One of the most amazing things I found in Canada is when I discovered myself needing people who, in my home country, I would be expected to dislike.
Growing up and studying literature and history, I realized that every culture has an unjust bias when they consider another ethnic group inferior. Some explain it on the grounds of historic events, others on the grounds of economic status, but mostly it is because of prejudice, so much spread throughout the world.
I have been always attracted to people from different cultures. I need them in my life in order to have a rich experience and a better understanding of who I am as a person. I have always considered everybody equal and raised my voice defending other nationalities.
I remember being in Toronto’s airport with my husband once, checking our luggage and getting ready for our flight. My husband had a cap on, with Romania’s flag on it, as usual being proud that he could express his nationality in this new country. We were talking in English with a representative about our flight, when another man started speaking to us in Romanian. He told us, in a very aggressive tone, that if he were in our shoes he would not wear that hat. I was very surprised, mainly because he was around our age, thirty years old, and I didn’t understand why he would say something like that.
I assured him that we were very proud of being Romanian, and walked away. My husband, who is generally more patient than I am, went back and asked him why he would say something like that. The young man said he was Hungarian, that he was bullied a lot when he lived in Romania, and that even in Toronto he was having problems with Romanians because of his ethnicity. I immediately realized that he hadn’t made his comment because he was mean, but because he was a person who had been hurt, and was frustrated at having been punished unfairly.
My guard came down and I approached the young man, with less pride. We tried to explain him that we embrace everybody, regardless of where they come from, the colour of their skin, their religion, their economic status or their ethnic group.
I wanted to apologize for all my Romanian friends who had offended him or his ethnic group in any way, but I didn’t. I realized that I might sound a bit over the top, insincere, and as though I were somebody who splits the world into Romanians and Hungarians. I’m not that type and I didn’t want to go there. I considered, and still do, that everybody is responsible for his own words and feelings. So I couldn’t find excuses for what others were doing, even though they were from MY country.
Regardless, I found myself ashamed of my country for permitting this prejudice to continue. I was in a multicultural country where diversity was the main foundation of the nation and where, in my opinion, racism and discrimination had lost the battle a long time ago. Was I being naïve?
Some would say that I still am – that the misjudgment, the unfairness and the hostility will never go away, and that humans are doomed to be biased.
I wanted to tell the young man how much I cared about his opinion and how much I needed his friendship. I wanted to show him that I am different, and there are other Romanian people who are different too. But I just stood there, watching him, and wondering when we will find the right moment to start letting go of our traditional cultural conflicts, when we will finally be ready to understand that we need each other because we are the same. What will help our eyes to open… and how long will it be until it’s too late?
Letting go of prejudice can be a difficult process when you lack awareness and willingness, but it’s worth it. It’s worth the battle you’ll fight against your old programming, to discover the freedom of fairness.