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:
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.