One day when Sri Lankan-born Eric Rajah and his brother went to their Vancouver high school they and other immigrants were greeted by a line of stone-throwing classmates.
It was only the latest episode of naked racism and bullying that the brothers had endured in their time at the school a few years after the family had immigrated to Canada in 1974.
The event prompted them to finally tell their parents about the day-to-day abuse they had been taking from other students and the boys switched schools.
Their new environment was completely different.
“The whole experience changed from east to west,” said Rajah, in a speech at Red Deer’s 4th Annual Cultural Mosaic at the Memorial Centre on Saturday.
The event commemorates the International Day for Elimination of Racial Discrimination, which officially took place on Friday.
Rajah realized he could turn his experiences into bitterness or goodness, the theme of his address “Turning the Ugliness into Goodness: The ABC’s of Race Relations” to about 250 people.
Rajah, who is co-founder of the international charity A Better World, said the first letter speaks to attitude.
Those who have been victims of racism or discrimination should not succumb to feelings that everyone is against them — because it isn’t true.
Do not embrace bitterness either, he cautioned.
“Bitterness can actually make you a prisoner,” he said, paraphrasing a well-known quite from South African hero Nelson Mandela.
New Canadians should also try to bridge the gap between their culture and others and become visible members of the larger community, he said.
Care is the final piece of his strategy. Genuinely caring about others crosses all cultures, he suggested.
Tanya Schur, executive director of the Red Deer Native Friendship Society, one of the event’s sponsors, spoke about truth and reconciliation and a national event that is planned for next week in Edmonton.
“We’re really talking about how do we build this road of reconciliation, restorative justice and forgiveness,” she said in an interview.
“The key work for us in this generation is to create better ways to be together and to create a peaceful community and a peaceful world.”
Organizer Jan Underwood, was pleased with the large turnout, which had volunteers scrambling to bring out more chairs.
The goal was to recognize the international day of discrimination but do it in an uplifting way, said Underwood, who is public awareness co-ordinator with the Central Alberta Refugee Effort. It sponsored along with the Central Alberta Immigrant Women’s Association.
Besides the speakers, there were native dishes from around the world, choir performances and aboriginal drumming.