The brighter side of the Surrey youth hardly gets any attention due to the stereotypical image that has dominated media headlines for decades
Gangs, drugs and gun violence is the first and sometimes only image that dominates the mind of majority of Canadians when they think of young generation from Surrey, the suburban city of Metro Vancouver area. Since these sensational issues have made media headlines for decades, they have created stereotypes for Surrey youth, especially the South Asian male.
With enough exposure to a stereotype, society may come to view it as a reality rather than a chosen representation. The media can be a powerful tool in creating or reinforcing stereotypes. An example is the public perception that youth crime in Surrey is on the rise, or out of control. This impression has been created largely through media coverage of alarming stories about shootings and incidents involving so-called youth gangs.
When I moved to Surrey five years ago from India, just like any outsider my perceptions about Surrey youth too were broadly influenced by the mass media images. I knew that gangs and gun violence was a serious issue effecting young population. But as a media person, I knew how stereotypes could be deceptive. I was convinced that this could not be the only reality of the youth that lived in this city.
As a person who was not born and brought up in Canada, I used to wonder what went through the mind of the larger chunk of young generation that does not associate itself with gangs? Were they affected by these stereotypes? Were they struggling to defend themselves from stereotypes or were they aspiring high just like any other youth generation around the world?
Thanks to my profession that gave me an opportunity to interact with a lot of youngsters over these years. Here is what came across through my discussions and meetings with the Surrey youth.
Many of the youth I met were achievers in academics, sports, art, business or even volunteering. Each one of them is making a difference in their community at such young age. My first interaction was with a mathematic whiz kid Ivneet Bains, who in his early 20’s has acquired countless scholarships and awards. He received the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for running an entrepreneurship initiative Math4me, a mentoring organization which helps young Canadians achieve academic and personal excellence.
After him it became a routine to meet young achievers from Surrey. Another soulful meeting was with Safeer Jivraj a 19 year old boy with down syndrome. Safeer’s story was an inspiration for those who are born with physical disabilities. He countered his physical limitations, become a basket ball coach. He earned the 2013 Duke of Edinburgh’s Award – BC and Yukon Division.
Another meeting that touched my heart was with two brothers, Sahil 11 and Armaan 7 year old, who lost their mother due to cancer. They raised more than $30,000 for Canadian Cancer Society, after collecting empty cans.
Kulpreet Singh, 31, a marketing professional, who founded South Asian Mental Health Alliance (SAMHAA), a group spreading mental health awareness amongst South Asians. He was inspired to start this organization, after he himself was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
These are just a few examples of the youth from Surrey who are doing exceptionally well in their lives and the community they live in.
The everyday interactions with the youth from Surrey were also thought-provoking. If on one hand they feel concerned about youth gun violence they were also fed up with the comments people leave about their beloved city. It doesn’t just hurt, it is disrespectful.
One student in an email to his instructor wrote after a classroom discussion, “… I was getting so annoyed about people talking trash about our city when they haven’t even been here … now one of my options is to become a journalist who travels around the world since one of my goals is to travel. Or a humanitarian and write about it to spread awareness.”
Manvir Sidhu, a BCIT student, too shared the same view. He said whenever I go to Burnaby, people pass comments about Surrey being an unsafe place to live. Comments like ‘Oh from Surrey’, ‘I don’t want to go to Surrey,’ or ‘It is very unsafe place,’ upsets him. He says just because of few bad guys the city is being labelled as unsafe. “Surrey is not a bad place. It is beautiful, it has lot of sports programs and I find it safe.”
Sidhu feels concerned about the gangs problem, he says, “Lot of us are aware that we can fall into the trap, but we know how to draw boundaries.” But he says that there are more issues that the youth is grappling with, than just talking about gangs. “We have our own goals. We want to be big in life. These days a lot of youth is stressed out about securing and keeping a job in this economically unstable time.”
The issues are endless and it is high time that we also start a discussion about Surrey youth’s everyday problems beyond gangs and guns and highlight their achievements, encourage them to create leaders of tomorrow
(The writer doesn’t intend to underplay the seriousness of gangs and drug concerns).