Posted by: Waheeda Harris | January 27, 2015

The Local Girl – being a foreigner

Maui - aloha graffitiWhen I was young, I had long hair – hair that almost reached my knees. My Mum would braid my hair every day, tieing on bobbles or ribbons or barettes and sending me off to school.

With my large eyes and brown skin, I was assumed to be of Indian descent – there were many Indian immigrants in British Columbia, and I like many of the girls, looked similarly.

But to the local Aboriginal population, in the 1970s referred to as Indians, were in a sad state in my hometown. More often than not, when I saw an Indian, they looked homeless, may have been drunk and were certainly angry. They lived on the opposite side of the river on the reservation, ignored by most of the town.

One day, I was downtown with my parents, and my Mum had gone into the local bakery, to pick up bread and some sweet treats for the weekend. Since it was so busy, my Dad and I stood outside. Soon we were under the gaze of an Indian woman, who started yelling at us – calling us Pakis, telling us to get out, go home and leave her land. She swore, she yelled and she pointed.

My Dad quietly kept whispering to me to not react, and just ignore her. He stood closer to me and turned me to face into the bakery. All I saw were all the people in the bakery, having breakfast and staring out at us, a sea of white faces who stared.

The Indian woman finally walked away, still yelling, but soon distracted by others, who had been on the opposite side of the street. My Dad squeezed my shoulder, and my Mum appeared, not sure what had happened.

We got into the car and drove to the shopping mall, my parents focused on finishing their errands. As I stood waiting at another store, still shaken and distracted by what had happened outside the bakery, I noticed a lady staring at me. She smiled and then said  – oh you have beautiful long hair? You must be from Hawaii – are you Hawaiian?

I smiled, my automatic reaction to praise and my parents’ lessons of good manners towards adults, and said no I’m not from Hawaii, but I’d like to be. She laughed and walked away, and my parents soon came from the cashier.

As I was reminded, I was a foreigner in this land, unwanted by some, wanted by others. And I admit, I wanted to go to Hawaii as soon as possible to see why I would be considered a local girl.


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