Denied entry to Surrey Christmas party for being East Indian, Herar speaks out

Photo by Michael Hilton via creative commons

Two weeks ago, diversity columnist for the Abbotsford-Mission Times, Ken Herar,  was denied invitation to a Surrey Christmas party, because he was East Indian, he said. Herar reports that just prior to the incident, a friend had given Herar a residential number to call and direct RSVP inquiries to. When Herar called the number, he said, a woman answered the phone. After a couple exchanges, he said, the woman asked, “are you East Indian?”

“Yes,” he replied.

“Sorry, we’re not allowing East Indians at this party,” said the woman.

After the conversation ended, Herar said his initial reaction was laughter. When asked why he thought the woman on the phone would not invite East Indians, Herar speculates that “(she probably had) the stereotype that too many South Asian guys together are going to cause trouble.”

At first, Herar said he didn’t want to expose his story too much, “if they didn’t want me there, fine.” But after a day, he thought to himself, “this is kind of a interesting subject here.” So he decided to post his story on Facebook. Within the first hour alone, Herar received up to sixty responses. Some were shocked and some were thankful to Herar for bringing the issue up.

“It’s a reminder that racism still exists,” Herar says.

In a telephone interview with the Vancouver Observer, Herar shares his insight from more than fifteen years of diversity writing experience. He believes that this sort of race-fueled animosity has been growing in the past thirty years. But what has changed between the 80’s and now? Demographics.

Herar grew up in Abbotsford during the 1980’s and notes that “thirty years ago, the South Asian community was small.” Because the community was small, the desire to integrate into the Canadian mainstream was high. Now, in 2010, when you arrive in Canada as an immigrant, there still is the pressure to assimilate, but now there are choices to settle and root yourself in various communities that have established strong ethnic community support networks. Herar speaks of Abbotsford in particular.

In terms of community fundraising, if money needs to be raised within the local South Asian community: money will be raised from local South Asian avenues. But these self-supporting communities have some problems as to how they fit within general society. Some view these communities as self-segregating while others view them as self-supporting.

“The incentive of being Canadian is becoming lost.”

One of the problems is that there is a lack of coverage on incidents like Herar’s within mainstream media. It is seems to be a very “Canadian thing” to promote multiculturalism. Multiculturalism: it’s what Canada is known for. The problem is no one is talking about multiculturalism: the good and the bad.

Herar predicts that if the current growth rates continue throughout the next thirty years, the South Asian community will compose a majority of the population within the Lower Mainland. Herar adds that as these minority communities have grown, “isolation has grown. And from isolation can foster hate.”

Herar decided to come out with his story to raise awareness that this type of hate exists, a wake-up call that often surprises people. He wants to help prevent the growth of xenophobia in the Lower Mainland. He wants to see more joint-initiatives between different communities. “We need to be more interactive with each other, ” Herar says, “it’s important to have friends outside your culture.”


Ken Herar is a diversity columnist for the Abbotsford-Mission Times. In May/June 2011, Herar will be cycling from Mission to Victoria, visiting communities, school and local councils. The project is part of an effort to listen to citizens across the Lower Mainland and engage the local governments into building stronger interactive communities.

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