Life in a “Ghetto”: Growing Up in Cooksville
Written by Mahek Basar
Our apartment, lying atop a butcher’s shop, is located on the commercial intersection of Hurontario St and Dundas St. What once used to be the downtown of Mississauga is now considered one the most dangerous neighbourhoods in the city. Known across the city for its major intersection, often referred to as “10 and 5”, Cooksville is the city’s most densely populated area. Growing up, I recall children at my school referring to it as a “ghetto.” That was before we moved here. Eight years ago, my parents moved from an apartment building to this commercial unit because it was the only three-bedroom apartment we could find for under $1000. Our previous one-bedroom was becoming too cramped as my brother and I were growing up and demanding privacy. This apartment’s proximity to major Canadian banks like TD, Scotia Bank, RBC and CIBC; grocery stores like Food Basics, Price Choppers, as well ethnic supermarkets; City Centre, and cheap food places like McDonalds, KFC, Subway and Bar B Q Tonite were a bonus to the reliable and frequent public buses (19, 103, 1 and 101) travelling in all four directions. My parents reasoned its amenities were well worth the extra $200 from our previous rent.
When we moved, the matriarch of the three-generation Pakistani family living atop the Indian takeout warned us it was impossible to fall asleep because the fire trucks emerging from the fire station to our north and ambulances from the hospital to our south ran multiple times during the night. But we were used to noise. Our previous apartment was on the side of Queen Elizabeth Way. So we packed our second-hand furniture and moved to our new home.
I was given the smallest room. It was windowless, and half the size of my 11-year old cousin’s room, who lived in a suburban, detached, four-bedroom house. But none of this mattered, because for the first time in my life, I had a room of my own. I decorated the walls with Harry Potter posters, inspirational quotes, and pictures. If I was upset with my parents, I would seek refuge in this 12 by 14. If it was too noisy to study in the living room, I would relocate to my private study. If I saved money and wanted to hide it from my brother, I would stock it away in my sock drawer. Thus, for me this room wasn’t just a place to sleep in. Rather, it was a symbol of my independence. It allowed me to showcase my responsibility to my parents by keeping it clean, and in return I would earn the privilege of staying up late. It also allowed me to exercise my sense of control. The room’s décor was under my control; I decided that the Harry Potter posters went on the wall, but the Twilight ones didn’t because the timid Bella Swan wasn’t as inspiring as the intelligent Hermione Granger.
Furthermore, I came out of my shell in this room. In our previous apartment, I used to sleep in the living room. I could not decorate the walls there because the living room was a shared space. Moreover, any personal touches I made would be exposed to anyone who came to our apartment. Hence, my sentiments and my feelings would be exposed to prying eyes. But in my private room, I had the freedom to express myself creatively without feeling judged or exposed. Therefore having a private room not only instilled independence, control and creativity in me, but also improved my self-esteem.
Oftentimes, our apartment can be a nuisance. For example, the dense population in our neighbourhood and the constant police presence which drives up insurance rates make it difficult to live peacefully. In addition, the landlord wants to increase our rent by $500, a significantly larger amount than our previous rent increase of $100. When we refused to pay an extra $500 for our rent, he started making our lives miserable. He would shut off our heating in the middle of a winter night, or refuse to install an air conditioner in the sweltering heat of summer. If we complained about the mouse infestations, he would retort he is not a cat that can get rid of mice. He is well aware that we won’t report him because we don’t have the funds or the time to defend ourselves in court-a common condition in housing which puts tenants at a disadvantage. As a landlord, he has the upper hand, and he takes complete advantage of his position. However, if we are forced to leave, I will always reflect positively on this apartment. It does not matter how many different apartments I live in, as this “dangerous” apartment, with a mean landlord, will always remain significant to me, because it was in this apartment where I transformed from an adolescent into an adult.
Mahek Basar is undergraduate student at University of Toronto, majoring in sociology and molecular biology. She would like to study and practice medicine through a sociological lens by providing health care to underprivileged populations.
She is the founder of EOFP-Educate Orphaned Females of Pakistan, a non-for-profit, charitable organization which seeks to provide underprivileged, orphaned girls in the rural areas of Pakistan with school supplies.