Thinking through the task

So started to think about what it is that I want to say for the project. My name is Phillip Djwa. I’ve lived in Vancouver all my life, with some years out for work and school. I was born in the West Side and live (and work) in the East Side. In fact, with my 42nd birthday I’ve been on the East Side officially longer than West. I’m part Indonesian, Chinese, MiqMaq, and English. I’m quite a mix. Maybe someone like me represents the kind of diversity that Vancouver is. I’ve always noticed how diverse people are here and it is only increasing. Is that something that long time Vancouverites are afraid of or is it something they are a part of?

When I was growing up, in our neighbourhood, there were only 2 Chinese families; mine and the Yips. They came over to say hi to me within a few days of us arriving and we’ve been friends ever since. From my childhood, I remember small incidents of racism that seem so oddly out of character for Vancouver now, but maybe it was part of the growing pains. Or has Vancouver truly grown? Maybe my tweet should come out of that.

A few years back I discovered the Aboriginal connection in my family. It’s a bit tenuous (great great grandma) and I don’t have status, nor do I claim it, except that my own exploration has led me to work in native communities for 10 years to understand and be thoughtful about my work. I had lots of funny and insightful times. I sometimes travelled with a colleague who has full status but he looks very white. I look quite native and there was always a confusion around who was the “real Indian” and we enjoyed the mixup. Still, the grinding poverty, and lack of education (which was what I was doing except around technology), in so many communities made a real impact on me. The ways that work in the business world, the art world, and the social service sector all had to adjust to be even remotely useful in First Nation communities. You can’t even begin to understand the complexities of delivering a program to a community until you’ve been on the ground. The worst were funding programs that had no local presence, just sending money. You could see just how poorly they worked…

So maybe ideas around identity will be a good start on this.

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3 Responses to Thinking through the task

  1. Phillip Djwa says:

    Yah, exactly, and the flip side is “Where are you from? No, I mean originally?” But I sometimes get a little annoyed and I know I shouldn’t. The truth is, as you say, the natural curiosity of people. I think people need to understand how their point of view dictates how they see the world, and I hopefully that’s the work that this project will support.

  2. lornabrown says:

    Thanks, Phillip, I enjoyed what you have to say about being taken for (or mistaken for) one identity or another. So much depends on context. When people ask me about my background I usually say…. ‘well, I’m from Saskatchewan’ and many people recognize what I mean. I heard a statistic that may be right or wrong: 50% of Canadian-born people west of Thunder Bay have First Nations ancestors. In my mother’s family there are two grandmothers many many generations back: a Dene woman named “Mary Amerindian, Chipewyan” in the census and a generation later, a Cree woman, Marguerite Laderoute. On the other hand, my paternal great-grandfather was a Mountie in what was then the Northwest Territories. So a certain conflict regarding identity is somewhat bred in the bone. In BC, I’ve had folks greet me “Hey Cree Lady!” or “You are Asian…” while in England one person asked “Are you really Canadian?” and when I said yes, she repeated “I mean really Canadian?” and it took me a minute to realize she meant First Nations. I don’t find these questions particularly offensive, but they reveal a curiosity and perhaps a set of assumptions about authenticity. Or a desire to place someone. Is that particularly acute in Vancouver, since more of the population was born elsewhere? Or is one’s speech, one’s language more of a signifier?

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