I was a teenager in the seventies, growing up in what used to be a suburb north of Toronto. Willowdale wasn't in the country and it was far enough away from Toronto's city limits to offer the feel of a small town. We were white kids, growing up in an all white neighborhood. There were special places in and around Toronto where immigrants and people of colour lived, we call it the 'Ghetto'. For the most part we left people of immigrant communities alone, but among our young clique of friends and girlfriends there was a clearly drawn line between us, and them.
It was an era where Canada had opened the floodgates to thousands of refugees displaced by the Vietnam war and other civil unrest throughout the world. I recall media at the time , using the phrase "boat people" to describe what we would now call "New Canadians". Political correctness wasn't in any one's vocabulary. As I remember, it was 'open season' on any individual or group who wasn't born within a few miles of town. Open season meant we talked about the immigrants among ourselves as if they were the objects of ridicule. Every ethic group had it's own derogatory title imposed by predominantly white Canadians. You've heard them all before, 'towel head', 'camel jockey', 'zipper-head' 'skid mark'etc. Oddly, Mexican people were just plain old "Mexican" I guess that was derogatory enough given the state of their economy at the time.
I was raised to show respect for all cultures regardless if they were different from mine, after all, mum and dad were "Brits" and immigrated the same as everyone else, the only difference was the ship they arrived on. Mum and dad had their own room on board and a sun deck just in case the sun broke out in the North Atlantic that November.
I haven't mentioned the "N" word here, because even as far back as nineteen sixty five, we children were being taught in school, never to use this word to describe a person of African ethnicity. This was largely due to civil unrest between black and white in the southern USA that had reached epic proportions by the mid sixties. Nobody wanted the same race conflicts to happen here, so yes, an effort was made by all of us to avoid the "N" word and it worked. Today my grown children in Toronto and the USA have friends of all ethnicity's and I myself have Jamaican nieces and nephews whom I am proud of.
Two great women have berated me for using the "N" word. The first, was my mother in nineteen sixty eight, the second was my beautiful Newfoundland wife, in two thousand and nine. This just 'blew me away'. For more than forty years I have lived on the mainland and reffered to my great Newfoundland employees and friends as "Newfies". "Don't you dare says my wife....we are Newfoundlanders, you're insulting me when you say that word.
The first real job I acquired as a teenager was at a huge factory in Toronto where sixty percent of the employees were incredibly friendly, hard working Newfoundlanders. Many of them instantly became my friends and I loved hearing their stories about back home. They always had a look of longing as they spoke of the sea, or their relatives holding down the fort here on the Island. We called them "Newfies" and they called themselves "Newfies" never once did any of them say..."Hey, that's our word, you can't use it". It was a strong fitting name for a strong group of people. If they had all been from PEI, the term "Princies" may have sounded a bit mean, but to me and the majority of Newfoundland loving Canada, this "N" word was and still is a title of respect and endearment.
I tried hard for a while not to use the "N" word ever again. This time it was my turn to berate my own mother for using it when I spoke with her on the phone. I don't mind saying, I have failed. Newfoundlanders are great people and deserve a great title. I love living in Newfoundland with my beautiful Newfie girl. It was ultimately a Newfoundlander who won an appeal against the Alberta government, who would not allow him a personalized license plate that said just..."NEWFIE" Who said you can't fight City Hall.