What Brexit taught me about Vancouver

What Brexit taught me about Vancouver

It’s been two months since the Brexit referendum back in my native UK and, Prime Minister Theresa May’s recent meeting with top ministers to plan what happens next was clear on only one thing. Controls on immigration, and restrictions on who comes into Britain will be central to the deal.

And now as I—and the rest of the world—watches to see what happens next, a memory from eight years ago keeps running through my mind.

On the eve of moving to Canada, I sat on the bank of a babbling brook in a countryside pasture in England. The sun shone, a flock of sheep grazed lazily in the field behind me with a perimeter of low, crumbling stone walls, and in the distance I could just make out the tops of the church spires of the ancient villages dotted around the rural valley.

Twenty metres upstream sat a man, whiling away his afternoon fishing in the sun. Further away, across the field, another man walked his dog along a trail. Eventually, the fisherman packed up and headed past me back to the narrow, winding country lane beyond (most likely for home). The man with the dog appeared shortly after, following the same route.

As he passed behind me, he paused for a moment. “Did that guy speak to you?,” asked the man, pointing in the departed fisherman’s direction. “Nope,” I answered. Why should he? I thought. “Ah. Bloody Polish,” he shot back. And off he trotted. I was taken aback.

My valley was a far cry from the shiny new skyscrapers that I would soon find in Vancouver, the jewel of the Pacific. My little corner of England was the reverse of the multicultural atmosphere in the city I now call home. In Vancouver, it doesn’t matter where you are from, whether you are of English descent, Iranian, Italian, Syrian or Armenian. Vancouver is an inclusive and multicultural city.

What Brexit taught me about Vancouver

Uncertainty after Brexit

In the wake of the Brexit referendum and the uncertainty of what lies ahead, I was reminded of this anecdote. Why, just because a person didn’t speak to me, was he suddenly Polish? And why was being Polish a bad thing? Surely, multiculturalism was positive? Who is to know what the impending complications in trade and travel are after the referendum, the potential for job losses, and where the search for a scapegoat for all this will lead.

The “leave” brigade has won the vote and the leadership who lead the campaign on it promptly buggered off, leaving Theresa May in charge. Meanwhile, those “foreigners who come to steal our jobs” are still in the UK and it’s unlikely that they’ll be going anywhere any time soon. Sorry. Negotiating the Brexit deal will take some time.

How would my Syrian wife be treated back home?

This makes me wonder how my beautiful wife would be treated if we were trying to move back to the UK. She’s Syrian after all, the stooge of so many problems. Fortunately, in Vancouver, we don’t have to worry about that. People who meet her find her nationality a reason for intrigue, want to talk about the rich history and culture there, or just say how sorry they are that her country is going through a time of strife.

A Vancouver reception and a generational divide

A few months ago, my wife, some Syrian friends and I put on a “Hug a Syrian” day in downtown Vancouver. This was for no other reason other than to have fun. It was a spectacular day. I’ve never hugged so many people in one day. We had great conversations, made countless people smile, and felt wonderful for it. I just wonder how this would have been back home in my local area, where the two towns closest to my family’s countryside home both voted to leave the EU. It’s saddening and embarrassing to know these facts, and worrying how the fearmongering, xenophobics somehow managed to win, leaving everything my generation grew up with in peril, for the want of “taking Britain back for the British.”

Vancouver has its problems. Hell, it’s downright expensive to live here, but with that expense comes a feeling of welcome to people from all backgrounds. I’m thankful for that, and it’s one of the main reasons I don’t plan on living in the land of my birth any time soon, no matter how green and pleasant it may be.

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