For most children in the US or Canada, they know very little about where Syria is, or what Syrians are like. Yet, the leaders in their countries are telling them very different things.
In the US, the Republican presidential candidate Trump is saying to national media: "We have no idea who these people (Syrian refugees) are...Our country has tremendous problems. We can't have another problem." Mr. Trump is telling the children in the US who are watching him: Syrians are a problem. They are a different group of people who pose danger to us.
Next door in Canada, the Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is welcoming Syrian refugees by saying: "Tonight, they step off the plane as refugees. But they walk out of this terminal as permanent residents of Canada, with social insurance numbers, with health cards, and with an opportunity to become full Canadians." Mr. Trudeau is telling the children in Canada: yes, Syrians did come from a different place, but the moment they become Canadians, they are the same as the rest of us.
Here in Hong Kong, with people visiting from all over the world, we face a similar question: how should we behave towards people who come from other cultures? How should we talk to our children about the new residents of HK? I believe that we should do it Mr. Trupeau'is way: highlight similarities instead of differences, and show compassion instead of fear.
In Hong Kong, we sometimes hear people say that "people from place A has problem X". This is harmful, especially for children, who often believe in what adults around them say. Just like how some children in the US think that Syrians tend to be terrorists before meeting a single Syrian, the way we talk about foreigners can affect how our children feel about people from other countries - before our children even meet them. Instead of telling our children that "this person comes from country A" or "that person comes from country B", we should learn from Mr. Trupeau and say: "this person is also a Hong Kong resident", like the rest of us.
So far, discrimination towards people from other cultures unfortunately remains a problem. For example, domestic workers in HK are often under the risk of discrimination or even abuse. One major reason behind discrimination is that some people do not see domestic workers as residents with equal rights.
HK is has been branded as "Asia's World City" by the government, partly because of its cultural diversity. To preserve the diversity of HK, we should act with compassion, not fear or misunderstanding, towards everyone in our community.