Cycling for racial tolerance, multiculturalism

Diversity bicycle team stops at Westview secondary

Ken Herar likes to see people enjoy themselves and have a good time.

But one thing he notices when he’s in restaurants or in stores or walking down the street, is people still in their comfort zones.

South Asians hanging out with South Asians, white people with white, Asians with Asians.

People talk a lot about racial tolerance and multiculturalism, says Herar, organizer of the Cycling 4 Diversity.

But they don’t walk the walk, almost literally.

“I think people are comfortable in their own community.

“People get it (the concept of multiculturalism), but the problem is they don’t practise it.

“I rarely see a white person and a South Asian walking together. When I do, that really catches my eye. Rarely do I see a cross-cultural relationship. That’s really not good.”

That has to change because the demographics in the Lower Mainland are changing. In a few decades, those of European descent will be a minority. Newcomers as well must reach out, he added.

Herar’s been dealing with the issue of cultures clashing with each other for the last 20 years and has kept the e-mails and complaints from native-born Canadians and newcomers and people moving in and out of neighbourhoods because they feel excluded. Despite multicultural policies and efforts in schools, racism is still around – but no one is talking about it.

“We are 20 years too late talking about this conversation. It (racism) hasn’t changed. It’s still the same. It comes at you in different ways now.”

That’s why he started Cycling4Diversity, which just completed its third ride around the Lower Mainland and Victoria.

The crew visited 14 cities, speaking at schools and community groups about inclusion.

A recent development that bothers him is the ethnically based sports teams and leagues that have developed in the Lower Mainland. When he was growing up, kids from all ethnic groups played on the same team, representing the community. Now, the races are kept apart on the rosters.

“If I had children, I would say represent your town.” He’s tried to get that message to coaches, but it’s hard to change.

While kids of different groups mix together in school, that’s an artificial environment which doesn’t carry over to real life.

The cyclists took their message to Maple Ridge’s Westview secondary, but according to vice-principal Ian Liversidge, the group was preaching to the converted.

“The message is about, ‘Let’s be culturally aware and be welcoming of everybody we have in our midst’ – that message is well received and that message is well respected here.”

While neither Westview nor any Maple Ridge school has a large South Asian population, international students make up about 10 per cent of the student population.

“As any school in Maple Ridge, we’re certainly multi-ethnic.”

Liversidge says he’s taught in other cities where he knows the “lines of ethnicity can be strong” in some cases. But in the four years he’s been teaching in Maple Ridge, there hasn’t been a racist incident.

“There are kids that don’t get along with other kids and we solve that. I can’t think of a situation where the true source of the issue was the ethnicity.

“What was neat to see is somebody who’s message is, ‘We should be talking together regardless of where we come from.’ That message is a good message and a common message.”

The Abbotsford-based crew consisted of Herar, Sarina Di Martino Derksen, Aaron Levy, Kris Foulds, Abbotsford Mayor Bill MacGregor and Abbotsford deputy police chief Rick Lucy.

“We want people to reach out in their neighbourhoods and workplaces and sports teams to build that cross-cultural dialogue that is needed,” Herar said.

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