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A Different View

by - Friday, January 20, 2017

I was going to write a Love List post for today, but I wouldn't feel right sharing pretty pictures and random musings when there are important things happening in the world the next few days. This has never been a very political blog - I feel we are all entitled to our opinions and can find common ground even if we disagree - but I wanted to put my thoughts to paper and perhaps share my experience as a woman, a person of colour, and mother.

Growing up, I never thought I was much different from my neighbours. Sure, we were one of only two Asian families that attended our small school in Georgetown but I honestly never felt I was anything but Canadian. I've often described my childhood as living in a Norman Rockwell painting, and it was. We rode our bikes around the neighbourhood for hours on end. Played hopscotch on the sidewalk and hide and seek when it became dark. My parents were on the PTA, our family would be one of many that brought up the gifts at Sunday mass, and we'd host an annual summer bbq in our back yard. I did well at school, was voted Class President, and enjoyed how my classmates treated me like a kid (ie. shorter and smaller) sister. It was idyllic.

There were only two instances that I, looking back now as an adult, can identify as being treated differently. It was 1979, International Year of the Child, when we had a school visitor tell us about cultures from around the world. And at the end of the presentation, she called me to the front of the room, and proceeded to dress me in Peruvian shawls (shawls that you could tell by looking were much too long for my short stature) and had me parade at the front of the class. The second instance was in Grade 5 when after practicing my lines for weeks, the director of the school's Alice In Wonderland play told me that no, I could not audition for the role of the White Rabbit. Singled out. Judged for the colour of my skin.

Fast forward 30 years, and I found myself standing in the gymnasium of a school I'd never been in. We had been house hunting and after the viewing we drove around the neighbourhood and found that the local school, to our luck, was having an open house. And so we snuck inside, standing in the gym, as the Principal talked about school parking and pizza lunches and extracurricular activities. Chloe looked around the room and with all sincerity, said "Mom, I can't go to school here. I won't make any friends." "Why not, Chloe?" "Because they're all Chinese."

There are moments in your life that can change your whole world view. I had been watching the elections from afar for the past year and in that instant realized the issues I thought were a distant problem needed to be addressed at home. The neighbourhood we lived in was a white upper middle class one and I had a gnawing in my heart for a while that Chloe needed exposure to more diversity - diversity in culture, in thought, in economic reality. She needed to know that when people came to our door, assuming I was the nanny and asking to speak to the homeowner, that it was wrong. She needed to know that those Chinese students, likely born in Canada just like her, were no different. The move was already in our plans and this brought clarity to our decision.

So why am I discussing this on a design blog?

Because our homes are so much more than the paint we put on our walls.

Because I think of you as friends I've welcomed into my home and these are the kinds of things we'd talk about over a pot of coffee.

Because this blog has given me a platform to speak out on those things that matter to me. And while we have seen how easy it is to incite hate in just 140 characters, I know that those same social channels can spread messages of love, empathy, acceptance, and understanding.

I am fearful of what the next four years will bring. But I am emboldened to know that others feel that way too. So if you are marching with your sisters in Washington this weekend, or like me, struggling to find the words to discuss difficult topics, just take the first step. Talk about it. Don't sit silent. Put your thoughts out into the world. I know that many of you can't relate to my life experiences, but I hope my sharing them brings us closer together than divides us apart.

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