Review by Anita Singh in Toronto
Almost 40 years ago, my grandparents changed our family’s history by deciding to move to Canada. I recently asked my grandma about her immigration story.
She wistfully told me of the navy blue suits tailored for her husband and sons, her special saree, and the frock for her then-young daughter to wear on the flight.
With amazing clarity for her 80-plus years, Dadi recounted the first house she bought with my grandfather, how every member of the family worked to make sure the mortgage was paid and how they slowly but surely made Canada their home.
‘Weather-Permitting & Other Stories’ by Pratap Reddy is a collection of stories that taps into a similar wistfulness. The 12 short stories in this collection wonderfully narrate some of the universal aspects of the immigrant experience – the nervous excitement, inherent disappointment, and yet, steadfast determination for success.
What makes this collection unique is Reddy’s willingness to talk about the darker side of this experience. His stories do not shy away from broken marriages, children sent back to India to stay with grandparents, the disabling lack of Canadian experience or education to gain employment, and most significantly, the loneliness associated with being far away from ‘home’.
In ‘Going West’, the character named ‘The Prince’ is a creative foil to the newly-arrived Kumar, foreshadowing the learning curve of each immigrant when coming to Canada. “You should approach an employment agency. They pay about 12 dollars an hour for factory jobs,” he suggests, highlighting the reality of some immigrants as they try to gain any foothold in Canada.
Kumar wonders, “Did he think I came halfway across the globe to become general labour? The Prince was aware that I had held a middle level position in HR in India.”
Reddy also does an excellent job narrating the different stages of the immigrant journey, which does not begin or end on arrival in Canada, but lingers every day.
In ‘The Toy Flamingo,’ Venky, despite being settled in Canada for 10 years, discovers that an important part of his personal history still lies in India. As he surrounds himself with people and places in his new homeland, an uninvited memory invades Venky’s outwardly perfect life, “‘Hasve agataday’ I cry out. Something falls to the ground with a crash. I hear him mutter in a strange language. I’m certain now that dinner will take even longer to come.”
Venky’s lifestory is an excellent metaphor for how an immigrant’s relationship with their former homelands continue to affect their lives – even while attempting, desperately even, to become Canadian.
Relying on stereotype
However, as a second-generation Canadian, I do take issue with Reddy’s continuous reliance on the stereotype that portrays settled Indo-Canadians as selfish, distant, uncouth and presumptuously inhospitable, who lose their ‘Indianness’ in their adoption of a new life in Canada.
This anti-Indo-Canadian bias runs tacitly throughout the collection.
In ‘Mango Fool,’ Kavita describes her Indo-Canadian customer as “a big woman, bulging out of her blue jeans and nondescript top” who becomes hostile when questioned about her sale purchases. In this story, Reddy pits the niceties of Kavita’s Indian sensibilities against the brashness of the Indo-Canadian customer. Settled immigrants in Canada, Shyam and Shilpa in ‘Her White Christmas’ are barely tolerant of Shyam’s Indian mother’s presence in their home, while in ‘Weather Permitting’, the landlord Maya is scheming and unfair to the newly-immigrated Ravi, eventually kicking him out of the house into the cold Canadian winter.
In ‘Demon Glass’, the hardworking newcomer Lalita is targeted by the overwhelming libido of Indo-Canadian Prem, who preys on the single mother and her daughter. And in ‘Going West’, Kumar passes considerable judgment on his first entry into the Patel guesthouse, noting “I was at once assailed by the stale aroma of Indian cooking. I had not experienced such a powerful bouquet in India where a billion mouths fed on Indian cuisine everyday.”
Reddy has told a one-dimensional story about Indo-Canadians, missing an opportunity to include the positives of the immigrant experience that have emerged from 100 years of Indian immigration to Canada. He ignores how the Indo-Canadian community has succeeded in developing a comfortable co-existence of Indianness and Canadianess, where cultural events, places of worship, cricket pitches, Indian languages and arts schools create a home and community for many immigrants, while becoming an integral part of Canada’s multicultural society.
Despite these misgivings, Weather Permitting and Other Stories is a welcome addition to the growing Canadian literature on immigration. I look forward to Reddy’s forthcoming full-length novel and new collection of short stories as an ongoing contribution to this important literature.
Anita Singh is Toronto-based consultant and a Research Fellow at the Centre for Foreign Policy Studies at Dalhousie University. Her research examines the role of diaspora groups and their influence on foreign policy, particularly the Indo-Canadian community and Canada-India relations.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
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by Melissa Shaw in Vancouver
A new novel reflects on the experiences of Filipino Canadians through the story of one family, and aims to inspire newcomers to achieve their dreams.
Eleanor Guerrero-Campbell’s novel, Stumbling Through Paradise: A Feast of Mercy for Manuel del Mundo, is a work of fiction inspired by the author's experiences working with immigrants.
“Home – one's identity – is not geographic-based, it's not culture-based, it's not age-based. It's who you love and who loves you and who you care about and who cares about you,” says Guerrero-Campbell, who co-founded the non-profit organization Multicultural Helping House Society to assist newcomers with settlement, education, housing and employment in Vancouver, British Columbia.
“This is our home and we will never be torn when we think of home this way.”
The story follows Josie and Manuel del Mundo's journey from the Philippines to Vancouver with their children.
Manuel is a proud engineer who has trouble adjusting to his new work environment in Canada. Josie has a teaching background, but finds work as a cook and eventually becomes the chief executive officer of a catering company.
Manuel later helps a caregiver in distress, which leads to an affair. His son Bobby discovers his father's secret, resulting in the family's separation.
After a confrontation between father and son, Manuel has a heart attack. The next section of the novel focuses on the lives of the older del Mundo children: Sonia, who faces racial discrimination, and Bobby, who becomes involved in a Filipino gang.
The third section of the book focuses on the youngest child, Manolita, who becomes involved in politics.
“When I was reading the book, I had to stop for a little bit and wipe my tears. It really resonated with me as a newcomer in Canada,” says Irene Querubin, who was born in the Philippines and now hosts the Vancouver radio program The Filipino Edition.
Querubin was emcee at the book’s launch at the Creekside Community Centre in Vancouver. The event featured dramatic readings by members of Anyone Can Act Theatre, which sponsored the launch.
Vancouver-Kensington New Democratic Party member of legislative assembly (MLA), Mable Elmore, B.C.’s first MLA of Filipino descent, read Manolita's political campaign speech from the book. Elmore says the novel captures the challenges and struggles immigrants face in Canada, including racial tensions and underemployment.
She says although the Filipino community in B.C. is relatively young, she has noticed increasing participation of Filipino immigrants in their community through literary work, council presentations and musical performances.
Challenges for Filipino youth
Among those using the arts to promote inter-cultural dialogue are members of DALOY-PUSO, a mentorship and arts program for Filipino newcomers in high school. The group, whose name means “flowing from the heart” in Tagalog, benefitted from proceeds collected at the launch.
“The mom and the dad are working three jobs and they don't have a lot of supervision at home,” Vancouver School Board youth settlement worker Adrian Bontuyan says of young newcomers.
He explains that many mothers come to Canada from the Philippines through the Caregiver Program, through which they provide childcare in Canadian homes. After working for 24 months or 3,900 hours, they can apply to become permanent residents and bring their family members to Canada if their application is approved.
Bontuyan says he will read Stumbling Through Paradise to learn about how he can further support immigrant youth and start discussions to help them understand their parents’ experiences.
“The aspect of mentorship that [Guerrero-Campbell] mentioned is very important, because the youth need someone to look up to as an example of success and basically someone that the youth can be comfortable with sharing his or her struggles of being a newcomer,” he says.
Guerrero-Campbell also explores the idea of home through her young characters. The del Mundos' daughter Sonia finds belonging through the satisfying relationships she builds with people in the Philippines and in Canada.
Empowering other newcomers
Guerrero-Campbell says she hopes people who have read her book will discuss it with others and start a dialogue about the challenges immigrants face.
“The one message I really want to convey is empowerment – for our newcomers to feel empowered,” she says. “They came all the way to achieve something and I want them to know that they can achieve their dreams.”
Guerrero-Campbell came to Canada in the late 1970s with a master's degree in urban planning and regional planning from the Philippines. She was a planner for the City of Edmonton, Alberta, and continued to work in planning in Surrey, B.C. and Richmond, B.C.
She helped author Hiring and Retaining Skilled Immigrants: A Cultural Competence Toolkit for B.C. human resources managers. Guerrero-Campbell was the CEO of the Minerva Foundation for BC Women and a co-convenor for the Vancouver Immigrant Partnership’s Access to Services strategy group. Stumbling Through Paradise is her first novel.
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by Elvira Truglia in Montreal
Kim Thuy’s fourth novel continues the author’s style of recalling her own journey to Canada and crossing linguistic and cultural boundaries.
“I don’t mind at all being considered as migrant literature, Asian literature, Canadian literature, or Quebec literature,” says the award-winning author, who just published Vi. “It depends on the person who’s reading it and what the person sees in it.”
Vi tells the story of a woman, Vi, who returns to Vietnam after growing up in Canada. Vi is on a journey to discover the vastness of life, or 'vie' in French. At the same time, in Vietnamese, vi means microscopically small.
“Like we say in Vietnamese, [with] every single step that we make, we come back with a basket of knowledge,” says Thuy. “To me, Vi is about learning to become a person, to become a human.”
Although “the family situation of Vi is not me, the vision of Vi is a lot like I see life,” says Thuy. The character Vi studies translation and then law, much like Thuy who has reinvented herself throughout her life – first as an interpreter, then a lawyer and restaurateur, and now an author.
Life provides a springboard
In her 2009 novel, Ru, the author traces a young woman's trek from her home in Saigon, Vietnam, during the Vietnam War, to a Malaysian refugee camp, and then to Quebec where she struggles to adapt. With a plot line based on her own life chronology, Thuy writes what she knows. She says this is the only writing process that works for her.
”I stick with women . . . because I think women are so extraordinary and many of us are misunderstood or underestimated,” says Thuy. “Vietnamese women are often considered submissive or obedient or kind and attentive,” she adds. “I wanted to show that . . . social codes sometimes mislead our interpretation of the person.”
Thuy says paintings of Japanese, Chinese and Vietnamese women portrayed, “with a little tiny dot of red for the mouth,” act as a cultural metaphor.
“Women are not supposed to speak if they want to be elegant and dignified women . . . so that’s why they are very often misunderstood.“
A story that resonates
In many ways, Thuy speaks for those unable to tell their own stories.
“She was one of the boat people,” says Jenny Lam, referring to her mother and the Vietnamese refugees who fled to Canada after the Vietnam War. Lam says that while literature is not her thing, she does read Kim Thuy and even attended a recent launch for Vi featuring Thuy in Montreal.
Reading Thuy’s novels is like reading her mom’s story, she says.
Sabrina Cordy says she also seeks to feel connected through Thuy’s “spontaneous” writing. Adopted by Belgian parents, the 24-year-old of Korean descent now lives in Montreal and says Thuy’s writing “reminds me of my culture.”
Thuy says she is “touched” that so many Asian Canadians read her novels and attended the launch of Vi, and notes that many of them are young women.
“Most parents don’t talk about their experiences,” she says. She adds that Ru “triggered a conversation between the parents and the children about that episode in their life.”
Accessing immigrants’ stories
A best seller in Quebec and in France, her first novel, Ru, has sold more than 235,000 copies abroad and has been translated in 25 languages.
The popularity of her books is partly due to their poetic and accessible style, or what Francois Godin of Quebec publisher Libre Expression calls her ability to “create literary bridges.”
“I like the images, the simplicity, the human element of her writing,” says Catherine Emond, who has read all of Thuy’s books, adding that as a “dyed-in-the-wool Quebecois [a Quebecer of French Canadian descent], Thuy’s books are educational about the immigration story.”
In 2015, the English translation of Ru won CBC Canada Reads as the Book to Break All Barriers thanks to Cameron Bailey, Artistic Director of the Toronto International Film Festival, who championed the book.
“A lot of Canadians have grown tired of being nice to newcomers. That’s the barrier that we’re trying to break and Ru reminded me why migrants matter,” Bailey said in 2015.
“Ru did that with a deep and moving beauty. It’s a hopeful book. It invites compassion and draws a wide circle of readers in.”
Reflecting on the competition, Thuy says she is happy she won, but wasn’t out to break barriers when she wrote Ru.
“When we arrived here, people welcomed us with open arms . . . And if I wrote Ru, it was to thank all these people who have given me access to everything,” says Thuy. “In Ru, it’s about how life is perfect after all, even though it is hard and there are so many challenges, it is still perfect in the end.”
Thuy says life is beautiful because it is difficult.
“You cannot have one without the other,” she says. “You cannot appreciate white without knowing black.”
by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City
A trip to an organic dairy farm in Ontario was enough to inspire a former Wall Street banker to launch a global search for better ways to treat farm animals.
“This was an organic farm, but the cows still weren’t treated well,” recalls author Sonia Faruqi. “They were indoors two-thirds of the year and outdoors only one-third of the year, and while they were indoors, they were chained to stalls, which is really unnatural for cows, who are grazing animals.”
After volunteering for two weeks at the dairy farm, Faruqi visited other Ontario farms, but not without resistance from farmers, who she says are part of a tightly knit community.
“Everyone they know is a farmer, so if you’re someone who comes from a city, or who’s brown, or even a woman in a very male-dominated industry, you're immediately very different,” explains Faruqi, who was born in Pakistan and raised in the United Arab Emirates.
She worked at an investment bank on Wall Street in the United States before the 2008 economic crisis, after which she joined her family who had just immigrated to Canada.
Faruqi says she used her savings to visit and volunteer at farms in several countries, including the United States, Malaysia and Mexico.
Her first book, Project Animal Farm: An Accidental Journey into the Secret World of Farming and the Truth About Our Food, documents her experiences abroad and what can be done to create a farming system that is better for farmers, animals and consumers.
A world view on farming
While Faruqi says she witnessed many examples of animals being mistreated, such as chickens being kept in overcrowded cages and pigs covered in their own feces, she also visited farms where animals were well treated and healthy.
In Belize, Faruqi stayed on a farm with female Mennonite missionaries, who she says have a holistic view of the land and do not refer to raising livestock as agriculture or business, but as “animal husbandry.”
She says the women named their cows and allowed them to graze in fields with ponds and other animals.
“It was interesting for me to see that kind of affection for the animals and the land.”
Faruqi also compared the farming practices between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to explore how industrialization affects the treatment of animals.
She explains that in Malaysia, which has recently experienced rapid economic growth, the popularity of fast food chains like KFC and McDonald’s has led to an increase in factory-farm practices, including artificial insemination, antibiotic use and corn-based diets.
“It’s all changed to an extremely industrialized, very low-cost system,” she explains. “Local farms, breeds, and knowledge that people have of animals and of the land – all of it is eradicated.”
By contrast, in Indonesia, which is less industrialized, Faruqi witnessed hens walking freely in villages that only visited their owners’ homes in the mornings for breakfast.
“I noticed people walking their cows,” she adds. “It was interesting to see that bond that people have with animals.”
She notes that at some of the farms she visited in Ontario, farmers didn’t visit their farms and relied on automated systems to update them on their animals.
The many downsides to factory farming
Faruqi says that despite the downsides to factory farming, the government in Malaysia promotes fast food because it symbolizes industrialization and development.
“The same way people wear jeans and listen to American music, they’re also eating American foods, which are hamburgers and fries and actually not good for you,” she says.
“There’s tens of billions of farm animals in the world and most of them are being made to suffer to produce cheap food for people, who should not be eating that much meat, milk and eggs to begin with.”
Faruqi says consumers have the power to promote good farming habits by eating less animal products and demanding that the animal products they do eat be produced in healthier ways.
“There’s a misconception that you have to be white and wealthy to even think about this, which is not true, because in the end, everyone’s health is important.”
A disproportionate impact on immigrants
She notes that while language or income barriers might prevent newcomers from making healthy choices, many of them come to Canada practising healthy eating habits that they don’t retain.
“When people move here, they really want to integrate to the extent that they leave their own food heritage.”
The vegetarian diet that is popular in India is an example that Western societies can learn to value, she says.
She notes that immigrants can also be disproportionately affected on the production side, because factory farms employ many immigrants in slaughterhouses.
“Part of the reason is that these are jobs non-immigrants don’t want, for clear reasons,” she says. “Workers have mental and physical health issues, which are not really treated.”
Faruqi advocates for more government oversight of factory farms and regulations to protect animal rights, as well as the inclusion of more women in agriculture.
She says that under current laws in Canada and the U.S., a pig has the same rights as a table, “which is really ridiculous when you think about it, because one is an animate being with instincts and interests and desires, at the very least, to not suffer.”
by Danica Samuel in Toronto
“Just because you’ve fallen off ship doesn’t mean you’re drowning.”
In the film My Internship in Canada, the person struggling to stay afloat is the politician who fails to please everyone. Oscar-nominated director Philippe Falardeau’s film is a satirical, yet eye-opening, take on Canadian politics that showcases just how non-democratic our government can be.
For National Canadian Film Day on April 20, charitable organization Samara Canada collaborated with the Regent Park Film Festival to fill a Cineplex movie theatre in downtown Toronto for Falardeau’s political comedy.
The film is based on the journey of a young Haitian man, Souverain Pascal, played by Irdens Exantus, who greatly admires Canadian politics and culture. He gets a response to his 15-page application and secures an internship with a Northern Quebec member of Parliament (MP).
Steve Guibord, played by Patrick Huard, is the independent MP for Prescott-Makadew à Rapides-aux-Outardes and unwillingly finds himself in the awkward position of holding the decisive vote on whether Canada will go to war.
Guibord travels across his riding to consult constituents with his wife, daughter and Pascal. The story escalates when groups of lobbyists get involved in a debate that spins out of control. In the end, Guibord is tugged and pulled in various directions and must face his own conscience to make a decision that could affect the entire country.
Making politics accessible
Newcomers to Canada and members of the Toronto communities of North York and Lotherton were among those who attended.
“We thought it was a great opportunity to provide a little bit of education behind Canada’s political system, in a fun way,” said Madison Van West, coordinator of the Democracy Talks program at North York Community House (NYCH). She worked with her colleagues to bring 75 people to the screening from NYCH, which provides civic engagement and community development services to newcomers.
“Sometimes politics isn’t the most accessible topic, but a movie screening is a great way to bring everyone together and learn more.”
In the film, Guibord tries to initiate democracy by inviting members of his community to a town hall. Unfortunately, opposing viewpoints cause tension rather than a conversation that leads to a collaborative decision. The scene shows just how messy democracy can be.
NYCH program manager Zesta Kim said she understands and has witnessed the hardships politicians face in her community when having to weigh several interests to create an all-inclusive environment.
“We’ve seen them try to create platforms and implement mechanisms to be open and democratic, but in doing that, anyone can speak and say anything,” she explains. “So, sometimes it doesn’t turn out too well.”
Falsification of equality
In the film, Guibord has trouble balancing the interests of his wife, daughter, protesters, the mayor, and the prime minister. He can only rely on Pascal to help find a middle ground that stays true to Canadian culture and democracy.
In a panel discussion held after the screening, emerging filmmaker Amita Zamaan said these competing special interests are what disappoint and deter people from engaging in Canadian politics.
She added that the disengagement is due to the lack of representation and the falsification of equality in our government.
Through her web series, Dhaliwal15, Zamaan, like Falardeau, approaches politics through satire when examining the lack of diversity in Canadian politics.
“We haven’t seen a representation of minorities in politics and in Parliament,” she said. “I’m trying to address that issue by placing this fictional character (Bobby Dhaliwal, played by Jasmeet Singh) in my film, but also addressing how limited our discussions in Canada are on progressive issues.”
Explaining voter apathy
Another panel member, Algoma-Manitoulin member of provincial Parliament (MPP), Michael Mantha, said the problem is deeper than just having an open platform to discuss. He said there is a lack of interest from community members.
“I’ve being trying to engage with people throughout my riding, to try and get a pulse on what needs to be discussed for better engagement,” Mantha said.
“Going off the numbers in my area, last election there was a 51 per cent voter turnout. People have look at politicians, their decisions, and their actions and think, ‘Why am I going to get involved if they’re not listening to me?’” he added.
Mantha, who was elected in 2011, has served two consecutive terms as MPP and said while he loves all aspects of his riding, from its environment to its citizens, he is well aware of the tactics that are often involved in getting politicians to make certain decisions.
“Individuals are put into difficult positions, but again it comes down to that person’s principles and being responsible to the people that put you into that position,” he said. “However you make your decision, you will have to put your head on your pillow and live with your conscience.”
Commentary by Winnie Hwo in Vancouver
The much-anticipated first federal budget from the new Liberal government was unveiled on March 22. To describe the general reactions, they would be “Wow,” “Oh,” and maybe even, “Oh no.”
I was all “Yay!” and this is why.
I am a Chinese-Canadian mother with a university-aged child. I also work for one of the most respected environmental organizations in the country, after a long career in journalism.
For someone with my kind of profile, I tend to want my country to be cleaner, greener and friendlier. I want this because it is good for my health, my child’s health, our lives and his future.
For a decade, people like me were frozen out of the federal government’s national policy equation because our previous federal government was only interested in pushing fossil fuels.
The consequences of this are known: our major trading partners like the U.S. and China have spent the last decade developing their clean-tech industry and green infrastructure. We are grossly behind in this very competitive new economy.
A struggling Canadian economy
As it turns out, our previous government was also reluctant to invest in our infrastructure, while it continued to take in more immigrants.
One thing about accepting more immigrants is that while newcomers help our country grow, they also increase demands for housing, transportation and other services.
We know many new Canadians gained acceptance to our country by paying millions of dollars for investment funds to contribute to the nation’s economy even before they landed.
One would expect that this money would be invested in areas to strengthen our economy, like in our clean-tech sectors and aging infrastructures. Unfortunately, that was not the case.
Over a billion of taxpayer dollars were invested in the fossil fuel industry in the form of oil sand subsidies.
As world oil prices plunge, so does our dollar. Today, Canadians struggle in the low-dollar reality and find ourselves stuck, with little room to juggle.
While workers in the oil sands industry are losing their jobs fast, those in the manufacturing sectors are only recently seeing their job prospects improve slightly.
Long overdue attention to First Nations
The investment in our First Nations communities is also commendable.
As immigrants, we came to Canada mostly for better job opportunities, clean water, air and food security.
Unfortunately, these are not always afforded to our Aboriginal Peoples. For those who live on reserves especially, their water supply is often compromised due to irresponsible mining.
When their only source of water is contaminated, they pay with their health and lives.
For generations, our First Nations people have had to see their loved ones, often small children, suffering serious health challenges because their homes were badly built, their water supply was contaminated and hope was always too far to reach.
The $8.4 billion funding for our First Nations communities is long overdue.
Welcoming a new era
The new Liberal budget is important to me because it signifies a new direction or even the dawn of a new era, if you will.
The vision I keep seeing is a huge ocean liner called Canada changing course in the high seas, making waves and making its passengers feel bumpy, disrupted or even unsettled.
But if we take a deep breath and think about it, the reason we feel so shell-shocked by this new budget is because a lot of the big-ticket items were not even addressed by the previous government.
The move to a new and green economy is a reality. Some might even say inevitable.
It would be wonderful if Canadians were served a gradual change, of course, but the 10 years of relying on oil and closing our ears to the call for help from our First Nations people by the Harper government means our journey from here on will likely feel a little bumpier.
Yes, we will have to spend a little time to play catch up, but I know Canadians are resilient and hard working. As long as we work together and support each other, I have no doubt we will make the journey.
Winnie Hwo joined David Suzuki Foundation’s Climate Change Team in 2010 after a long and stellar career in journalism. She is passionate about Canada’s multicultural policy and healthy environment.
by Daniel Leon Rodriguez in Calgary
In 1993, when Dr. Hude Quan came to Calgary from China, he knew nothing about the city. With the support of a scholarship, he joined the University of Calgary’s PhD program in epidemiology.
Dr. Quan recalled the struggles he overcame in his path to adaptation – from learning a new language, culture and way of thinking. “I typed every page of my thesis. One, two, three, four times, again, again, and again,” said Quan.
Quan shared his experience while receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Immigrant Services Calgary’s 20th annual Immigrants of Distinction Awards gala, at the Westin Hotel in downtown Calgary on Mar. 11.
He said the award doesn’t just recognize his work, but that of all the individuals who helped him in his adaptation in Calgary. “They made me who I am,” said Quan. “Thank you for believing in us immigrants.”
Today, Quan is one of the most globally cited researchers, according to Thompson Reuters. He is an associate professor at the University of Calgary and the director of the Calgary World Health Organization Collaboration Centre.
Everyone’s duty to help newcomers
Quan isn’t the only example of how newcomers’ success relies on support from the community, social agencies and governments.
At the awards ceremony, Immigrant Services Calgary (ISC) celebrated other distinguished immigrants who excel in business, community involvement, arts and culture, and academia, as well as organizations that support diversity.
Under the message of “fostering a legacy of excellence,” Josephine Pon, chair of ISC’s board of directors, said the awards celebrate Calgary’s most committed and community-minded individuals in the city.
“You’re the true superstars and you’re an inspiration to all of us,” Pon said.
Senator Victor Oh said at the event that Canada is a country blessed by immigration. However, this intake of immigrants “represents a great challenge,” added the senator who emigrated to Canada from Singapore in 1978.
“It is everyone’s duty to help newcomers feel at home,” Oh told the audience of over 500 people, which included provincial ministers, members of Parliament and diplomatic representatives.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s words resonated with Oh’s. He said that the secret of successful newcomers and communities is mutual support and understanding.
“We’re all in it together. Our neighbour’s pain is our pain, our neighbour’s success is our success, our neighbour’s failure is our failure,” said Nenshi.
The mayor said those nominated for the award “ask (themselves) the most Canadian and Calgarian of questions: ‘how can I help?’”
“We celebrate 20 years of people who not only ask that question, but answer it every day,” said Nenshi.
Multiculturalism goes two ways
The Immigrants of Distinction Awards are the first commemoration of its kind in Canada according to Peter Wong, former chair of the board of directors at ISC.
Wong envisioned the award in 1997 to highlight the contributions of immigrants in the community. He said that celebrating diversity in the workplace and government recognition of immigrants wasn’t popular at that time. “It wasn’t seen as a critical aspect of society.”
However, Wong says this has changed. “What I see today is multiculturalism has become part of mainstream.”
Honorary chair of this year’s awards, Wayne Chiu, said immigrants have to play their part in the Canadian mosaic. Newcomers have to choose how to adapt in Canada.
They might decide to surround themselves with only people from their own ethnic culture, explained Chiu, who is the founder and CEO of Trico Home and who was recently appointed to the Order of Canada for his philanthropic and business leadership.
“This might bring us great – but temporary – comfort and security,” said Chiu. However, he added, “We are hindering ourselves from merging into the mainstream culture of Canada.”
Chiu added that when any immigrants feel they aren’t being accepted, not being listened to, not being understood, or not given the opportunity to excel like others, they have to ask if they have opened themselves up to the larger community.
“One of the hardest things is to move outside from our comfort zone,” said Chiu, who moved from Hong Kong in 1976 to study engineering in Winnipeg.
He said that connecting with people outside of the Chinese community helped him to excel. The experience taught him that effective communication, mutual respect and understanding of other people’s ideas are an “essential part of adopting into a new country.”
A quick look at the award recipients
Achievement Under 35 Award // Dr. Irehobhude O. Iyioha is an independent policy consultant in the field of health law and policy. She has advocated at several conferences and presentations worldwide about women health’s issues.
Arts and Culture Award // Jose Duque through his passion for classical music empowers children. His goal is to give youth, of low income families, the opportunity to learn music through a multicultural orchestra.
Community Service Award // Bojan Tosic has been involved in community development for years creating innovative and well-evaluated programs, enhancing cross-sector relationships and increasing access to support and services.
Entrepreneurship and Innovation Award // With little financial backing Bob Dhillon formed one of the largest publicly held real state companies in Canada, Mainstreet Equity Corporation, of which he is CEO and president.
Hadassah Ksienski Lifetime Achievement Award // Dr. Hude Quan is internationally known for his accomplishment and contributions in the field of health services and for his efforts to improve the health of ethno-cultural communities. // Dr. Serdar Yilmaz is the head of the transplant section of the University of Calgary’s faculty of medicine, and the leader in transplant surgery in Alberta.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Award // Janaka Ruwanpura is the Vice-Provost (International) at University of Calgary and the Canada Research Chair in Project Management Systems. His work improved the culture of the Canadian construction industry.
Organizational Diversity Award // Calgary United Soccer Association (CUSA) gives adults an opportunity to learn and enjoy soccer in a social and recreational environment. CUSA is a founding partner of Calgary Street Soccer and KidSport Calgary.
As a Grade 12 student Andrew Min co-founded the EquaLearn Foundation. He is also a member of the mayor’s youth council and is politically involved with the Community Outreach Committee.
Dan Yang (Lucy Ni) is a third-year biological sciences student at University of Calgary. She is a director and founding member of Outrun the Stigma and the president of the Hearth and Stroke Foundation Student’s Association.
Moiz Hafeez is in his final year of his bachelor in biological sciences at the University of Calgary. He has held executive positions at the Genetic Jungle run, Muslim Student’s Association, and the Red Cross Club.
Grade 12 student, Sophie Zhao, is founder of both the French and poetry clubs and leader of the Verbattle debate club at her school. Zhao is founder and public relations director of Wishful Thinking.
Varun Kundra is in Grade 10 where he excels in the sciences and volunteering. He scored in the 94th percentile in The College Board’s Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) of the juniors while still in Grade 9. The University of Calgary approved his lab-assistant appointment to Dr. Minh Dang Nguyen and his team, who specialize in the discipline of transactional neuroscience.
by Matt D’Amours in Montreal
Community organizations and immigrant lobby groups in Quebec are speaking out against a provincial welfare reform bill that would require new social assistance applicants to enter the job market sooner.
Activists say that Bill 70, “An Act to allow a better match between training and jobs and to facilitate labour market entry,” will have a disproportionate impact on Quebec’s immigrant population, which is overrepresented in the welfare system.
At the Minister of Labour’s request, Bill 70 would seek to introduce a “workfare” system that requires welfare recipients to enter a job training program, or “accept any offer of suitable employment.”
Those who fail to meet these conditions could see their social assistance cut in half. For a single adult receiving $623 a month, that would mean a drop down to about $308.
Political opponents have also criticized the plan, introduced last year by the province’s Liberal government. In a National Assembly debate on Feb. 25, Bernard Drainville of the Parti Québécois called the law “heartless, arbitrary, unwise, myopic and disrespectful.”
During a parliamentary hearing on Feb. 17, Labour Minister François Blais defended Bill 70, saying that Quebec’s immigrant population would not be adversely affected by the legislation.
“In general, as you know, immigrants want to integrate and make the necessary efforts to find employment,” Blais said. The minister added that, among the organizations he had spoken to, there was “zero worry” about how the proposed welfare reforms would impact the immigrant population.
Faulty perceptions of immigrants and employment
Pascale Chanoux, of the group Table de concertation des organismes au service des personnes réfugiées et immigrantes (TCRI), testified at the Feb. 17 hearing, and said the minister’s comments highlight the government’s faulty logic about immigrants and employment.
“Bill 70 claims that if we want to, we can – which is to say that whether someone gets a job or not is based on whether they want to or not,” Chanoux explained. “The minister does not see that on the path of professional integration for immigrants, there are systemic obstacles … [for him] everything is always about the willingness and responsibility of the individual.”
Another person who testified that day was Nalawattage Pinto, a Sri Lankan immigrant who came to Canada in 1993.
Pinto described the systemic barriers that made his job search difficult upon arrival, including his lack of French language skills, and the market’s lack of recognition of his professional experience in Sri Lanka.
Pinto was forced to work nights at a chemical plant, which he alleged only hired new immigrants because it was dangerous work.
He also said the company only hired people for six months, so that workers wouldn’t have time to unionize. After Pinto and his wife lost their jobs in 1994, they were forced to apply for welfare.
Pinto is not alone. According to a provincial report on social assistance published in November 2015, new Canadians make up nearly a quarter of welfare recipients in Quebec.
However, another provincial report, which tracked immigrant welfare requests between 1996 and 2004, found that most made their application early after their arrival in the province – usually within the first six months.
That same report found that once these immigrants opted out of the welfare program, they generally didn’t return.
“This first stay in social assistance is, in the large majority of cases, a unique episode in the process of integration for immigrants,” the report concluded.
‘Suitable’ employment for who?
The concern with Bill 70 is that for immigrants seeking assistance within their first months in Quebec, the mandate to accept a job that is deemed “suitable” by the government could force people into a cycle of low wages, and further trivialize the qualifications they held in their native countries.
“We talk about accepting a suitable job – but suitable for who?” asks Chanoux. “Do we want to institutionalize de-qualification by pushing people into a job without regard to their socio-professional background?”
Those who refuse to accept “suitable” employment would see massive cuts to welfare benefits, which are already too low to live on, according to Project Genesis, a social justice community organization based in Montreal.
The group points to a fall 2015 report from the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, which shows that the average rent for a one-bedroom apartment in Montreal now stands at $675 – $52 more than the current welfare benefits received by a single person.
“Any policy that reduces the income of households living in poverty is destined to … [increase the] depth of poverty experienced by people on low income,” stated Project Genesis.
During his closing remarks at the Feb. 17 hearing on Bill 70, Pinto outlined the hardships he had experienced as an immigrant in Quebec.
“I’ve had jobs at minimum wage since I’ve been in Canada,” Pinto explained. “I am now 65, and I did not achieve the dream that we had when we came here.”
If Bill 70 passes in Quebec, the TCRI and Project Genesis argue, Pinto’s dream of a better life will become harder to achieve for a whole new wave of immigrants.
“We’re talking about poverty and exclusion,” Chanoux said of the proposed legislation. “It’s part of a tendency to try and recoup money on the backs of populations that are very vulnerable.”
by Marcus Medford in Toronto
Settlement agencies in Canada’s Atlantic provinces are working closely with provincial governments to better service immigrants, but say they need federal support to attract newcomers to smaller communities.
The provinces and territories select which immigrants they want to accept based on their local economic needs. In the past 15 years, the number of immigrants settling in the Maritimes has increased, but their numbers remain the lowest of all the provinces, explained Ather H. Akbari, an economics professor at St. Mary’s University in Halifax.
“Larger provinces are traditional destinations for immigrants and have established communities with multiple religious and ethnic institutions, which help immigrants with aspects of settlement, but [these resources] are scarce in Atlantic Canada,” he explained, while leading a workshop titled “Economic Integration of Immigrants in Atlantic Canada,” at the 18th National Metropolis Conference in Toronto earlier this month.
The five steps of economic integration are home ownership, car ownership, citizenship, English proficiency and earning a better income said Akbari. These five things are indicators that newcomers to Canada are invested in their new destination and intend to stay.
Akbari noted that the retention rates of immigrants in Atlantic Canada are low even in regions with large ethnic communities.
“If the networks are not instrumental then there is clearly a need for government policy and settlement agencies to play a larger role in immigrant settlement and integration,” he said.
Resources for Entrepreneurs
In New Brunswick, the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency (ACOA) has partnered with the government to provide financial support for French-speaking immigrant entrepreneurs in an effort to retain the francophone community.
Attracting and retaining immigrants in rural areas can be difficult admitted Paul-Emile David, senior policy analyst for ACOA. David and ACOA work closely with businesses, governments and research institutions to find and develop entrepreneurial opportunities.
“We offer programs, initiatives and support so entrepreneurial activities can take place in these areas,” he said.
There are more than 40 Community Business Development Corporations (CBDCs) in Atlantic Canada, many of which are in rural areas.
Entrepreneurial initiatives need access to financing, resources and business skills development courses, David explained. One example of this is Island Advance in Prince Edward Island, which stimulates entrepreneurial projects and helps immigrants recognize good business opportunities.
More funding for integration supports
As of the end of February, 25,000 Syrian refugees had arrived in Canada, and by the end of the year that total is expected to reach 50,000, making localized support for integration a key issue across the country.
“We’re hoping that Ottawa will provide some strategic investments very soon in order to put the supports that are needed in place as soon as possible,” said Chris Friesen, director of settlement services with the Immigrant Services Society of B.C.
He said he hopes that the new federal funding plan for the provinces and territories, along with help from local agencies, will speed up the process of matching immigrants and refugees with language courses.
For some immigrants and refugees learning English can be the most challenging part of integration.
It can take up to 16 months for newcomers to Canada to be accepted into federally funded language courses. Some have reported feeling “trapped” because of their lack of English knowledge, meaning they can’t fully interact with society.
One of the reasons for the long wait-times to get into language programs is a lack of funding and resources. Wait-times also tend to be longer in bigger cities.
Challenges with government-assisted stream
Of the 25,000 Syrian refugees more than half of them are government-assisted, the others are sponsored privately or with some support from the government.
For refugees and immigrants alike, one of the most important steps to settling into Canada is finding a job and becoming economically independent.
Approximately 14 per cent of government-assisted refugees find work within their first year of being in Canada compared to more than 50 per cent of those who are privately assisted.
“One of the unique challenges for government-assisted refugees is that they’re funded by the federal government for one year,” explained Nabiha Atallah, communications and outreach manager at the settlement agency ISANS (Immigration Services Association of Nova Scotia). “After that they need to support themselves or go on social assistance, but they want to work. They really want to work.”
Atallah spoke during the workshop about strategies for economic integration for immigrants.
She explained that for some immigrants and refugees, finding a job isn’t just a matter of earning an income, but helps with overcoming the depression, frustration and feelings of loss of self or status that can accompany relocating.
Even highly skilled immigrants with work experience, education and English proficiency are experiencing difficulty finding jobs, Atallah said.
ISANS works with several companies to understand their employer needs and to develop training curricula so that immigrants and refugees know what it takes to work at a particular business or organization.
Matching clients’ interests, skills and abilities with the right employers and planning with end goals in mind are some of the keys to successful job searching, Atallah explained.
“We also do a lot of work with interview skills because a lot of that is culture-laden. In some countries they don’t have interviews at all and if they do, they don’t look like ours.”
by Daniel Leon Rodriguez in Calgary
Calgary is celebrating the best of its immigrant communities at the 20th annual Immigrants of Distinction Awards this month.
Immigrant Services Calgary (ISC) will host the awards show on Mar. 11. Krystyna Biel, the chief executive officer of ISC, says the award has become a way to close the settlement cycle of immigrants.
“We help them in their path to success, and we want to celebrate with them their achievements,” said Biel, who explains immigrants overcome many challenges in their integration process.
Biel has been involved with ISC for over 26 years. Two decades ago, she was a career counsellor with the agency. Today, she remembers the uncertainty of that first awards show.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” recalls Biel. The night of the event, the Calgary Metropolitan Centre was crowded with 350 people. The response of the community was overwhelming. Biel says since then the event and the agency has exceeded expectations year after year.
A growing immigrant population
In 1997, the agency had 40 full-time staff and 400 volunteers – speaking over 60 languages. Calgary, at the time, had 127,555 people from visible-minority communities, accounting for 15 per cent of the population.
Today, the agency has 120 full-time staff and more than 700 volunteers – speaking over 140 languages. By 2020, the City of Calgary projects almost half a million immigrants will reside there and 40 per cent of its population will be visible minorities.
In 1997, Peter Wong, then chair of the Calgary Immigrant Aid Society (CIAS was renamed Immigrant Services Calgary nine years ago), started the Immigrants of Distinction Awards – the first awards ceremony of its kind in Calgary’s history.
“It is a celebration of how we as Canadians view ourselves in the best possible light,” Wong told The Calgary Herald two decades ago. His goal was to dismiss the “negative spin” some Albertans had of immigrants.
The award was envisioned to promote diversity among businesses and organizations. The recipients exemplify the benefits of diversity, Wong told the Herald.
Back then, Hadassah Ksienski, chief executive officer of CIAS, told the Herald immigrants were facing an uphill battle.
“If immigrants are very successful, ‘they take away jobs from Canadians.’ If they are not successful, ‘they are a burden on society,’” Ksienski explained.
The power of immigrants
Josephine Pon, the chairperson of ISC, says the awards help to celebrate the diversity of the city.
“The awards show people that newcomers work hard and have big hearts,” says Pon. The recognitions help immigrants feel appreciated, and to create role models in the community.
Aritha van Herk, author of the award-winning non-fiction book Mavericks: an Incorrigible History of Alberta, says the Immigrants of Distinction Awards is an important reminder of the contributions of immigrants to Calgary.
“Without newcomers from all parts of the world, Calgary wouldn’t be the buoyant city it is,” says van Herk, who adds that immigrants inject energy, creativity and skill sets to the city.
Van Herk says most of the city’s population is made up of second-generation immigrants.
One of the most recognizable examples is the popular mayor, Naheed Nenshi, who was raised and educated in Calgary. “We grew him up in our city,” adds van Herk.
Another example is the honorary chair of this year’s awards, Wayne Chiu. He is the founder and CEO of Trico Home and was recently appointed to the Order of Canada as a “corporate leader and as a champion of innovation and social entrepreneurship.”
In 2008, Chiu and his wife founded Trico Charitable Foundation, which has supported many local community organizations. In 2014, Chiu who sat on the board of Bow Valley College in Calgary for eight years, donated $3 million to the school – the largest single donation in the institution's history.
Canada: A land of opportunity
Ziad Paracha, won one the youth awards last year. In 2003, at eight years old, he came to Calgary with his family from Pakistan. They didn’t know about the country, and arrived in March without a winter jacket.
“I didn’t even know what Canada was back then,” says Paracha, who thought he didn’t fit in his new country. “I thought maybe we should go back.”
As an immigrant, he felt compelled to do more. Over the last five years, Paracha has been a volunteer at the newcomers orientation week program with the Calgary Bridge Foundation for the Youth.
He is also the co-founder and current president of Ascovime Canada, and he volunteers at Foothills Hospital Long Term Patient Care in the neurological rehabilitation unit.
“It is always great to get recognized,” says Paracha. “Sometimes you feel like you aren’t as recognized as a member from a minority group.”
He says negative stereotypes persist across Canada. “There is still space for improvement.”
However, he adds, Canada remains a land of opportunity.
“Any immigrant that is perseverant and passionate about anything, it is guaranteed they will succeed.”
For a list of this year’s finalists, visit the Immigrants of Distinction Awards website.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit