By Euan Hwang
Toronto is one of the most diverse multicultural cities in the world. But it’s not a perfect utopia for everyone, especially youth of colour. I feel that Toronto is still lacking a full gradient of colour. When you climb up in the ladders of society, most decision-makers are white, and it’s hard for people of colour to budge in between them.
It’s true that there still isn’t enough cultural-specific support for many groups and there is not enough diversity in leadership roles. It’s very easy for Asian youth to lose their connection to their own cultures and subconsciously be engrained with white superiority. This is why providing cultural-specific support and opportunities is important for Asian youth to develop their leadership skills to become the next generation of decision makers.
Let me tell you my story. A few years ago, I was looking for a place and people that I could talk to about my sexuality, gender identity and the ways these things conflicted with my own culture. But in every support group I went to, most of the participants were non-Asian. It was difficult for me to communicate my hardships to them. Things were just too different to understand.
But when I found Asian Community AIDS Services and Queer Asian Youth, groups that were geared specifically to Asian people, I felt more comfortable because people there shared similar stories: conservative parents, strong stereotypes, oppressive take on culture. They understood my situation. I felt strongly connected with them.
These groups did not just focus on providing social spaces but they encouraged youth to participate, take action on issues that affected their communities, and developed their own initiatives to make change. So I got more involved, and eventually took more leadership roles. At QAY, youth organize workshops and events to promote different issues such as sexual health and healthy eating, youth can lead meetings, youth can attend meetings that connect them to other youth leaders in the city. Youth were there from the start to the end of the decision-making process, and their decisions made change in youth themselves, their peers, their communities and their city. The model is shares things in common with another youth-driven network dealing with issues like sexual diversity and sexual health: The Native Youth Sexual Health Network. Both groups’ existences demonstrate the need for cultural-specific youth-driven organizing and leadership opportunities.
Things are not complete until there are positive role models to guide the next generation of youth leaders. When there are mentors with similar background as the youth, who can listen to youth’s stories, answer their questions, and encourage them, youth will feel more connected and be able to create clearer visions about their futures. Youth can listen to these role models, talk to them, observe what they are doing, and learn from them. The positive energy and support from these role models are vital to youth’s development. Creating Asian youth leaders today, means creating Asian mentors for youth leaders of tomorrow.
My story tells us that it’s important to fund and develop more specific support services for different groups of youth in the city so they can feel community and have opportunities to become the next leaders of their communities. Groups of youth like LGBT youth of color, First Nations youth, youth in care, and shelter youth are thirsty for more opportunities to have their voice heard. Along with positive role models who would walk alongside with them, our youth will become strong leaders to make Toronto a better place for everyone.