Sunday, 24 March 2013

Prejudices and Bigotry

I own a large collection of movies on DVD and, on evenings when I am at home, I watch one.

Last evening I re-watched one of my favorite Westerns - "The Magnificent Seven". The movie begins in a rough and ready frontier town somewhere in the southwest of the United States.  A North American Indian (an Amerind) has died and a wagon is ready to take the casket out to the community cemetery - only the driver and his helper are being shot at. Why? "Those no good Injuns are not to be buried beside White Folks!" The character played by Yul Brynner - along with a couple of other Caucasian gunslingers - take over the wagon, shoot up a few naysayers, and the interment happens.

The story goes on to relate how they - and a few other white gunslingers - then unite to go to a village over the border in Mexico where the local peasants are beset by Mexican Bandidos. The film is amusing, exciting and romantic all at the same time. All through that film racial tension raises its ugly head but the 'good guys' (mostly) overcome it and win out in the end.

It is a beautifully filmed movie, exciting to watch and - in places - amusing and with great background scenery. However, I am struck by the bigotry portrayed throughout the film which begs the question, "When will stupid thinking end - or will it ever go away?"

My parents were very different from each other. Dad was raised in a Roman Catholic boys' orphanage in Montreal until he was of the age when he could leave and be on his own. After that he worked in a market garden, on Great Lake boats which carried grains and other supplies through the Great Lakes system - and even across the Atlantic to England. When the Depression happened, he rode the rails out to B.C., was hired by a man who needed help on his dairy farm, met Mom there, married her and raised a family.

Mom - on the other hand -  was born in London to a woman who had been disowned by her upper middle class family and who had to work to support her child. The man whom I knew as my maternal Granddad was a Canadian soldier from Saskatchewan who had joined the Canadian Army upon the outbreak of World War I, was sent with his unit to Belgium where many of them were gassed by German soldiers while in a church. While recuperating in London, Granddad met my grandmother, married her and brought her to Canada.

They went to my Granddad's home village of Theodore, Saskatchewan and, shortly thereafter, followed other relatives to North Vancouver. Once there, Granddad learned of an abandoned homestead in the community of Ruskin in the Fraser Valley so he acquired ownership of it, built a house and lived there until the house was destroyed by fire in 1941.

They became involved in their new community which consisted of people from many backgrounds. Grandma got along well with those who were British by origin - but not necessarily with those who were not. For instance - neighbors along the road out from the homestead were Ukrainian people and Grandma refused to learn how to correctly pronounce their name! I have been told how, when I learned to talk, I knew how to pronounce the surname of this family so I would correct Grandma  every time that she got the name wrong!

Other neighbors in that community were of Japanese origin and, when hostilities erupted in the Pacific during World War II, they were deemed a threat and were forced to move to internment camps over the mountains from the coastal area (for a more detailed writing about that period, please read my first blog "Our Japanese Neighbors"). Mom, Granddad and Dad all liked our Japanese neighbors so were saddened by that event. Many of the Japanese young women were 'girlfriends' of Mom - a legacy from their school days together at the Ruskin Public School. 

Growing up in B.C. we had neighbors from numerous ethnic backgrounds - especially after we moved to the Dawes Hill area of Coquitlam and we kids attended Millside Public School followed by Coquitlam High.  In my class was Emma Wong every year until we graduated. As well there was a Sikh family whose kids attended with us. The majority of the folk were of French-Canadian origin but there were Icelandic, Swedish, Norwegian and Ukrainian kids among us - and even more of other ethnic backgrounds. An adage espoused by Dad and Granddad has always been with me - "It matters not what a person's ethnicity nor religious beliefs are - it is who he or she is as a person that counts!"

When Mom and her parents arrived in B.C., they lived in North Vancouver for a few years before moving to Ruskin and Mom remained in touch with some of her girlfriends. One of these was May who was married to Bob Brown.

One weekend - when I was about twelve years old - our family spent a weekend with the Browns. Saturday afternoon Bob took Dad, Alda and I for a drive. We traveled along Third Street towards Lonsdale (the dock for the ferry from downtown Vancouver was at the foot of Lonsdale). As we neared this main thoroughfare, Bob pointed out an older and well-dressed lady who was walking along the sidewalk. That person had been a neighbor of the Browns when they lived in an apartment building on Lonsdale. This person was not a woman but a man dressed in women's clothing. He was a house painter by trade and dressed in female attire every Saturday and Sunday when he went for his/her walks along East and then West Third Street.

I was intrigued but - as yet - had no idea that I would have a feeling of affinity for that person. There was no indication of disapproval by Bob as he told us the person's story. However, he did mention that he/she was not allowed by the authorities to travel across to Vancouver.

As I mentioned in the first "Dawes Hill" blog, there were an inordinate number of bachelors living on and around that hill while I was growing up. One of them whom I did not mention before was 'Old' Bill Collicott who lived in a bungalow on Mundy Road along which the Dawes Hill bus traveled while on its way out from New Westminster. I remember overhearing Mom gossiping with some of her lady friends and saying, "Old Bill likes boys, you know!" By that she did not mean that he was a pedophile but that he looked for sexual relations with other males.

Again - there was no judgment in that statement.    

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