Community·First Person

Retired Sri Lankan Calgarian engineer reflects on how the pandemic is a chance to enjoy simpler things in life

May is Asian Heritage Month and to celebrate, CBC Calgary is featuring Calgarians and what it means to be Asian Canadian in 2021. Don Perera is a retired professional engineer and now a real estate developer

Highlighting the rich heritage and contributions of Asian Canadians in Calgary

‘This virus affected everyone, it didn’t matter what your skin color was or where you were born,’ says Don Perera. (Rod Sanchez Photography)

May is Asian Heritage Month and to celebrate, CBC Calgary is featuring Calgarians and what it means to be Asian Canadian in 2021. This First Person piece was written by Don Perera, a retired professional engineer and now a real estate developer. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.


My name is Don Perera. I am a retired professional engineer from Sri Lanka who migrated to Canada in 1981. Over the past 40 years, I have worked as a civil engineer before starting my own business as a real estate developer. I have two sons and four beautiful grandchildren.

It's no wonder that 2020 is widely remembered as a year that we had liked to forget. It has felt as if the world was put on hold for the last 14 months due to the pandemic. Isolation hasn't been easy.

I am mostly retired now but business has certainly slowed down, as this pandemic brought upon so many unknowns. 

However, we were given the opportunity to re-evaluate what was important and spend more time enjoying the simple and ordinary things in life. It goes to show how easily life can change, and even with such advanced technology, we must continually ask ourselves, what is important in life, and what do we want to achieve?

Soon, 2021 will fade as 2020 did, first into memory and then into communal beliefs. One day, our stories will be found in textbooks, documentaries and history books.

The eradication of racial bias has improved considerably over the last two decades; however, racial discrimination remains a persistent reality in our society.- Don Perera

Personally, the coronavirus has impacted the ability for my wife and I to see our kids and grandkids more often. My eldest son lives in Australia and the younger in Toronto. I miss being with them. They grow so quickly and I am at an age where I can really slow down and focus on them. While I haven't been able to travel to see them, with the available technology, we have been able to speak to them and see them every day virtually. We are so fortunate for that.    

The pandemic made me realize more that we are all the same. This virus affected everyone. It didn't matter what your skin colour was or where you were born. The virus did not discriminate in selecting its victims.

I feel like our health-care system is one of the best in the world. When I look at my family in Sri Lanka, I wish in times like this that they were here and could access the same system that I can. Our health-care system does not discriminate either. Everyone is able to access it.

I have personally encountered racial bias during my employment in the late 1980s and '90s. Back in those days, it seemed like people of colour were not easily promoted to upper management positions, and those with lesser experience were promoted instead. I also observed that Asian immigrants were disproportionately selected for redundancies. Again, this was my personal experience decades ago.  

Don Perera is a retired professional engineer from Sri Lanka who migrated to Canada in 1981. (Rod Sanchez Photography)

I don't believe that style of leadership and management will be tolerated in this day and age. I am confident that there are major changes happening around the world to bridge any disparities between people, both in terms of race and gender inequalities. The eradication of racial bias has improved considerably over the last two decades; however, racial discrimination remains a persistent reality in our society. This fact must be acknowledged as a starting point in order to remedy and effectively address racism and racial discrimination for the next generations.  

Canada is a beautiful country whose sense of identity seems to resonate from its multiculturalism. I feel fortunate to reside in a city where diversity is growing day by day.

I came here with very little and worked really hard, but am proud to have contributed to and benefited from my time spent here in Calgary. I raised my sons here and they received an education that is recognized around the world, which has opened up endless possibilities for them. We respect all walks of life, and coming here we have maintained our Sri Lankan traditions and created a real sense of community. Over the past 40 years, I have created a life here for me and my wonderful family and I have loved every minute of it.


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