Amir Bajehkian: You've demonstrated your opposition to white supremacists. Now what?

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      By Amir Bajehkian

      Good job, Vancouver! About 4,000 people showed up at Vancouver City Hall on August 19 to stand up against four protesters (the number of anti-immigrant demonstrators I could spot). You took a solid first step against the new wave of intolerance.

      What’s next?

      Xenophobia is the fear of unknown. Many white supremacists never get to know a "brown person" in person. To them, this bunch is nonexistent in any positive fashion.

      By brown, I'm referring to the masses of people in Canada who define themselves as being neither white nor black.

      Many of you folks showed up active with different causes. Some are even my friends.  

      Question is: what steps will you take to bridge this gap of ignorance?

      Here’s my crazy idea for a next step: open the doors of your cause to brown people. You know, that good old "inclusion" thing.

      Now some of you think you have already done that. And it is the brown people who aren’t interested. 

      And this mindset is the problem. There are reasons that they don’t come your way. 

      First, they don’t know you. Newcomers don’t know where to find you. They’re still trying to get familiar with the new home.

      Perhaps, you can go to them. And trust me, you’re not going to believe how many of them would love to make a difference in their new home. No! They’re not freeloaders.

      Secondly, they don’t feel welcome. Many times in progressive circles, you see the brown person who passionately showed up to a meet-up being left out. Yeah, I was that guy before. And no! You’re not bad people. You just forget.

      Remember, not all of the newcomers are persistent jerks like me.

      Acknowledge their presence and make them feel home. Even if they’re struggling with the language and your organizational culture, isn’t it a cause for celebration to see your fellow new Canadian joining you to make a difference in our community?

      Thirdly, a common argument is "they don’t know how things work." Well, duh! Mentor them! Show them the way. It sucks to be left out to learn everything on your own, in a volunteer capacity. And again, you’ll lose your best allies.

      It is not too much of an expectation to mentor the next generation of activists.

      And finally, a lot of times you just talk to them without listening. We have people from all backgrounds joining the great Canadian family. They come here with their experiences.

      Some lived through the horrors of fascism and ethnic cleansing. Some saw the consequences of disregarding the environment. Many have stood up against injustice and human rights violations back home.

      These are people who will not take things for granted. They know the importance of political participation. They realize the value of equity, protecting the environment, and sustainability. They understand the threat of fascism.

      Okay! Not all examples are this dramatic.

      Let me just give you a personal one. I came to Canada in 2005 from Iran. My mother joined me shortly after. An experienced anesthesiologist in Iran, she loved this country and put her heart into a transition to practise here in Canada.

      She passed all tests and had a successful clinical traineeship, only to become one of the victims of the unjust foreign credential recognition system. She left Canada and went back to Iran, after three years of hard work.

      Three months later, a toddler died at Victoria General Hospital and it was said that there was only one anesthesiologist on that shift. Talking to my mom, I thought she’d blame the system for not opening the door to her.

      Well, she brought up another aspect. She talked about how anesthesiology technicians in the Iranian medical system reduce the workload of the anesthesiologists and allow them to handle multiple patients. They are skilled technicians, and it is easier and cheaper to train them than a full anesthesiologist.

      In 2016, she shared all of this and more with, the current minister of mental health and addictions, Judy Darcy, who was serving as the NDP’s health critic back then.

      Surprise! The immigrant just proposed a solution to a problem. 

      Yes my friends, many times newcomers may have the solutions to our problems here. You’d be surprised to find out they have some interesting ideas.

      After all, these people passed rigorous filters set by the government and many got here because of their skills. Why can’t we use them?

      What better way to shatter the stigma and defeat bigotry by letting them help us?

      Amir Bajehkian is an Iranian-Canadian activist based in Vancouver. He is passionate about engaging new Canadians in community and political affairs. He is a regular contributor to Persian-language media in Vancouver.

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