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Opinion | The Raptors Win, and Canada Learns to Swagger




Shooting hoops in the rugged Toronto suburbs of my youth, my friends and I often felt as if there was little to strive for beyond that court. We played basketball because there was no room for us in the other institutions of Canadian society. Many of us did not quite know what our country stood for, or where we fit inside it. We didn’t know our own story. That’s why people were so polite here; we were unsure of who we were.

The story of Toronto is the story of the underdog. The British writer V.S. Naipaul once scoffed that Toronto was a “city of lower-class immigrants.” He was perhaps projecting his own insecurities as a child of Trinidad, for there are over 500,000 Caribbean and West Indian immigrants in Canada.

The Afro-Indian heritage of Toronto is inextricably linked to the history of slavery, indentured servitude and empire that gave the world Naipaul himself. The black Canadian population is connected to the Underground Railroad and the destruction of slavery in the United States. The South Asian population is tied to the imperial bloodshed and partition that convulsed India.

So many of us here carry the burdens of migration and know what it means to be strangers in our own skins. This quilted heritage of cultures and histories gives Toronto its unique immigrant ethos, along with the street vernacular of West Indian patois and African-American English. It does not matter where I am standing, when I hear someone say, “Wa’gwan, bruh,” or “What’s good,” I know immediately that we share a private language. We know that we were once displaced, but only recently have we discovered, in all our formless anxiety, that the story of our immigrant lives is now the story of our country.

When we chanted, “We the North,” we meant that for the first time, this city, this country, this team, belonged to us all. We had shaken off our colonial hangover, and finally embraced the swagger that came from being the outsider, the interloper.


Minorities are now a majority in Toronto. In a few decades, the country itself will be majority brown. And on the streets Thursday night we saw the future of the West. No matter what the populists say, the multicultural mixing of peoples will continue, as will the art and beauty and basketball championships that come from this diversity. Beyond the trophy, that’s the greatest victory of all.

Omer Aziz is the author of the forthcoming “Brown Boy: A Story of Race, Religion, and Inheritance.”

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