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November 29, 2016:  Current issues facing South Asian youth

Listen to the interview above or read the full transcript below.

Announcer:     

Welcome to the Kash Heed Show. Today’s news and views from south of the Fraser on 107.7 Pulse FM. We invite you to share your view with us. Join the conversation by phone, 778-574-1077. Follow us on Twitter @Pulse1077. You’ll find us online at pulsefm.ca and on Facebook. Now, here’s Kash Heed.

Kash Heed:  

Welcome back. 10 minutes after 10:00. We’re going to carry on our conversation regarding some of the problems faced by our youth today, and especially as it relates to the incident that occurred here in South Surrey. Well, there’s been several incidents that have occurred here in Surrey with respect to youth getting into trouble, youth ending up involved in firearms-related incidents, shots fired, youth involved in murders that have taken place, and a lot of them are from the South Asian communities. And I just want to talk about what I received yesterday. I received about three phone calls yesterday from people that are really concerned of what is going on within the Surrey school district, and I had one person that has been involved in the school district for a period of time, and they are very, very concerned about the fact that the program does not work with the most gang-entrenched youth, and some of the correspondence sent to me points out that youth are screened in based on the best chance of success. This of course continues to improve the stats.

So we’re going to continue to talk about this, but I thought, more importantly, we should talk about why youth from the South Asian community get involved in this lifestyle, yet we have someone from a similar background that proves to be a successful person in society. And I’m joined in the studio by Manjot Hallen, a lawyer with Warnett Hallen, LLP, and you were just telling me in the hallway that you went to Princess Margaret Secondary School here in Surrey, and many of the people that you went to school with in the ’90s have ended up in the (…), so, Manjot, you’re a very, very successful personal-injury lawyer here in metro Vancouver. Why were you different?

Manjot Hallen:      

Well, Kash, good morning. Yeah, you’re right, I went to Princess Margaret in the ’90s, and it was a troubled time in Surrey at that time. It’s gotten worse, unfortunately, but back then I remember there being a fork in the road. I had an opportunity to carry on and continue going to school or join some of the others in the community that were doing things that were offside with the law. And you asked me a specific question as to why it is that I chose the path that I chose, and I’ve got to credit my upbringing for that. I’ve got to credit my parenting, and I’ve got to first and foremost credit my parents, who told me that-

Kash Heed:

Let’s talk a little bit about that, because often people point the finger at the family, Manjot, and they say it’s the family. The fact that the mother or father are not around there to raise a child, the child is raised by their grandparents or raised by the siblings, or something of that nature. They’re never around to guide them in that direction. You know, being from a South Asian background, known then as the East Indian community, I didn’t experience that at all. I was raised by a single mother, the four of us- my three siblings- we were raised by a single mother, but we didn’t have that. Is this an excuse, or is there a fact … Your background- was your mom around, was your dad around? Were they strict with you?

Manjot Hallen:     

Yeah, you know what- my parents were around, but both my parents did go to work when I was growing up, and my grandparents did play an active role in my upbringing. So I don’t really see that as being a viable excuse, but I think the story here is not just the South Asian story, but it’s the immigrant story. Two parents struggling to make it here in Canada, having to go to work, leaving the upbringing of their children to others, whether it be family members or the daycare or the school system. And therein lies some of the problem. But, Kash, I think our community has to take a little bit more responsibility for this. I think the issues are broader than just not having parents around. I think the issues surround a clash of cultures in a lot of ways.

You have these youth who are growing up here in Canada as Canadians, and they’re very much immersed in Western culture. They go home at the end of the day, and they’re told something completely different. And there’s a bit of an internal conflict there. There is a bit of a dilemma for them as to … they don’t really fit in. They feel in a lot of ways that they’re Canadian, but in a lot of ways they’re different than some of the other people growing up. So that in itself presents a bit of a problem that we as a community need to address a little better. Because when people don’t have somewhere that they fit in and they feel welcome, that’s when they turn to gang-type of organizations, where they feel like they’re a part of something, or they feel like they’re part of something bigger.

Kash Heed:  

In the school system is that amplified? Because from my understanding and my experiences, the peer relationships are developed within that school system. And how problematic that is if we don’t, for example, have not only the families involved but the schools involved in it. ‘Cause that’s the only institution in society that sees our youth now from kindergarten to their teen years.

Manjot Hallen:      

That’s right, and therein lies part of the problem that I was trying to get at. If you’re stuck between two cultures, you’re gonna pick one of them. And your social network and everything is gonna be your friends at school. So the friends that you choose at school in a lot of ways is gonna dictate the path you take in life. I mean, a lot of these South Asian kids growing up think, “You know, my parents don’t understand me. They’re from a completely different world. Who understands me are these guys that I go to school with, these friends of mine. They listen to the same music, they like the same things. When I go home it’s a completely different world that I go home to. I feel welcome with this group.” And unfortunately, a lot of times that group can be the wrong group to associate with.

Kash Heed:  

So going back to you for a second … Richmond to Surrey to Princess Margaret- what were the people like that you hung around with?

Manjot Hallen: 

I hung around with a diverse group of people. In Richmond, it was a completely different story than when I moved to Surrey. In Richmond, I was a complete outsider. I was clearly the minority. The majority group, growing up at that time, was immigrants from Hong Kong. Not even mainland China but Hong Kong. That was essentially my peer group when I went to elementary school in Richmond. When I moved to Surrey, it was a complete shock to me, because I was taken from a school where I was the only Indo-Canadian kid and put into a school where if I wasn’t Indo-Canadian I would be the minority. It was a majority South Asian community at Princess Margaret.

Kash Heed:

Now … go ahead.

Manjot Hallen:         

Well, I was just … it was a culture shock, frankly, and at that point there was a decision to make as to what group of friends I wanted to associate with. And at that time I made a decision to choose those who were more engaged in sports, more engaged in studies, as opposed to others that were cutting class, not showing up, smoking cigarettes, and doing the stupid things that kids do at that time.

Kash Heed:      

Where are some of those people, the ones you hung around with and the ones that you were kind of sitting, “Ah, should I go this way, should I go that way”? You explained to me earlier some of them have ended up like many of these gangsters- either a drug addict, either in jail or dead.

Manjot Hallen: 

That’s right. That’s right. There is a number of people that I went to high school with that are no longer with us, that are in jail, and sort of were associated with the wrong groups. And I think even in high school it was apparent that that group of individuals was headed in that direction.

Kash Heed: 

What influence did the teachers or counselors or people that worked within the school have on you? Or did they even involve themselves in influencing the behavior of a student?

Manjot Hallen:         

Yeah, there was a bit of that, Kash. I wouldn’t say it was minimal, but I think a bigger influence was the influence that I had at home, with my parents constantly telling me to stay away from trouble. They were alive to the fact that there were issues out there. I think sometimes in our community we ignore it, and my parents didn’t do that. They tackled it head-on. They said, “Stay away from drugs. Stay away from smoking cigarettes. Don’t cut class.”

Kash Heed:    

Did they tackle it head-on within the household? Because part of how it’s internalized to the extent where it would be an embarrassment to the family if this got out. So there’s the discipline that takes place in the home, but the concern is to keep that internalized and not let anyone, even relatives, find out about this.

Manjot Hallen:         

See, I think that, what you’ve just mentioned, is part of the problem. We didn’t have that in my household. We didn’t have that “we gotta make sure that we show that everything’s fine inside of our house”. If there was a problem, we wanted to tackle it head-on, and I think that’s one of the … What you just mentioned there is one of the key problems in our community, Kash, this idea that if we just ignore it, it’s gonna go away. But it doesn’t. I mean, look- in Grade Nine, I think it was, I was getting into all sorts of trouble. I was cutting class, one of my teachers at a parent interview told my dad that I was smoking cigarettes during the break, which I was, and my parents had a hard conversation with me. They didn’t ignore it, they went head-on. They said, “Look, don’t do this. This is stupid. You’re not one of these kids that should be involved in this thing, and what you should be doing is focusing on your studies.”

Kash Heed:        

I’ve got a caller on line, Manjot- she wants to make a comment regarding it. Sasha, are you there?

Manjot Hallen:  

Yes. Hi, how are you?

Kash Heed:     

Great, fantastic. What’s your comment?

Sasha: 

Several things here. I agree, there is parenting that’s desperately needed. But in this Asian community, what I’ve also seen … I’m from England and I’ve been here 12 years … I have four children, two of them born in Surrey, born and raised in the schools here. And one thing that I’ve seen, and I’m incurring daily on a regular basis, is these parents who are indulging their children. Because they can’t spend the time, the effort, and the sit-down with the children and really, really understanding what those values and morals … to instill that takes time. But what they’re doing instead is they’re buying the iPads- there are six-year-olds, seven-year-olds with iPads in their hands. They’ve got iPods in their hands. They’re wandering around, and parents are using this technology. And then there’s parents like myself who have an 11-year-old who still does not have an iPad.

But the thing is, it’s buy, buy, buy, buy. Buy their affection. Buy them with materialistic things. And then you’ve got a situation where these young people grow into youth, growing into young adults, have now got an expectancy. “I will be given it on a plate. Where do I get it? Where’s the fast route?” And then the hard work and the perseverance education takes, and any career takes … to be able to set yourself in a career and earn the things that you want to buy, that needs to be taught at a very, very young age. But instead they’re being raised up with this mentality that “I’ve been given everything, now I need to find an easy road to get that money.”

Kash Heed:    

Sasha, you make a very good point. Manjot, Sasha makes a very, very good point. She says that we give too much to our kids. That’s even amplified within the South Asian community.

Manjot Hallen:  

I agree, Kash. I think it’s amplified in the South Asian community, but I think that’s a problem amongst all communities. I mean, we always talk about the millennial generation, these youngsters that had everything handed to them, and you see it every day. Even as an employer you see it. You have people that work for you that feel like they’re entitled to something. There’s a sense of entitlement amongst the youth, and you can see that if they’re not told the proper way of doing things, and that hard work is gonna allow them to continue to live this lifestyle, then they’re gonna go to the wrong path. Because they’re gonna need funds to support the lifestyle that they were raised with, that they now are accustomed to. And if they’re not willing to put the hard work in, where does that lead them? So that leads them to cut corners.

Kash Heed:  

Sasha, are you still with us?

Sasha:     

I agree with that, but the other thing I would also put out … in our South Asian community in particular, there is a sense of ownership of appearance, keeping up appearances. You know, “My child has to be the best, he has to be the number one soccer player. He has to be the number one this, he has to be the number one that.” They don’t encourage teamwork, sportsmanship, good morals. Yes, my son went and stood up to the bully. He went and got the teacher. He wasn’t the one sitting there going, “Yeah, yeah! Kick him again, kick him again!” So we’ve got to, as parents and as a community as a whole, not just go for, “Hey, that guy’s the A student.” How about the guy who tried so frickin’ hard because he got from a D student to a B student, but he worked really hard to do it. How about recognizing that kid? And as parents we should be applauding and also encouraging this type of behavior.

Kash Heed:  

Well, I’ll tell you, Sasha, that is absolutely fantastic advice. Thanks for your phone call. We appreciate this, and good luck on raising the children. Manjot, just a quick reply to that, because she makes a very, very good point. And again, back to our point, is “keep it inside, we need everyone to be proud of the family.” We need to do it in a responsible fashion, though.

Manjot Hallen:  

I agree. I think that’s one of the biggest problems in our community, that appearances is more important than reality. That we need to present the best picture to the outside world. We need to show that our kids have the best things, that our kids have the best grades, and ignore all of the problems. And sometimes those problems are serious.

Kash Heed: 

But Manjot, that’s even with the domestic violence within our community, and in the mainstream community.

Manjot Hallen:  

Yes, but I think it is more prevalent in our community, Kash.

Kash Heed: 

Yeah. I have to agree.

Manjot Hallen:   

And I agree with you, domestic violence is another issue where a lot of times it’s being swept under the carpet by our community. And we need to expose it, as opposed to sweeping it under the carpet. We need to expose these issues, we need to appreciate that they exist, and then we need to find ways to tackle them. And we need to do that as a community, not just family-by-family.

Kash Heed:  

Manjot, we’re gonna take a quick break here. Coming back, I want to talk to you about the community, and how the community needs to get involved, because if we’re going to be a success that’s gotta be one stream that we focus on. Because there’s been so much attention, for example, to the temples and various things like that. As a leader in the community, we know that’s not true. Next on Pulse FM …

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Kash Heed:  

I’m in the studio with Manjot Hallen, a very successful personal-injury lawyer. We’re talking about youth in our community, and in the general community with respect to what’s going on. We talked about the fact that the schools, the peer influences, and the behavior of some of these kids in schools, we’ve talked about the family. Let’s talk a little bit about the community, the community at large and the South Asian community, because just during the break and lead-up to the break, you were talking about the community and how the community needs to get involved if we’re going to deal with this issue.

Manjot Hallen:          

Yeah, absolutely. And we as a whole need to do more, and people like myself and others, that had the option to go down the wrong path but rather chose the right path to travel down, it’s incumbent upon us to do more. To get out into our communities, to speak at our high schools, to talk to the youth in terms that they understand. Say things like, “Look, I know it’s cool to be rebellious. I know it’s cool to skip class. But there’s a fine line that you should not be crossing. And that’s doing things like selling drugs, and associating yourself with certain gangs, and gang members.” And I think it’s incumbent upon myself, people like you, other leaders of our community, to get out there and to speak at our schools, and talk to our youth. And you and I were talking about the temples and the roles that they play. That’s another opportunity that we can … another venue that we can use.

Kash Heed:    

Let’s just talk a bit about that, because I was telling you I had to (…). Which is known now as a historic meeting of bringing all the community leaders together in 2002, when we had a real spike in gang activity, and I managed to get all of the temples, whether you’re fundamentalists or moderates, in the same room, talking about this particular issue. We had a series of forums thereafter, and here we are right now, we’ve got the CFSU Integrated Gang Task Force, which is probably as a result of the seeds that were sown back when we started talking about this particular issue. But we’re still dealing with this problem.

We still have kids that are attracted to this, and we were talking to a couple of people earlier this week and last week, talking about the fact that when one of our youth from the South Asian community gets arrested, gets killed, or somehow gets removed from what’s going on here, the void is so easy filled by up-and-comers within the South Asian community. So no matter how much work has been put into this … and this came, this whole discussion that we’re going to continue at Pulse FM, comes as a result of some of the information I was getting on a youth prevention program known as the Wrap program within the Surrey school district, which I previously had supported, but the information that is now coming to hand is certainly showing something else going on. And just going by the mere statistical information that’s out there on who’s involved in this activity, it’s still primarily the South Asian youth.

Manjot Hallen:   

Yeah, that’s right, Kash. And I’m a bit more realistic about things. I don’t think we’re ever gonna eradicate this problem, but I think what we need to do is to make it a less viable option for our youth. We need to give them other avenues, and make sure that they understand what they should be doing and what their other options are for becoming leaders in our community as opposed to going down the wrong path. But our community’s gotten larger as well, Kash, so it’s harder now for us to speak to the entire community than it was 10, 15 years ago. And that’s why there are more realists thinking we’re probably never gonna eradiate this. There’s always gonna be bad people in every community. You’re never gonna get rid of that. You’re never gonna get rid of the problem, but the best we can do is to prevent more of our youth from joining gangs and selling drugs.

Kash Heed: 

But we haven’t done a good job so far. All the effort, and … you know, I like what you say. We’re a very proud community. We’ve always been a proud community. We’ve had pioneers that have built this province. You go to Kamloops, where I was born, Singh Road is named after my grandfather, who started Punjab Lumber Company years ago. Matter of fact, the gurdwara, the temple that is built on the exact site where he was openly cremated when he passed on. So we’re a very proud community, we all have our roots, but we’ve been tarnished by this brush, and it is a very, very dark brush.

And when you have the incidents that occurred last week here in this area, when you the two individuals that were killed in Fraser Heights, when you even take this back to when you were in school, when I had to deal with the infamous Bindy Johal- Ronnie and Jimmy Dosanjh dispute, which kind of perpetuated the violence within our community, our youth were looking at that and going, “Boy, I’m going to bring out the profile of the family because I’m going to be on the six o’clock news, just like Dosanjh and Johal were at that time.” But you know what? They’re on the six o’clock news for the wrong reason.

Manjot Hallen: 

That’s right. And that’s kind of where it all started- didn’t it, Kash- for our community, back in the early ’90s? But I agree with you that it is a problem within our community. But there’s a lot of focus on it as well. And we as a community gotta do more to eradicate that problem, but also to focus more on the positive things that our community does. You made a point that we’re a proud community. We’re a very proud community, and I’m immensely proud to be South Asian, to be Indo-Canadian, to be Punjabi. And I promote the positive aspects of our community. And I think we need to do a better job of that. I think one of the other problems that we have in our community is that when certain members of our community reach a successful position, others for some reason become very critical of that person.

Kash Heed:     

You know, this has been an ongoing problem, Manjot, and I want to talk about this for a little while, because we’ve seen that, where all of a sudden … and I’ve experienced it firsthand. Where someone’s all of a sudden coming up, instead of the community trying to come up to the level that that person has- even in your community, as a lawyer, when that person is coming up, the problem with our community … they try and drag that person down instead of just coming up so we can all promote this in a positive fashion. That’s been an ongoing problem, and it’s been exposed or at least discussed by many leaders in our community.

Manjot Hallen:   

That’s right, and it is a real problem, because we can rally behind these leaders of our community. And if we do that, and we work collectively, that’s where we’re gonna solve these problems of youth violence.

Kash Heed:   

But we’ve talked about this- Indian politics. People talk about it as Indian politics being played out right here on the streets here south of the Fraser.

Manjot Hallen:  

Absolutely. I mean, look, you’ve got guys like Minister Saijin, for example. Here’s a guy that the entire community should be rallying behind. He’s doing wonderful things for our community, he’s an example of someone that’s broken a number of barriers, and you’ve got people right here in Surrey like Sukh Dhaliwal and Randy (…)-

Kash Heed:                        (…)-

Manjot Hallen:

These were guys that we should be promoting and saying, look, there are the leaders of the community. These are the people that are gonna help give us a voice so that we can do two things. We can speak about the positive aspects of our community, and we can eradicate some of the problems that we’re having and we find solutions to those problems.

Kash Heed:      

But there’s many others like you out there. You know, highly successful in your law practice, and I’m not just saying that, I’ve witnessed that. There’s other lawyers out there … even gotta go back to just someone like [Wally Opie 00:25:52], you gotta ask where is he on this now? He’s been a pioneer in this particular area, trying to deal with this. I get tired when people say, “Why are you still doing it?” Because I haven’t seen the result I expected when I embarked on this. And I’m not going to give up here, but we need more people. We’ve got doctors, lawyers, teachers and even successful business people, and even people that are out there just as general working people, that are positive, contributing members to society that we can all look up to. But for some reason we have the youth embarked in this behavior. Is it bravado?

You know, someone explain to me … you go back to the tit-for-tat between Bindy Johal and Dosanjh- you’ll recall this- “You come and get me,” “No, tough guy, you come and get me,” play it out on the six o’clock news. Is it the fact that the media’s capitalized on this too because it sold newspapers or got people watching their show?

Manjot Hallen: 

That’s right. I think there’s a bit of that with respect to the media. They focus a lot on this problem in our community. And so you have leaders in our community- I’m not just talking about the elected officials, but broader than that, the lawyers, the doctors- that say, “Forget it. Why am I gonna get involved? Why am I gonna go out there and speak to the youth and tell them not to be involved in this lifestyle, when two things are gonna happen. I’m gonna muddy my hands with this issue, and I don’t necessarily want to be involved or associated with these kind of things,” and that goes back to our discussion about our public image and presenting a particular public image of yourself and our community.

“And number two, the quicker I rise in my community, more people are gonna start attacking me.” So a lot of people, and I don’t blame them, say, “Well, why be involved in all this? I could just sit at home … I’m a doctor, I come home at the end of the day and I live a good life, and I raise my kids in a neighborhood where I don’t need to worry about a lot of these issues.” And so it goes back to your point that we as a community have to promote our leaders, rather than bring them down.

Kash Heed: 

But leaders come in many facets. Look at Sasha, the one who phoned in. A mother. There’s a leader.

Manjot Hallen: 

Absolutely.

Kash Heed:   

She is saying, this is how I’m going to raise my- and she’s successful raising the kids. So there is someone that … she may be a professional too, but she’s a homemaker, and because she’s a successful homemaker she’s a leader in my opinion. Those are the people we should start to talk to, look up to, and find solutions to this problem.

It’s been great to talk to you, we could go on for hours and hours, but again, this is an issue that we’ve heard from our listeners that they want to talk about. We are going to embark on more of a discussion on this. It was great to get your opinion on this. Usually I bring you in for personal injury or ICBC comments, but I wanted to get your perspective. Here you are, a student out of Princess Margaret Secondary School who could have gone down this particular road, but you chose the other road, and look what it’s leading to. And hopefully you can get out there and be a mentor for some of the kids in our community.

Quick break on Pulse FM. Coming back we’re going to talk to Kuldip Ardawa. She’s a community partnership manager for Surrey Food Bank. It’s a time for giving, and the Food Bank is in dire need of donations. Next on Pulse FM.

Announcer: 

Stay with us for more of today’s news and views on the Kash Heed Show. On 107.7, Pulse FM.