Multiculturalism in Canada is often explained as being a mosaic, with every person retaining their identity and coming together to form a colourful and diverse nation. But what is to be done when pieces of our mosaic start turning on each other?
Last week a video surfaced of a woman’s racist tirade in a Shoppers Drug Mart in Burnaby, BC.
The woman, who is visibly agitated, tells employees that “speaking in Chinese” in front of her is “rude as fuck,” and demands that they “speak English in Canada.”
Describing someone speaking another language as rude, then following that by telling them to “shut up” and demanding that they speak in English, is racist.
It fuels an “us versus them” mentality which cannot be tolerated. People living in Canada, no matter if they were born here, have a citizenship, or are newly arrived immigrants, have the right to speak whatever language they want as private citizens.
What takes me aback the most in this video is the brazenness of the perpetrator. She does not seem fazed by the fact that she is being filmed, or that a child is standing right next to her. She continues her verbal assault shamelessly.
She spews hatred and racism without even flinching. She speaks to the employees in a tone that would be inappropriate to inflict on an animal. She doesn’t seem to think of her opinion as wrong or controversial. If you’re in Canada, no matter where you might be from or what your mother tongue may be, you speak in English.
There are more than 200 different languages spoken in Canada, according to data from the 2011 Canadian census. Hence, there is a certain level of absurdity in assuming that when you leave your house you will only hear English or French, and a level of insanity if you decide to go on a racist rant about it.
Furthermore, considering the fact that English and French are colonial languages and are not even native to Canada, why should we see monolingualism as favourable?
Multiple scientific studies have concluded that knowing more than one language is good for our brains. A 2013 study from Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences showed that bilingualism delays a person’s age at the onset of dementia. Bilingual participants in the study developed dementia 4.5 years later than their monolingual counterparts.
Bilingualism also has positive effects on children. A study done by the University of Oregon showed that compared to monolingual children, bilingual children have stronger inhibitory control. This allows them to pay attention, take turns, and follow instructions better than their monolingual peers.
Besides improving cognitive function, being able to speak more than one language can make you more employable, help you when traveling abroad, and enables you to hold on to your culture.
Clearly, cases of people demanding others to only speak one language has little to do with anyone’s wellbeing, and more to do with hate and intolerance.
At the end of the day, if hearing someone speak a different language deeply disturbs you, maybe you should just stay home.
Photo: Laurence BD.