“Go back to where you came from”

Yesterday a prominent New Westminster community member tweeted the following:

#newwest Nothing worst than having people move to a city and try and rewrite its history. If you don’t like it #gobacktowhereyoucamefrom

The tweet has since been deleted, but here’s a screenshot:

It’s in reference to the recent suggested changes to the annual May Day celebrations. Some people, myself included, want to see it taken out of the school system and taken over by a community organization, and that was one of the recommendations from the Task Force set up to look at May Day.

And here’s some feedback from their report:

Another principal/vice-principal found that the tension in the schools over the years means it has “become easier to continue with the event to avoid conflict rather than re-evaluate our purpose behind it.”

The overwhelming majority of the public feedback from those who would maintain the status quo focuses on the heritage value of the event and its ties to New Westminster’s history. And that’s fine, knowing some of the history of our city is important.

But what is also important is diversity and embracing all of our history, and that has lead to the “don’t change May Day” people to create the conflict that the principal/vice-principal’s quote above refers to. Even a simple matter of changing dresses from white to floral print was met with backlash. So when the Task Force recommended that May Day celebration be school-based instead of district-wide, that the Royal Suite selection process be ended, and that the larger district-wide May Day celebration in 2020 be taken over by a community organization, everybody expected strong pushback.

But I don’t think anybody expected the type of response we saw from Guy Ciprian.

The May Day celebrations in New Westminster are a British tradition. They don’t incorporate other cultures that have made up our city or currently make up our city. They definitely do not reflect the fact that the British settlers to New Westminster stole the land from the indigenous people who were living here, including the Qayqayt, the Kwantlen, the Musqueam, and the Kwikwetlem, among others. There’s always been an undercurrent of preservation of the colonial history over that of the people who were here first and whose land we live upon. And in these days of truth and reconciliation, it’s incredibly important that we question these colonialist traditions and change them when we can.

And to have a white guy come along and try to defend this tradition with a “go back to where you came from” statement is offensive to say the least. It’s racist, it’s classist, it’s straight up offensive.

And the scary thing is that this undercurrent is in our community. It’s blanketed by a “but our traditions” sentiment, but it’s there. That a prominent member of the community would actually state this out loud in public is shocking, but it’s also illuminating. It’s showing us that this otherism is there, and by exposing it Mr. Ciprian may actually be doing us all a favour.

We all have to step up and speak out and firmly declare that this is unacceptable. Your contributions to New Westminster cannot be measured by how long you have lived in the city. Your contributions and opinions cannot be dismissed because you were born in another city or country. And you definitely should not be told to “go back to where you come from” by someone who calls themselves a “strong supporter of [his] community”. And god forbid you try to change things to be more inclusive of all of the people of New Westminster without getting racist and classist declamations thrown at you.

Oh, and in case you think that Mr. Ciprian might be contrite after having New West Twitter blow up on him, think again:

Ha ha classism and racism is funny ha ha. Nobody’s laughing but you, Guy.

Update: Mr. Ciprian has since tweeted the following:

after some reflection regarding my recent misunderstood #newwest tweet, I am willing to own that it was poorly worded, crossed a line and that there was an error in judgement . #apology For the record, it was not about May Day!

Even after numerous people (myself included) asked what the original tweet was about, he has not said.

2 thoughts on ““Go back to where you came from”
  1. I agree that Mr. Cyprian’s Tweet was offensive and inappropriate, full stop. I hope he apologizes for it. Such hostile sentiments certainly do not match mine or any of the other strong and vocal May Day preservation proponents that I have come into contact with in the City.

    I am also a strong proponent of truth and reconciliation and am proud to have collaborated with the Qayqayt First Nation, the Musqueam and prominent New Westminster raised First Nations leader David Lyle in the development of the Hyack Festival’s 2017 theme First Nation. First Cities. Telling Our Stories. Together.

    Notably, David Lyle, star of the APTN documentary series Nations at War, who danced the May Pole in his youth, was extremely displeased the May Day outfit changes suggested last year. “Not on my watch!” he exclaimed. His support of the “don’t change May Day” position was read into an SD40 Trustee meeting last year.

    I include below for your readers a letter to the Editor of the Record that as yet has not been published.

    “New Westminster’s generations old May Day celebration represents significant intangible cultural heritage that is not only cherished by residents, it’s preservation is a fundamental human right, according to United Nations resolutions. Efforts to rid our schools of the May Queen Suite in the name of diversity are not only misguided, they trample underfoot the cultural rights they purport to protect.

    Glaringly absent in the May Day Task Force’s report is any recognition of May Day and the May Queen Suite as valued intangible cultural heritage (“IHC”). In recent years, UNESCO has redoubled efforts to safeguard ICH, and in 2016 the UN Human Rights Council passed a resolution proclaiming “…that damage to cultural heritage, both tangible and intangible, of any people constitutes damage to the cultural heritage of humanity as a whole…”

    There can be no doubt that the Task’s Force’s recommendations will damage May Day. The notion of hastily “transferring responsibility” for the organization of a massive and complex event to a yet unnamed, unfunded, and unstaffed “community organization” is an obvious tactic to degrade the historic tradition that the Task Force believes “…does not positively reflect the District’s values of inclusion and diversity.” Importantly, the recent UN resolutions protecting Cultural Rights clarify “…that no one may invoke cultural diversity to infringe upon the human rights guaranteed by international law…”

    The 2017 Hyack Festival theme is First Nations. First Cities. Telling Our Stories. Together. Underlying the theme is a belief that the stories of one culture should never be allowed to eclipse or nullify another. Through our collaboration with local First Nations people on the design of our float, artwork, imagery, and messaging, we formed new and profound friendships and connections with wonderful people. For me personally, the theme was a bridge to understanding, reconciliation and healing.

    A sad legacy of our country is the use of our schools to systematically attempt to demolish the cultural heritage of an entire people, one child at a time. Schools should stay out of the culture abolishing business and seek rather to safeguard the stories of heritage and history that make New Westminster such a special place to live.

    Telling our diverse stories, together, builds the culturally rich and inclusive community we all long for.”

  2. May Day should be kept. More research and effort could be made to make it even more historically accurate in clothes and order of events etc. and an even bigger event. The City should invest significantly in it, along with the school district. It should be a core vehicle through which we teach social harmony and values. People travel the world to experience special local cultural events…we have our own magnificent specialness handed down to us. Local aboriginal folk were always included…read the travel diaries of the wife of the Governor General when they visited New Westminster so very long ago. We should never be bashful about who we are, and what we have built layer upon layer, wherein people from around the world have come here to live like us…the Canadian way…that is why they came here…to be Canadian. There are only a very few new militants who use our liberal law and political correctness against us, to promote their own un-Canadian culture. In the past, arrivals blended the best of their cultural food, dress, and language etc. into the Canadians scene…however we all were Canadian first, with the assumption of the historical paramountcy of the English-French heritage of language, law, and social mores. It’s our law. We do not have to be embarrassed about Canada. In comparison to other counties, Canada is the very best place to be. We have made cultural and social mistakes along the way in nation building, and those have been and continue to be addressed. However, we leave a better country, not through dissipation and purging, but through building and magnifying what is good. Our local May Day and the whole celebratory week that goes with it (and the international component), is in question because it has not been sufficiently invested in. If it was good enough for our Queen when she visited New Westminster, we should not let it fall by the wayside, but rather make it magnificent.

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