a half-joking suggestion, albeit somewhat serious) OR she was
a gold digger, intent on finding herself a husband. Either way, they
didn’t know what to make of her, certainly weren’t interested in seeing
her again and definitely afraid to introduce her to any of their
friends or acquaintances.
I asked them both how they had gotten
established in this city when they first arrived, and they admitted
they had both had the good fortune of being introduced to people who
‘introduced’ them to their friends. Neither had gone to the trouble of
researching people before meeting them: however, they were both aware
that, in some Asian cultures, there is an expectation that one know
quite a bit about someone before meeting them—whether in a business or
I mentioned to them that beginning life in a
new city can be a lonely experience for anyone, and, when you are
placed inside a new ‘cultural context’ without any information about
the social norms, you assume that what worked where you were before
will work just as well where you find yourself now. I pointed out that,
in a way, I felt sad that no one had explained to this young lady that
it was not normal to know a lot about a person before you meet them in
North America. And I shared my hope that someone will have the courage
to see her as a short-term visitor in our country, get past their
interpretations of her behavior, take a chance to get to know her
better, and perhaps, introduce her to others in the community.
And I would hope someone would be willing to do that for me the next time I relocate…wouldn’t you?