By Bianca Bharti
Walking around campus, I see a lot of faces of all sorts of colour. I can walk down Gould Street and easily hear five foreign languages being spoken in the span of two minutes – and that’s just an average day at Ryerson.
Coming from a high school that was predominantly white, life as a person of colour was very different to how I experience it now.
I remember one time, I was in class and the teacher had mentioned a statistic about Brampton having one of the worst car insurance rates because of the amount of accidents. I tensed up immediately after the teacher said that. I knew what was coming. A white guy in the back of the class then said under his breath, “Because of all those f–king Pakis.” And he proceeded to spit out his chewing tobacco into a water bottle.
I just recoiled in my seat, flushed with anger.
Sometimes when I walked down the halls, I would hear white students mock my culture and mock my people. Every single time I heard a fleeting comment, I just kept my head down and continued on my way. What could I say? What could I do? If I spoke up, would it really make an impact?
I felt hopeless.
There was another time I was talking to this guy who was part of my friend group. He’s white and he told me he was moving out of Caledon. I asked him why and he replied, “Because there are too many brown people moving in,” and then he laughed.
I began to feel really uncomfortable in my own skin. I hated walking down those halls. I didn’t even have the courage to speak up.
For the most part of those four years, I never really talked about or showcased my culture.
I never brought homemade food for lunch, I never wore mehendi during the time of Diwali and I never talked about going to Indian functions. And God (or in this case, Shiva) knows I never wore a bindi when that trend was picked up by a bunch of white girls.
For some reason a lot of people assume I’m not Indian if I don’t straight up tell them. A lot of people think I’m a Portuguese, Spanish or Italian mix. It probably helps that my name is Bianca.
So in high school, I began riding that wave. Unless people out right asked me, I would just let them assume what I was and whenever they found out I was Indian, it was as if they were in utter shock – there was no possible way I could be Indian of course. I acted so “white.”
Whenever my white friends would come over, I would always warn them that my house has a lot of “weird” statues and paintings of Gods and I would always apologize if my house smelled like Indian food, even though my mom kept a scented candle lit almost 24/7, and in reality, my house probably smelled more white than white people’s homes.
I wanted so badly to cover up the fact that I was brown that whenever my mom was speaking to someone, I would interject and continue explaining things for her. My mom came to Canada when she was 22 and speaks fluent English. I wanted to cover up her accent for fear that people might treat us differently if they discovered that we were Indian.
Finally things began to change in Grade 12. I had a solid group of friends that I was comfortable with and I began to branch out a little bit.
Lunch sometimes featured food à la mom, I talked about Diwali and I complained and explained about not being allowed to eat meat on Tuesdays.
When I came to Ryerson, it was a whole new world for me. I felt like I had been holding my breath for four years and now I could finally breathe again.
From when I get off at Dundas station to arriving at my class, I see so many colours and hear so many languages. I no longer feel like the odd one out, I don’t have to conceal who I am.
I remember during frosh, I was talking with one of the leaders – who is also brown – in a room with people of all backgrounds. We were talking about various brown foods we like and the languages we speak. We even threw around some Hindi words throughout our talk. This was a conversation I hadn’t had in four years and I’m sure to her, it was no big deal, but to me it was huge.
I didn’t have to hide who I was; I didn’t speak at a low level so other people couldn’t hear us. Ryerson’s diversity has allowed me to feel comfortable in my own skin.