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Cultural Safety Lessons a Must in ESOL Classes

In 1973, at age 52, Rozina came to Toronto as a refugee from the Ugandan Asian expulsion by former dictator Idi Amin. The story I am about to share happened eleven years later, in 1984. But first, a little background.

Rozina took the subway to work immediately after she and her husband found residency. She worked in Toronto’s garment district, sewing buttons onto garments and lifting heavy bolts of fabric. Rozina injured her back only a few years into the job and was forced into early retirement. She had not taken the subway in many years by the time this story happened.

Rozina’s youngest son had married an American girl in 1984. Rozina wanted to show her new daughter-in-law around the city. As they were waiting in the subway for a connecting train, a pack of skinheads with multi-colored Mohawks, body piercings galore, garish make-up and ripped leather jackets embellished with swags of chains congregated near them. It was June. Rozina asked her daughter-in-law if it was Halloween.

In Rozina’s culture of origin, she had not celebrated Halloween. She had heard of the holiday when she arrived in Toronto, but did not know when it actually was. Fearing any further conversation in the presence of this rough appearing group, Rozina’s daughter-in-law walked her inquisitive mother-in-law a little further down the platform and explained the potential danger of this group.

This is a perfect example of how our background influences our perceptions. The sight of the skinheads was funny to Rozina because she had heard that people dressed outlandishly on Halloween. And they were outlandish! Having witnessed skinheads beat a child with chains caused alarm in Rozina's daughter-in-law.

Perhaps this story could serve as a plea to all ESOL teachers to hold lessons in cultural safety so that immigrants are not prey to bullying.

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