Dumplings, Pasta, and Samosas: The Experience of Lunchtime in Scarborough Schools in the 90s
The greatest teacher is lunchtime at a public school in the 90s in Scarborough.”
During his elementary school days in the 1990s, Aubrey saw the lunchroom at his Agincourt primary school as a grounds for trade. The commodity? Food!
From dumplings, to pasta, to samosas, to the coveted Lunchables, Aubrey and his friends exchanged food as a way to spice up the monotony of their daily packed lunches. Food became a conduit for cultural exchange and, at an early age, Aubrey became aware of communities that were often (and still are) grouped into singular labels: Sri Lankan and Indian, Sikh and Muslim, Japanese and Korean, Mandarin and Cantonese. Aubrey jokes that his friend group was a model UN, and this diverse exposure allowed him to realize that being different is in fact good.
Despite attending primary school nearly a decade earlier in the 1980s, Jen D. Fabico’s experience was very similar. Before moving to Scarborough at a young age, Jen’s previous elementary school mistakenly put her in an ESL class, assuming that she could not speak English. In reality, she was just shy. After moving to Scarborough and attending a local school, she was quickly embraced and her experience changed. While walking with her grandmother on her first day at St. Henry’s Catholic School, Jen remembers another student running up to her, picking her up, and giving her a piggy-back ride out of nowhere. They quickly became best friends. Today, Jen laughs about how great it was to have an Asian girl and Black girl as best friends without the subtext of race.
The reality is that for both Aubrey and Jen, attending elementary school in Agincourt normalized diversity at an early age. As children, they never even realized that diversity was unique, because every single experience they had involved children from a variety of cultural backgrounds.
It wasn’t until they left Agincourt to attend university that both of them started to realize that the demographics beyond Scarborough were very different than what they were used to. Jen recalls dating someone who lived outside the city. It wasn’t until she visited his family that she realized that there were not many people in town that looked like her. After an incident at a pit stop that involved racist comments being directed to her, she came to the realization that cultural diversity was not the norm in other parts of the province.
“It’s a shellshock. The first time it happens, you’re like ‘hold on, wait.’ I thought Canada was diverse, and you’re like Ontario isn’t even diverse!” – Jen D. Fabico
Aubrey was similarly surprised at the lack of diversity he experienced while studying music at York University. He found himself in an environment where differences weren’t as lovingly embraced as they were earlier in his life. Language and economic barriers became tools for segregation, and being a minority in these spaces made it difficult to put his foot down. Eventually he stopped school early, realizing that there was much more to learn outside the confines of an academic institution that was teaching black music without acknowledging the experiences of black people.
“In the same breath, they’ll marginalize you, and then praise your ancestors. John Coltrane has more in common with Gucci Mane than you. I don’t care how much Artie Shaw you listen to. To make it this institutionalized academic thing, and then to be condescending to me is unfortunate. It was a super confusing thing.” – Aubrey
At the end of the day, Aubrey and Jen both see Agincourt as a place where they unknowingly learned to embrace diversity. In doing so, they also learned to love their own differences. Unfortunately, their interactions outside of Scarborough also made them realize that what was normal for them wasn’t normal for everyone else. This is what makes Agincourt so unique – diversity is woven into the fabric of the community, cultivating a body of residents who see their differences as an enriching part of life.