On April 1, TVO broadcasted another episode of The Agenda, as it does every evening. That night, the show focused on "Reflecting Today's Ontario" and its discussion revolved around "how to better reflect the diversity of the province on your television and computer screens."
The statistics presented by Steve Paikin revealed that in Ontario from amongst all the guests being invited to the broadcasting media only around 22 per cent are identified as visible minorities. This number is reduced to around 4 per cent in the print media. The under-representation of minorities is a real challenge for the province of Ontario where almost 50 per cent of the population are immigrants. As one such immigrant who has made Ontario her home since 2000, not only I found the topic very close to my heart, but also, the discussion was focused around a subject that is one of my main challenges in life.
It was clear that the guests on the show were carefully selected to reflect diverse backgrounds; they were undoubtedly knowledgeable in their respective fields. It was gratifying to see such a beautiful rainbow of gender and racial balance on such a famous TV show. However, my happiness turned into disappointment after the first round of discussions. It was disquieting to see that in the first roundtable -- which was aiming to pinpoint the issue of diversity in the media--first generation immigrants were grossly under-represented. Although it was promising to see the distinguished professional guests from diverse racial backgrounds on the panel, the show fell short in presenting a panoramic and inclusive picture of today's Ontario.
In reality, Ontario hosts thousands of newly arrived immigrants every year. These immigrants who are from different races, cultures, religions, and have diverse political views, skills, accents and life stories, have woven the beautiful multi-cultural fabric of today's Ontario. English is not the first language of most of the first generation immigrants in Ontario but regardless they professionally, economically, socially, culturally and politically contribute to our society. This is a reality that can be witnessed and experienced in Ontario on a daily basis and yet, it seems that the first generation immigrants are not adequately linked with the mainstream society and hence their needs and ideas remain in the margins.
In my view, today we suffer a double standard in values and presentations in the multicultural Ontario. The first generation immigrants--both individuals and groups--are valued because of their full contribution to the society but it is preferred to hear their voices and see their faces through their second-generation representatives. The first generation faces and voices normally can be heard when hot news related to their homeland is on the air or when a social, political, cultural or financial debate is happening about their ethnic group. Unfortunately, the society, as well as the mainstream media, seems to not have yet fully embraced the major contributions of the first generation immigrants to their new home--Ontario. Conversely, their presence and contribution is validated in association with their racial and ethnic background.
In fact, I have personally experienced the aforementioned situation as a first generation immigrant woman in Ontario. I left my homeland at the age of 24, right after graduation from the most prestigious Law School in Tehran, because I sought a free life. I left my homeland to make a home in a new land where my ideas and voice would never be squashed. I arrived in Canada 13 years ago with no financial or emotional support. I lived the vulnerable life of a young non-status woman in a foreign country. I was exploited as cheap labour; I had no safe roof over my head and no support, but I did not give up because I had faith in my choice. Slowly but surely, I navigated my way to a masters' degree while working and maintaining an active civil engagement. Although, I never had the luxury of attending an official English language leaning class, I received my L.L.M. focusing on gender equality from Osgoode Hall Law School--the most prestigious Law School in Canada--in 2010. Not only do I have a successful professional life and serve the women of our society--beyond my ethnic community, but I also maintain an active social life and passionately follow our local, provincial and federal politics.
Ironically, when I review my history of media presentation, the bitter taste of the aforementioned reality shakes me. I have been invited as an expert or a commentator to CBC radio or television and a few other mainstream Canadian or American broadcasting outlets either when Iran was the hot news of the day or when issues relating to the Iranian-Canadian community were in the news. However much I appreciate such recognition, it seems my other contributions to the society is not equally recognized. Although I have lived most of my adult life in Canada and have earned my main professional and academic credential in Toronto, my association to my ethnic community is more pronounced in comparison to my Canadian, Ontarian and Torontonian one!
Last Monday night, "The Agenda" was successful in initiating a good debate on real challenge of Ontario today but I am not sure if it fully illustrated the depth of this dilemma. Undermining the existence of this real challenge will bring long-term harms to our beloved home, the province of Ontario. In my view an individual can be a visible minority but not necessarily an immigrant to Canada. For a country like Canada and the multicultural province of Ontario where 50 percent of the population have not been born in Canada, it is crucially important to identify the aforementioned differences. It is important not only in order to present ethnic and gender balance in the media, but also for the province of Ontario to increase the first generation immigrants' presence in the public stages.
We must work together to address this issue and raise our concerns. On the one hand, as the first generation immigrants, we have the right and responsibility not to remain indifferent about this issue. On the other hand, the society at large, policy makers, politicians and the media needs to face this reality and take practical steps to not just associate the first generation immigrants' with their racial backgrounds but also recognize their skills and contributions to our society as Torontonian, Ontarians and Canadians. Collectively, we need to raise our voices and work together to showcase the beautiful and colourful rainbow of our beloved diverse home--both the province of Ontario and Canada.
"Raise your words, not your voice. It is rain that grows flowers, not thunder." Rumi