If you’d told me that Toronto is the ‘most multicultural’ city in the world, before living in London, I’d have shrugged and thought of the people and places I’d seen in my time there.
There’s Chinatown, Greektown, some Italian, south Asian, Caribbean areas, and more, all in pockets – some larger than others – spread across the city. I’d think of the TTC and interesting accents I’d heard, or maybe of an Ethiopian restaurant I visited.
Toronto has been labelled ‘the most diverse’ city in the world, but I have to say, I’m more pedantic about the definition now.
Much of the U.K., but especially London, is extremely multicultural. Not only was (ahem) the EU helpful in allowing Europeans to move, study or work, freely in the country, but London is a historical and cultural hub. It’s one of ‘the greats’ of international cities.
Not to say the viewpoint is universal, but growing up, there was New York, London, Paris and maybe LA… or the whole of California, that seemed to stand above the rest.
Big cities, where the magic happens. Where all the ‘small town’ folk escape, to pursue their dreams, and/or get chewed up and spit out because they can’t handle the #hustle.
What I’m getting at, kinda, is that London might not hit the right numbers and ratios to claim ‘the most diverse’ title – but it does better than that.
It puts language, religion, food, music and more, in your face, on a platter, with somewhat haphazard presentation, but a hard-to-beat mouthfeel.
Sure there are the same ‘pockets’ where you’ll find more of a specific group (I live in a predominantly Turkish area) but it supersedes that. You never know what language you’ll hear next, where your bus driver might hail from or what religious celebration your doctor will be observing over the weekend. And though this could also sound familiar to Torontonians, here it feels more immediate, and the range feels broader.
It’s an amazing, cosmopolitan city, and my time here has definitely reinforced my feelings about open borders and global citizenship. But I won’t go too far down that rabbit hole just yet.
Over the years I’ve lived with Germans, Italians, Australians, Hungarians, Chinese, Taiwanese, Irish, and English flatmates.
But those are my people. The 20-to-40-year-old expats that ventured off to London and found themselves halfway-affordable rooms in shared housing.
That does not acknowledge those that have newly arrived as families, to improve their quality of life, speaking little to no English and hoping to find jobs and friends, and establish communities. This describes many, if not most, of the families where I teach; it’s pretty amazing how these kids are growing up.
My classes usually have between 2-4 students who would identify as British and speak English at home. The rest? They add the splash of colour to life that I didn’t know I was missing. And the kids don’t even realize the impressive nature of our classroom diversity.
They speak Turkish, Romanian, Ghanaian, Portuguese, Mandarin, Albanian, Somali, Arabic, Spanish, Russian, Urdu, French, Polish, Vietnamese, and more. There are those from Turkey but identify as Kurdish, or from Poland, who identify as Roma Gypsy. The origins and languages are innumerable.
Some have parents who’ve lived here for ages, while others will land on a Tuesday and start school a week later, usually without speaking English and sometimes without prior schooling. It makes for fun games with parents of charades, google-translate tag (dependent on education and literacy) or call-a-friend lifelines. But the students know the drill; it’s not uncommon to gain new students several times over a year. It’s something they accommodate quickly and – usually – easily.
The kids understand that they’re all different, without understanding that this isn’t the status quo.
The fact that my class has a group of 4 girls (Chinese, Somali, Yemeni and Bengali) who have daily drama and friendship woes, and 5 boys (Ghanaian, Trinidadian, Polish, Vietnamese and Turkish) who spend every playtime improving their football skills or debating the best team in the premier league, makes it all the more clear that cultural differences only have the power you decide to give them.
We celebrate and learn about everything from Christmas, Passover and Ramadan, to Diwali, Easter and Eid. Our school kitchen makes halal meals and our uniform shop offers school hijabs. Some of the students spend time at church, while others frequent Kingdom Halls, mosques or temples. And no one judges the other for not sharing their same beliefs.
The community is its own teaching tool.
London is a living, breathing beast of multiculturalism.
It’s pushed my boundaries, challenged my perspectives and nurtured my interest in languages (not to mention food).
I don’t know that I’ll ever find another class of 30 children, originating from 24 different countries in Canada…
But Toronto is the most diverse city in the world – I’m happy to know I’ll still be in good company.