8. Interview with Ruth Lor Malloy, Travel Writer and Owner of Torontomulticulturalcalendar.com
Last Saturday, I met my friend Ruth in a warm cafe in High Park, Toronto. Since I started the website interculturalconnectio
Ruth, what motivated you to create and dedicate most of your time to the website torontomulticulturalca
“It comes out of my background of being a cultural minority. I was born in a small town in Ontario called Brockville. We were one of two Chinese families, out of ten thousand inhabitants. I knew we were different and that we had different customs from our friends. My family spoke a different language. I was made to feel different also because I looked different. Many people were kind and friendly to us. I had a Jewish and a Greek friend. But many were also unwelcoming. Quite early I became aware that something was unfair.
Later, at the University of Toronto, I met people from all parts of the world and I grew very interested in their cultures. I wanted to travel after I graduated and see these other countries for myself. I spent a career as a travel writer, travelling around the world and I ended up visiting and living in more than fifty countries. I also liked to take pictures. I was interested in helping overcome the conflicts between different cultural groups.”
What is the most memorable multicultural event you have ever attended in your life?
“I lived in Bombay/Mumbai for two years. I somehow happened to get involved with a group of transsexuals called “Hijras”. These people were born male. They were unhappy because they wanted to be female. Their situation was very interesting. They were both needed and hated by other Indians. Needed, because some people believed they could bless weddings and newborns. Hated, because Hijras could be very obnoxious. If you didn’t give them enough money, they would lift up their saris and show you their mutilated genitals. Many made their living singing, dancing, and prostituting themselves too — they didn’t have much of a choice. They were a unique cult. They had their own goddess. I visited them off and on for over a year. I ended up working with a group of Indian social workers, trying to get other Indians to understand the Hijras, as people, as fellow human beings. We helped them write a book explaining their religion. The media launch of this book was an amazing success. I will never forget it.”
“Individuals also have a need to feel important somewhere and their own cultural group gives them that feeling”
What do you think is the main reason for people to remain within their own cultures?
“If only I knew, I would solve the problem of wars (laugh). Physical self-preservation. I also think people are just afraid of people who are different. They don’t know what to say to them. They can’t predict them. Individuals also have a need to feel
important somewhere and their own cultural group gives them that feeling. Hating outsiders gives them that feeling too. And then there are the people who want to control others – both inside and outside their own cultural groups.
In Toronto we have children growing up in a multiracial and multi-religious school system. People of all cultures are together in many work places. Interracial marriages are increasing.
Can you elaborate on your latest point?
“Much of the basis for cultural misunderstanding and exclusion is changing for the better in Toronto. But in Jerusalem, there doesn’t seem to be any hope. Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem live in the same city but they rarely mingle with each other socially. They don’t try to enjoy each others festivals. People there don’t seem to know how to forgive or compromise. I like to think Toronto is different.”
Are you afraid of traveling to certain countries?
“I am afraid of going to Israel, Syria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and with Ebola, to west Africa.”
Which books or documentaries about diversity would you recommend?
” “The Myth of the Muslim Tide,” by Doug Saunders.
“The Inconvenient Indian,” by Thomas King.
“I Shall Not Hate,” by Izzeldin Abuelaish.
The movie “Awakening” with Robin Williams and Robert De Niro is one of my favourites. It’s more about a medical problem but it shows that within a group of people who do not act like the rest of us, there’s a spark of humanity that could be recognized and appreciated.”
“learning about other religions can help one’s own spiritual development”
What are the three main life lessons Cultural Diversity taught you?
“Cultural diversity has taught me a lot of things.
First of all, it can broaden one’s enjoyment of life. This is especially true of music and food. I love Russian, Iranian, Jewish
(Klezmer), and Persian music. I love Iranian, Indian, Ethiopian, and Korean food. I’m fascinated with Ajerbaijani and African dance. Variety has been the spice of my life. It can keep one learning and exploring.
Another thing Cultural Diversity has taught me is that learning about other religions can help one’s own spiritual development. I started out life as a Presbyterian, then I became a Quaker. But in my travels, I learned to appreciate yoga, and other forms of meditation. I started thinking about the viability of reincarnation when I lived in India. I have been to Tibet several times. The teachings of the Dalai Lama have been helpful.
Of course, one should be aware that Cultural Diversity has many aspects that one shouldn’t follow. One has to pick and choose what to include in one’s own life. I’ve seen men who pierce their cheeks with a spear or roll for many kilometers to atone for “sins”. I’ve seen men spending their lives staring at the sun. Or burying themselves without air for forty days expecting to emerge alive and well. I think these people have to work out for themselves what they should be doing to develop their spiritual lives. As long as these acts do not adversely affect the lives of other people, I think they should follow their insights. For the rest of us, we should try to understand why they do what they do.
Then there are the scientific, medical and other developments that have come as a result of people from different cultures working on the same problem like a cure for SARS and now Ebola. From China has come acupuncture and tai chi. From China and Babylon have come the abacus which in some ways have led to the development of today’s computers. But for me, Cultural Diversity has given my life a direction in which to channel my curiosity and energies. It is exciting to keep finding new things about my own city – new and different religious buildings, rituals, and arts. Every human being has a purpose in life. This has been mine.”
If you had one message to leave to the young generations… ?
“Throw away your cellphones! (laugh) and learn how to talk to people. That’s one (laugh).
Read about other cultures and learn about your own too. A lot of young people in Toronto are rejecting the cultures of their parents and identifying with only mainstream Canada. They should consider the good as well as the bad. They should learn about the other cultures that are alive in Toronto because we have a lot of them. They could volunteer to help at festivals of other cultures. They can read my blog (laugh). If they are Ukrainian (for instance), they could take their non-Ukrainian friends to Ukrainian festivals. They shouldn’t be ashamed of their family’s cultural background. Life is a learning experience.”
This leads us to our last question… Surely the most important one (smile)… If you had a supernatural power, what would that be?
(thinking a lot)
“Let’s say I would minimize human suffering but not try to eliminate it. Eliminating it would be impossible. You cannot have compassion for something or someone who is not suffering. I think suffering is a part of the purpose of human life. I think we are in this world to develop our spirituality. Suffering is an important component. So is diversity.”
Thank you Ruth, good continuation with the website and the multicultural events.