2011 new year's day found me digging through a trunk of childhood notebooks and photos. I found what I was looking for, but also things I'd completely forgotten about. Like three out of four issues of The Longboat Express, Volume 4 published in 1986-1987 by the students of Tom Longboat Jr PS who lived in a Scarborough neighbourhood that would later become known as Malvern.
The pages that I carefully pulled out of that trunk had been designed with an Apple IIe computer, printed on a Canon NP-270F, cut, pasted, photocopied and stapled together with a coloured sheet as the cover. Inside the front cover, I found a typewritten list of familiar student authors that included Amanjeet, Bobby, Harumi, Hassan, Hiren, Issam, Jamil, Kuljit, Nimisha, Paresh, and Samer.
Notice how these names sound South Asian? I remember our public school as multicultural even then. The list of Science Fair participants, published in March 1987, V4, No.3, confirms my recollection. Every issue contained poems, stories, news, and reviews. We thanked our teachers and celebrated our accomplishments. We also stood together in assembly-line formation, stapling sheets together, creating bundles to be delivered to each classroom.
Our neighbourhoods were full of working-class families who had immigrated in the 1970s and 1980s. We kept up our cultures at home and assimilated with our fellow students in schools. Those parents that could be around during the day would volunteer on the PTA, comparing stories of adjustments and homelands, keeping an eye on their children and learning how the system worked.
Granted, at that time we didn't really talk about Diwali or Eid in school, but that didn't mean we couldn't acknowledge our cultures. I wore my payals to school for singing Jingle Bells in the Christmas assembly. Assimilation was required because we couldn't take multiculturalism for granted. Not yet.
It wasn't an easy era to grow up in, but I am grateful for it. Without experiencing it, I wouldn't be able to appreciate that which many newcomers to Canada take for granted, yet still find the words and attitude to complain about to those of us who made it our home many years before.
It's a different world now. Then again, it always is.