Jennifer St. Croix, The Circle

I was born into a Canadian family in Windsor, Ontario. I have four sisters: two older and two younger. My mother raises us, our dad has been absent since I was a child. The absence of a second income and parent to assist my mom in raising five children has created many hardships and struggles. In the result of my father abandoning our family, my mom was left in a challenging situation. The circumstances are not ideal, but they truly helped shape my sisters and me to be who we are today.

My mom is the hardest working individual I know. She single-handedly raised five driven and bright daughters while going to full-time school, and working both full and part-time. My mom tried her best to conceal the financial struggles when we were children, although, we still left church every Sunday with crates filled with canned food. 

My family is simply Canadian. My mom’s heritage is German, my dad’s is French, and all my grandparents were born and raised in Canada. My mom was baptized and raised Catholic and she raised all my sisters and I born-again Christian. When I was a young girl, my family would sit at the dinner table every morning for breakfast and take turns reading scriptures and leading communion. My family would attend church every Sunday and sometimes even on weekdays. I am not extremely religious, I don’t attend church weekly, but I try to pray daily. I support the Christian faith but do not live my life according to all the rules and beliefs disclosed in the Bible. I use the teachings in the Bible to shape what I believe is right and wrong. 

I grew up in a household with strict rules about what was and was not acceptable. My sisters and I were taught to value manners and respect. My mom holds high expectations for my sisters and I to do our best in our academics and reflect our values in our everyday decisions. I have always worked hard in school and my extracurriculars. I know what I am academically capable of and would never try to achieve less than that. Since I was old enough to get a job, I worked part-time, full-time, and overtime hours in order to afford putting myself through post-secondary schooling. My mom has taught my sisters and I to be self-sufficient and independent. I never had the option to not work while in school, which may have added to my workload but taught me valuable skills like time-management and self-reliance. 

Growing up with little money was a common theme in my neighborhood but never amongst my school friends. The majority of my friends lived in a gated area called Southwood Lakes while I lived in a neighborhood immersed in poverty. My house is a small townhouse that we rent from a co-operative housing board. I have had to share a bedroom my entire childhood and this summer will be the first time I have my own room. My sisters and I got along and were always taken care of. My mom tried to conceal her financial struggles and the neighborhood poverty but I couldn’t help but acknowledge my observations. My direct neighbors that were on the other side of my townhouse were drug and alcohol abusers. Their children would be fed and clothed by teachers at my grade school and my mom would use the welfare money she had left over to buy them groceries. Their children were abused and neglected; one of the children would spend 12 hours of the day zip-tied to a high chair, 2 inches away from a television screen, and would stay up all night banging her head against the shared wall in the townhouse, crying. A house across the street from mine blew up when I was around five or six years old due to illegal formulation and mixing of drugs. 

My mom was aware of our living situation and because of that, worked extra hard to secure our safety and preserve our innocence. At one point, my mom received many death threats against her and my sisters and me from people in search of my dad and money that he owed them. We were never allowed to leave school alone or walk home alone. There was a photo of my dad in my grade school’s office for many years so that if he stepped onto school property the school would lock down into a code red. My mom created many code words while I was in grade school to indicate it was safe to leave school with an adult other than her; if she sent her friend to pick us up for example. 

While both my living and family situation has its disadvantages, it also has its advantages. My friends may have bigger houses, but their neighborhood diversity is limited. The majority of the families that live in Southwood Lakes are white and of Italian heritage. Gratefully, my neighborhood is quite culturally diverse with many Indian, Arab, and Muslim families. This allows me to interact with people of different cultures than I, without the obstruction of self-made stereotypes or prejudice. All my neighbors were extremely kind to my family my entire childhood. One of our Arab neighbors would bring over bags of fresh vegetables at least 3 times a week from his brother’s farm and expect nothing in return.

Another one of our neighbors would cook my family traditional meals from their home country and bring them over for us to try. Being born and raised in a Canadian family, I was never exposed to such cultural dishes, so I never shied from trying them. My mom would acknowledge my neighbors as normal people, as they should be, and never made discriminatory comments about them to cause us to think any less of them, and this I am grateful for. These interactions with my neighbors allowed me, at a young age, to see individuals for who they are, not what language they speak or the colour of their skin. 

The diversity of my neighborhood continued even further in Waterloo. I was continually meeting people from different origins and cultures. For instance, from just my 4 roommates that I was placed with in residence, one of them was born and raised Siberian and the other is Indian and raised Hindu. It was very interesting to go from a high school population being mostly white people, to a university that had so much more ethnic diversity.

I’m a very curious person and enjoy learning new things. When it comes to learning about cultures other than my own, I get very intrigued and have a desire to learn more. When working on my Hinduism presentation, I asked many of my Indian and Hindu friends for help to ensure I was on the right track. I enjoyed learning about my friends’ heritage rather than researching the history of Hinduism. I learned much more about the religion, its impact on its followers, and my friends as well. Living in KW provided me with the opportunity to get real, first-hand knowledge about practicing Hinduism. If I were in my hometown, Windsor, it would have been difficult to find any friends of Indian descent, and even more challenging to find someone that was Hindu.

My roommate expressed to me her favourite Hindu festivals and desserts and even took me to an Indian bakery to pick out desserts to share with the class. I chose to do my presentation on Hinduism because I knew little and was interested in learning a lot. I felt naive talking to my friends about the Hinduism culture, however, they were more than happy to share all the details and help me better understand the religion. I was able to ask questions and relate Hinduism to Christianity and share that with my friends in return. By affiliating certain religions or cultures with my friends and from being educated by their values and experiences, I have created a deeper personal connection and understanding with these religions or cultures as compared to how I would feel about them from researching  online. 

In terms of living and experiencing myself in this diverse society, I’ve been able to learn a lot more about myself, like how I perceive others around me and how conscious I am of cultural differences. At the beginning of the term in GC380, we were given a handout about living inter-faithfully, consisting of various questions about how we perceived or acted towards people of a different ethnicity. This handout required me to ask myself questions regarding concerns I’ve never thought about before, for instance, if I treated people differently because they were wearing a headscarf or if I was conscious of language barriers when talking to people that originate from another country. After completing this exercise, I tried to be more conscious of how I was treating and communicating with people different than I. In relation to Pellegrino Riccardi’s Ted talk on cross cultural communication, after completing the living inter-faithfully handout, I have realized that because I don’t identify other cultures as accepted and familiar, I become impatient quickly and sometimes disrespectful when communicating with individuals of a different ethnicity. I’ve found that when I don’t understand someone due to a language barrier, instead of getting flustered, I become more conscious of how I’m speaking to them and work to understand what they are saying then help them better communicate. Communication is certainly challenging in a diverse society but by being aware of it, my communication skills have improved. 

It is clear that multicultural living can have both it’s advantages and disadvantages. From living with other cultures, we are more inclined to learn much tolerance for other ethnicities and customs, that we may not necessarily agree with but are able to respect. Additionally, a multicultural society can offer an individual opportunities to expand their cognitive thinking, gain a new perspective on a culture, and gain knowledge on various religious practices or languages. This gained understanding will give an individual an upper hand in society, in the sense that they can better comprehend politics and world issues because they understand other cultures. While the advantages are endless, there are also disadvantages. A multicultural society exposes cultural differences which may divide its inhabitants. There will always be a cultural divide when one cultural group thinks their beliefs are superior to another cultural group; white supremacy would be an example of this and this belief is still prominent in today’s society. It pains me to witness racial discimination in the workplace as well as educational centres. For instance, I recently got hired to work at a supermarket and was training a new hire on cash the other day who just moved to Canada from India in September. I have never experienced dealing with difficult customers at this new job, however, every customer that this Indian employee cashed out were beyond disrespectful and discriminatory in the way they acted, spoke, and the comments they made. When I would speak to these customers, they were nothing but kind to me, such observation indicated to me that they had an issue with a particular individual and had no motives to be ignorant. Discrimination of employees in minority groups, especially those who have recently been hired, can result in underperformance due to an unfamiliar environment with less recognition of their existence and good work. 

Catholic schools used to be discriminatory in their enrollment process in that they only allowed Catholic baptized students to enroll but due to a societal advancement, there is now no religious requirement. This new provision limits racial discrimination and broadens the educational opportunities for minorities. On the downside, Quebec has recently worsened racial discrimination with Bill 21 that intends “ to prohibit certain persons from wearing religious symbols while exercising their functions” (Quebec Government, 2019). To limit racial discrimination in our society, companies should normalize implementing policies that promote equality like a duty ot accomodate policy (Canadian Human Rights Commission).

Although, we, the individuals of society, can actively achieve an improved inter-faithful living by being more aware of how we treat and speak to others. Individuals can identify discrimination when it arises and verbally discourage it. Living in a society that is multicultural has its advantages, for it provides an opportunity for individuals to experience various ways of living through the acquisition of others’ language, custom, behaviour, and art, however, can divide society due to cultural differences (Olympic College, 2019).

From interacting with other cultures, we can gain a basic understanding of various customs and beliefs which can increase one’s cultural sensitivity, thus, helping one avoid misunderstanding, embarassment, or unintentional discrimination (Lin, 2019). Learning about other cultures can broaden one’s perspective which may result in greater insight. Cultural awareness can make an individual more open-minded and it will be easier to respect and accept others’ differences.