One of the nice things about living here in Vancouver is that it's remarkably free of ethnic tensions; I can honestly say that I go from one year's end to the next without bumping into even casual bigotry. And when I look at the other side of the world or even south of the border, I feel lucky, because we're in a minority.
Our Tribes · Here in Vancouver, there are three major tribes, the largest still being white (with substantial factions of Greeks, Italians, and East-Europeans; when we went to see Rostropovich recently, half the people there were speaking Russian). Second largest would be Chinese, mostly Cantonese speakers from the southern parts, but then some of them have been here for more generations than my family and are totally assimilated, they just look Asian. Third largest would be Indian, mostly Punjabi, mostly Sikh. But then we have lots of minor tribelets, including little clusters from various Central-American countries.
I have some theories why we all seem to manage to just get along here in Vancouver:
Mongrelization, Cheap Laughs, and Foodies · One of the interesting effects is that the tribes here intermarry furiously and we're building our own intermediately-dusky transPacific Vancouver ethnic group. When we were going to prenatal classes, two of the nine couples were trans-ethnic.
And occasionally some totally ridiculous things happen - the last national elections, in the electoral district where we live all the serious candidates happened to be of Chinese extraction; the incumbent Ms. Leung successfully defended her seat against (I'm not making this up) Wong, Wong, and Wong. Gandhi wouldn't have been able to resist cracking cheap ethnic jokes in that scenario.
But one of the top benefits of this situation is the fabulous restaurant landscape - you can rub shoulders with your Sikh friends at the local Thai joint, argue drug politics with Poles at the sushi bar, and there's a new place just down the road where all the signs are in Chinese except for one that says “New York Steak House”, really must check that out.
The Rest of the World · Sometime in the last day or so, Saddam's minions gave up on Mosul, and within a few hours, because the Americans weren't there, the Kurds and the non-Kurds were shooting at each other. Ouch.
And in Northern Island, and the Balkans, and Central Africa, and the Indian subcontinent, and the so-called Holy Land, people kill and oppress and die and hate, driven by centuries-old causes where the rights and wrongs have vanished in the mists of history if anyone ever really knew what they were.
Canadian soldiers on peacekeeping duty in Bosnia have been quoted as saying “If we left here at noon, they'd be killing each other by 12:30.”
Across the Border · Even here in North America, I look at our southern neighbor and sometimes just don't get it; at the moment, the entire Republican party seems determined to portray itself as a club for moronic bigots.
Unless the Washington Post is completely out to lunch, a Republican Congresswoman from Wyoming made a remark on the House floor that on the face of it implies that all blacks are presumptive drug addicts, then she snarled and refused to back down, then they had a vote and every House Republican voted against officially regarding the remarks as offensive.
Like I said, I just don't get it. Tribal feeling runs deep, I know I have my own prejudices, but I try not to act on them, and I try really hard not to let them leak out in public, but just across the border a legislator can talk this kind of trash in the legislature and get official party backing? I'm definitely missing something.
Getting Along · You'd think that a little while living here, where we do a pretty good job of getting along, would be enough to convince anyone of the virtues of living this way. This isn't a slam-dunk: it was right here in Vancouver that Sikh separatists built and planted the bomb that blew up the Air India jet over the Atlantic, killing hundreds. But I look at the multicoloured crowds of kids shooting baskets at the park, or packed together in the bus, or just generally hanging out in the schools, all wearing the same logos on their clothes, and I think that after each generation like this goes by, the notion of ethnic hatred just has to feel a little weirder and a little stupider.