Canada: A Botched Mosaic (part 5)

Editor’s note: This story about Canadian multiculturalism was originally a single 3,600 word article meant for a British magazine. I decided to turn it into a mini-series. It tells the story of Peter, a Lebanese-Canadian youth and his experience of Canadian multiculturalism. He meets different people through his life who influence his thoughts. Although this tale contains many true elements and anecdotes, it is a work of fiction. Read part 1 here, 2 here, part 3 here, and part 4 here.  

The Brazilians were very friendly. They easily opened their hearts to people who took a sincere interest

Flag of Brazil
Flag of Brazil

in Brazilian culture and the Portuguese language. Because I knew some Spanish, I could understand some of their conversations and I would try to answer them in Portuguese. Although I did plenty of mistakes, the Brazilians were very happy to correct me. They also taught me about their literature, their customs and even taught me some dirty jokes in Portuguese[1]. One of the Brazilians, Saulo, was very interested in learning French and kept asking me to explain to him some French words and French grammar. I recall one of our conversations:

“- Saulo, you kind of sound like this MMA fighter, Wanderlei Silva. Are you, like him, from Curitiba?

– No, I’m from Manaus. It’s in the Amazon forest.

– Cool! What is Manaus like? Is it similar to Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo? Did you like living there?

– Well, it was much safer when I was a kid. The older I got, the more dangerous it became. I had to walk with my hands tightly pressed unto my pockets because there were more and more pickpockets in the streets. In Montreal, I can merrily strut down the street without a care listening to loud music on my cellphone without having to worry about being mugged or robbed.

– You mean there are favelas[2] near Manaus?

– Well…”

The other Brazilians sharply interrupted him and lashed out at him in Portuguese. I even heard them calling Saulo some very mean things.

“Hey! Why are you all arguing?”

They all turned towards me, grinned, and said:

“Oh nothing! Everything is fine. We are just very passionate.”

In the months that followed, I reminded them of the incident. They told me that they were indeed arguing because favelas, street gangs and violent crimes are taboo. Brazilians are embarrassed to talk about these things to non-Brazilians because they feel poverty, gangs and violence reflect poorly on their country. Brazilians want foreigners to know them for positive things without clinging on to the usual clichés such as the Rio de Janeiro Carnaval and football.

I was also intrigued by their names. Although some had Portuguese surnames such as Ribeiro, Texeira

Flag of Pakistan by Zscout370
Flag of Pakistan by Zscout370

and Machado, some had Lebanese surnames such as Maroun and Bishara, some had Japanese names such as Sasaki, others had German names such as Schultz. Saulo’s last name was Maalouf, which is a typical Lebanese name. Whenever I asked the Brazilians about their roots, they all admitted they had Aboriginal, Spanish, Italian, Lebanese, Syrian, Portuguese and/or German roots. When I asked what they considered themselves, they all said, “Eu sou brasileiro”[3]. In the Montreal area, third-generation immigrants tend to consider themselves the nationality of their grandparents instead of Canadian.

I was used to hearing stories of dispossessed immigrants coming to Canada, but I was surprised to hear that Saeeda lived comfortably with her husband and three children in Pakistan. She was an elementary school teacher there and loved it. She happily told stories of silly things her pupils would do or say that made her laugh. She clearly loved children. I never asked her why she left Pakistan.

To be continued…

[1] I had to go to the bathroom and one of the Brazilians told me: “If you see a pretty Brazilian girl on your way to the bathroom to take a piss, tell her this:

‘Desculpe, suas mãos estão limpas?’

If she says ‘Sim’, tell her ‘Então, me dê uma mão?’.”

[2] Favelas are slums and ghettos in Brazil meant to isolate the poor from the rich. They are known for being breeding grounds for street gangs.

[3] “I am Brazilian” in Portuguese.


Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro. Photo credit: chensiyuan
Rocinha favela in Rio de Janeiro. Photo credit: chensiyuan

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