Surrey Now: My, how we have changed

When he was a boy, his classmates threw eggs at him the first day he worea turban to school. Today, Sarj, as he’s known to his friends, is moved to tears when he thinks about how his beloved city has grown to embrace his culture.


When he was a boy, his classmates threw eggs at him the first day he worea turban to school. Today, Sarj, as he’s known to his friends, is moved to tears when he thinks about how his beloved city has grown to embrace his culture.

SURREY – July was such a big month as far as celebrations go. It’s really is the start of summer, as the weather really warms up around this time.

We also have some of Surrey’s biggest events happen during the month of July. Specifically, I am talking about the City of Surrey’s Canada Day celebration and the Fusion Festival.

I am proud to say that not only am I a proud supporter and sponsor of both of these events but I also help organize the India pavilion at the Fusion Festival. Volunteering as an organizer has really helped me understand some things about Surrey that I’d like to share with the Now’s readers.

So many times we see articles about how different we are as a community and how little we integrate ourselves.

The Fusion Festival shatters this perception. It is a role model for all cities to help bridge community differences and help create cultural understanding.

I grew up in Surrey, so I know first hand the changes that have happened in the last 37 or so years.

I have experienced the beauty of this place, as well as the ugliness of hatred. I have personally experienced a lot of racism in Surrey as a child. No, not the typical name calling, but more severe physical incidences involving hospital visits from assault – as early as the age of 10.

But this place is my home, and has raised me to be the individual who I am today: someone proud of his heritage, culture and yes, his city.

Racial hatred was common for new immigrants in Surrey – I say was because things have come a long, long way.

It’s not perfect, but I can say that this city has grown up a lot over these years. Immigrants – and people of colour in general – have a lot of resources and support to help them in times of need regarding racial problems.

This brings me to the festival that I am so passionate about – the Fusion Festival.

What a wonderful concept, to bring together cultures to help them understand one another, not mold them or melt them together, but just bring them closer together. This was its mission and this is its success.

I have to congratulate our Mayor Dianne Watts and Coun. Barinder Rasode for continuing this amazing and important event that was started three years ago under the guidance of Mayor Watts, Coun. Mary Martin and council members.

In its first year, I was a somewhat skeptical organizer of the India pavilion, as I wasn’t so sure if Surrey was ready to openly experience all the cultural richness it has hidden away. But to my surprise and delight the first year was a monumental success. What surprised me even more, nearly to the point of tears, was the response that the people of Surrey gave to our India pavilion.

You see, I am a proud turbaned Sikh. I have struggled and watched my community struggle to maintain its identity for years. As a Grade 7 student at Betty Huff Elementary in Surrey, I decided it was the right time to start wearing the formal turban I wear today to my school.

To my sadness, the other students weren’t ready. In fact, there was a resentment toward my turban and at the first lunch break, a few of the other boys thought it would be funny to go home and grab some eggs and egg me on the head.

I was already feeling very insecure, and this act caused me to delay wearing the turban until junior high. (If you’re reading this, I hope you boys realize that “egging” me only made me value my turban even more and I would hope you regretted the act.)

In my eyes, mainstream society didn’t understand or want to understand how important the turban is to a Sikh or someone of the Punjabi community.

Which brings me back to the Fusion Festival – part of our pavilion experience was dedicated to turban tying. This was something I was proud to bring to the event, but wasn’t sure would be a hit as the first day of the festival approached.

Believe me, the egging incident kept coming into my thoughts; would mainstream society mock the turban as was done to me years ago? Was all this fusion too early? Would there be no interest in having a turban tied? I had so many doubts and so many worries.

What happened that first day of the Fusion Festival brought me to a new level of happiness I never thought I could experience – the turban tying was the most popular event. Our turban tying lines were longer than any other.

I had a grin from ear to ear the entire day. The people of Surrey showed so much support and interest that I was overwhelmed with emotion.

By the end of the festival, well over 2,000 turbans were tied. Turbans were tied on men, women, children, seniors and families.

We even had all the stage crew displaying their turbans with respect and pride – the truest form of cultural understanding.

The 2009 and 2010 festivals were no less of a success, with the turban tying being one of the most popular events.

I suppose understanding happened at all levels. The residents of Surrey who tied a turban gained the experience and respect of what Sikhs go through to tie their turbans, plus the extreme value Sikhs place on the turban.

But what surprised me was the understanding I gained about the good people of Surrey, how things have changed for the better. I firmly believe now that it is time that we nourish events like the Fusion Festival.

Of course, without direction and leadership none of this is possible, and I have to say that Mayor Watts and Coun. Rasode (the chair of the Fusion Festival and someone who really went out of her way to make this a success) and the rest of our city council should be congratulated on the festival’s success.

As well, I’d like to personally thank the staff of events department at City of Surrey, Mary, Dan and Melissa – you guys (and gals) are the best! Thank you. I can’t wait until next July.

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