An Open Letter to the Kids of Surrey, BC

Deepa Mehta’s new movie, Beeba Boys, depicts Indo-Canadian gang violence and mentality

I recently watched the new Deepa Mehta movie, Beeba Boys, at the Strawberry Hill cinema in Surrey, BC. I’m a Canadian native, Indo-Canadian to be more specific, which means that my parents are Indian and immigrated to Canada which is where I was born. Though I grew up in Surrey, I often times find myself wondering whether there are others who feel just as disconnected and confused by its cultural trends and traditions as I do.

The movie, though clearly lower budget than Mehta’s typical films, was quite accurate in its portrayal of the mindset and culture that exists among Surrey/Vancouver’s Indo-Canadian youth. I surprisingly found myself fearing for my safety after the late night movie, being more aware of the cars and people who passed me by. At the same time, I found myself questioning why I was afraid to be out late at night and whether my fears were valid or not.

Much of it must have to do with the fact that I have been outside of Canada and the Lower Mainland for so long — 3 years to be exact. I started traveling to the US for work around 3 years ago and relocated to work full-time in California around 2 years ago permanently. The change, though refreshing and much needed, also left me missing home and my friends and family. Don’t get me wrong — I love Canada — but at the same time, living in Surrey and witnessing the challenges that come with being a young person who often feels “stuck in society” can take a toll.

What’s wrong with Surrey’s society you might be wondering? Societies often have issues anywhere, and no matter where you live, you will almost always find reasons why things could be better. But having experienced various different communities all over the world, I can honestly say that Surrey’s culture is unique and differentiated, especially when it comes to Surrey’s young people.

Most of my focus will be around growing up Indo-Canadian in Surrey, but I am hopeful that other youth from different communities can also relate. So let’s start with the good. I, along with many of my friends, like the feeling of multiculturalism and acceptance in this area — you often see people of different races and ethnicities communicating and co-existing with one another, without the blatant racism and shootings/violence you often hear about in the US. Brown people, Chinese people, Filipino people, Fijian people, White people, often living on the same street (like the street I grew up on).

Furthermore, its almost impossible to feel without culture or community by living in Surrey. One of my biggest struggles in California is lacking and yearning for a feeling of home — a feeling of community that comes from feeling like you fit in with a group of people. It’s easy to feel that when simply driving down the street in Surrey, you see bibi-babay walking through parks and sitting together on benches. The sense of a mini-Punjab is easy to feel and though I found it silly growing up, I now miss the feeling of home it brings.

Now let’s get to the part about where things could be better. An article recently highlighted that Vancouver’s anti-gang group feels that the Beeba Boys movie will actually do more damage than good — in the sense that Vancouver’s Indo-Canadian youth may end up watching the movie and find the “glamorous” gang-life impressive and appealing. Seriously? Is that what young people would really take away from it? I wouldn’t be surprised if that was the case — as in any other movie, it was easy to hear to the chuckles and laughs of the youth who found certain scenes funny rather than disturbing.

This anti-gang task force spends its time focusing on bringing down gang initiatives and the drugs/violence that come along with it. But what about the youngsters? The elementary school aged boys and girls who don’t necessarily have access to any of the gang-life but find it appealing or cool anyways? What about the high school aged kids who smoke weed because it’s the thing to do and if you can associate with a gangster who you look up to — then why not? Some kids may find it cool that their cousins or older brothers are involved in this glamorous lifestyle and though it looks cool from the outside, they may never actually want to take part in it.

This letter is for those kids. I was one of them. Heck, I probably still am. It’s so easy for Surrey’s youth to grow up in a culture of fights, and who’s hating on who, and who got so high/drunk/fucked up/hammered that they threw up last night. I get it — young people like to party and have a good time. That’s the case anywhere.

What’s lacking in Surrey though — and not just in the Indian community — is enough role models and examples of youth who still live a glamorous lifestyle despite all of that. Most times we imagine the “nerds” or the “geeks” who are so wrapped up in school and being a stellar student to be the ones who don’t waste their time on idolizing gang members or getting involved in drugs or violence. That’s not necessarily the role model I’m talking about. What I’m talking about is the legitimate, established role-models who have done things differently and want the rest of the generation to understand that they can do the same.

I often tell my younger siblings and cousins that if you can get through high school in Surrey without getting involved in the BS that comes with going to high school in Surrey, you’re basically safe and set for life. What I mean by that is that if you can get through probably the most fucked up years in your life — where you will feel the most peer pressure, the most bullying and opportunities to bully, the most confusion and the most opportunities to fuck up, then you can most likely get through anything that comes after that.

What I think is lacking in the anti-gang task force is a focus on teaching elementary and high-school aged kids to think differently. To critically think — and to question everything. That includes religion. That includes cultural traditions. And that includes finding gangs or gang violence cool. It’s ridiculous to think that the same religious/cultural rules and traditions that we teach kids could also be influencing the mentalities that they grow up with. That sons are kings and that Kaurs and Singhs are lions and lionesses who are always ready to fight. I understand that these mentalities may have been relevant or required in the day and age that our religion/cultures first formed. But in today’s day and age — they may be doing more damage than good.

So let’s question those. Let’s encourage young people to question what they believe and why they believe it to be true. Let’s encourage dialogue and discussion among the young people themselves and let’s put out a call for change — through better role models and better goals to strive for. I’m looking for a dialogue and I think young people in Surrey are the answer. Let’s mentor youth and let’s focus on the next generation who can be and do things differently. If you are interested in joining the conversation, please be in touch.

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