Nav Bhatia on Changing Perceptions Fighting stereotypes, one game at a time.

Nav Bhatia is one of the top car dealers in Canada.

You also won’t find a bigger Raptors fan than him. The team’s official “superfan” and South Asian ambassador can be seen in the stands at every Toronto Raptors home game.

Many people recognize the turbaned man sitting front and centre at the Air Canada Centre. This is because Bhatia has worked long and hard to make his presence known, not only for himself, but for the wider South Asian community.

When Bhatia first arrived to Canada 30 years ago, he experienced a lot of discrimination because of his ethnicity, turban, and beard. He recalls going to get his phone fixed one day and being mistaken for a cab driver. This was the moment Bhatia decided that something had to be done in order to change society’s perception of Sikh people.

“I know a lot of Sikhs here in Toronto who are cab drivers, and I am proud of them. I believe in dignity of labour. And believe me, I could get mad at this gentleman for confusing me or misjudging me as a cab driver. But I did get upset with my community and religious leaders who didn’t do enough to break this stereotype that existed,” said Bhatia in a TEDxToronto talk in 2014.

Now that he’s made a name for himself, Bhatia has indeed shed light on the South Asian community, encouraging both South Asians and non-South Asians to celebrate and enjoy experiences together — whether it’s sports, work-related, a milestone, a great cause. Every year, Bhatia hosts two basketball games: one in celebration of the Hindu festival of Diwali, and the other in celebration of the Sikh celebration, Vaisakhi.

“I buy 5,000 tickets and distribute them to all the underprivileged kids in Toronto. I bring people from all religions and races — Sikhs, Hindus, Muslims, Christians, single mother kids, Jane and Finch, everywhere. Because I want these kids to integrate with each other during their young age, so that they don’t have to go through what I did 30 years ago,” said Bhatia in the same talk.

Whether it’s at work or in our professional lives, it’s important to be culturally aware of the religions and ethnicities that surround us. Making an effort to get to know people of all backgrounds and walks of life will make you a more worldly and compassionate person.

“I left my comfort zone, I left my tribe, and I started to integrate where I was not welcome. I want you to do the same. If you want to make a beautiful society and leave our next generation a harmonious society, let’s do that.”


Image Credit: Metro News