Calgary·First Person

My low-income community doesn't deserve stigma. It's an amazing place to raise my family

“That school?” Manorama Patki and her family put up with the scorn of others, because they found Calgary’s northeast quadrant to be an amazing community where her daughter could thrive.

Why do people see only the negative in my address and overlook the vibrancy?

Two women grin and put with their arms around each other.
Manorama Patki, left, and her daughter, Medha, hug at the airport. Medha went to the University of Waterloo before going to Harvard University. (Submitted by Manorama Patki)

This First Person article is the experience of Manorama Patki who lives in Calgary. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ.

My daughter looked angry. 

Her team had just won their latest round at the inter-high school debate competition. But when I found her in the cafeteria, all she and her schoolmates were talking about was the reaction of the other students. 

When she said they came from Lester B. Pearson High School, their competitors had given a scornful laugh. 

"Oh. That school."

I felt bad, but was I surprised at the comment? No. I wasn't. 

My daughter's high school is in the northeast quadrant of our vibrant city. But anything east of Deerfoot Trail is looked down upon by the wealthier residents living in other quadrants of the city. Sure, our quadrant has more industry and its cultural diversity can mean more relative newcomers still struggling to get established. Why do people see only the negative and overlook the vibrancy and the notable people coming from these communities?

We settled in the neighbourhood of Rundle when we moved to Calgary from India via Kenya 17 years ago. That was on the advice of a local acquaintance, who said rent and house prices were affordable for new immigrants across the northeast quadrant. We found that to be true. 

Even without a car, the place where we lived was close to amenities like transit and shopping. Plus, the people were friendly. Random strangers in places like the public library were quick to offer helpful advice. The diversity of culture and ethnicities of the people living around us gave a feeling of belonging. And our daughter liked her new school and friends.

So after two years, we decided it was a good fit and bought a condo.

Lester B. Pearson High School in northeast Calgary. (Google Maps)

Sometimes, we have thought of moving away from this community due to a few unpleasant incidents. I was shocked to hear a colleague's house was the target of a break-in and entry a few years ago. His laptop, a wrist watch and a ring were stolen. 

In recent months, people have been entering our condo complex to sleep in the yard overnight. There are people who fill the bus shelters with their belongings, leaving them littered with garbage.

Some of my friends have told me that they hesitate to put their northeast residential address on resumes while applying for jobs for fear of being rejected and not even getting an interview call. I have no evidence if one's home address can impact employment, but what it shows is the stigma — and the resulting fear of stigma — is real. 

But when I think about leaving, I remember about what I love here in the northeast. 

Proximity to our ethnic grocery stores, restaurants and of course to the airport are some of the special perks. Plus the Nagar Kirthan festival that the Sikh community organizes every year reminds me of such parades back home in India. 

A woman's face is covered in red and green powder.
Manorama Patki is covered in red and green powder during Holi, the Hindu festival of colours. The Hindu Society of Calgary hosted the celebration in northeast Calgary. (Submitted by Manorama Patki)

Then there's the beautifully-designed Prairie Winds Park with its long walking path. The kids love the zipline, wading pool and the winter tobogganing hill.

The northeast quadrant of yesteryear has changed. It is no longer a group of old communities with dated houses and school buildings. Today, this area has many new communities with single and multi-family housing complexes and new amenities, such as the Saddletowne library and Genesis Centre YMCA. There are small scale industries and automobile repair shops, which provide jobs for newcomers. At the same time, homes remain in the affordable price range, which is a big plus. I see many young families in these new communities bringing up children. All of this keep us in the northeast.

A water park with several children playing as their parents watch them.
Prairie Winds Park includes a popular water feature for children. (Dan McGarvey/CBC)

Besides, our daughter thrived here. She made good friends and got into a specialized academic stream in school.

So now fast forward to May. We were in Cambridge, Mass., and the town was bustling with youngsters giving tours of the most famous Harvard institutions.

It was our daughter's graduation day from Harvard University.

We were in the tent on the lawns of John F. Kennedy Memorial Park. We saw our daughter with the rest of her classmates making their grand entry. She held an inflated globe in her hands to symbolize the global importance of her master's degree in public policy. 

We could see the glow of achievement and accomplishment on her face. I had tears in my eyes when I looked at my husband, and I was feeling proud. 

From northeast Calgary to Harvard and beyond. That's my daughter.

A man and two women lean on a wall above a sign for Harvard Kennedy School.
Manorama Patki, centre, and her husband Anant celebrate their daughter Medha's graduation from Harvard University. (Submitted by Manorama Patki)

And of course, she's not the only one. Former Calgary mayor Naheed Nenshi took a similar path. He hails from Calgary's northeast and studied at Harvard, and so many others continue to find their own ways to grow and flourish. 

I think this speaks volumes about the beauty and strength of our northeast community — and to not judge a person by their postal code.


Telling your story

CBC Calgary is running a series of in-person writing workshops across the city to support community members telling their own stories.

Read more from the workshop hosted by the Genesis Centre:

To find out more about our writing workshops or to propose a community organization to help host, email CBC producer Elise Stolte or visit cbc.ca/tellingyourstory.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Manorama Patki

Freelance contributor

Manorama Patki is a mother who lives in Calgary with her husband, Anant. She worked in an oil and gas company for many years. She now enjoys volunteering and writing in English and her mother tongue, Kannada.

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