When my son Milaño was about four years old, my wife (Jen), my daughter (Lauren), and I took him for a walk around our neighbourhood. As we were walking, we crossed paths with an elderly gentleman dressed head-to-toe in traditional Punjabi attire. He had on a white turban, a white lungi, and a white kurta. He also had a long white beard. After he passed by, my son looked up at me, and in the most genuine of voices asked, "Daddy, was that Santa Claus?" My wife and I smiled at each other and then looked back down at him and said, "No, sweetie, that wasn't Santa Claus." And we continued on our walk.
My son is seven years old now, and it wasn't until just recently that I was reflecting back on this event and came to two realizations: One, I missed a golden parenting opportunity to teach my son about cultural understanding. And two (but more importantly), I realized how proud I was of him. I was proud of his curiosity, and I was proud of his courage to ask a very difficult question. The reason I say that is because I believe that this is a question we all struggle with, from time to time, whenever we're faced with something that is unfamiliar or different from ourselves. We let our fears of embarrassing, insulting, or just plain bothering the other person paralyze us from learning more about them. But here's the thing: diversity, on its own, does not lead to cultural understanding. Diversity, on its own, does NOT lead to cultural understanding. It takes a certain degree of mindfulness, engagement, curiosity, and courage to come to a deeper appreciation of things that are vastly different from ourselves. What that means is that it's not enough just to be surrounded by diversity. It's not enough just to be able to see differences. You have to be involved. You have to be engaged. You have to have the curiosity to want to learn about other cultures, and you have to have the courage to want to share your own.
We are very fortunate to live in a country where openness and inclusion are considered core values, and diversity is actually considered a core strength. We look at diversity not as something that's meant to be accepted or tolerated, but rather as something from which we can derive strength. We, as Canadians, share this crazy belief that our differences actually have the power to unite us. And Folklorama is a perfect example of this. Folklorama proves that unity can be achieved, not in spite of diversity, but because of it. And this is why Folklorama is so important to me. The festival gives me and my family the opportunity to experience other cultures and explore our curiosities in a fun and safe way. And as a volunteer, as a teacher, but most importantly, as a parent, I believe it is my responsibility to foster the type of atmosphere that encourages people to ask difficult questions and expect meaningful answers. Because, I truly believe that the world could be, WOULD BE, a better place if we all had the courage to ask, "Daddy, was that Santa Claus?"