By: George Abraham in Ottawa
In 1972, President Idi Amin expelled residents of Indian descent from Uganda. The move's impact was felt throughout the region as Indian-Africans in surrounding countries found they were met with the same hostile environment. Faced with theft, vandalism, and government seizures; a mass exodus ensued that forced hundreds of thousands to leave the only homes they had ever known.
Mansoor Ladha, who was living in Tanzania at the time, remembers the experience vividly. His novel, "Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West" details the journey he was forced into following exile. New Canadian Media conducted an interview with the author via email:
Q: Your life has encapsulated multiple migrations and at one point you write "Canada will be my final resting place". Can you explain how you came to this conclusion?
A: My book talks about my search for a homeland. I left Tanzania, stayed in Nairobi, Kenya, have been to London England several times and finally landed in Canada which has given me the feeling of being at home.
I had also considered [the] United States where I have family but the violent nature of that society doesn’t blend with my nature, philosophy and temperament. Looks like I have finally found my resting place [in] peaceful, tolerant Canada.
Q: Your memoir is also a journey in journalism - across continents, across political philosophies, ethnic and civilizational divides. Do you think Canada could have been more appreciative of your evident talent?
A: There are plenty of examples of mistreatment that I have received in Canada. First as a job seeker and later even as a newspaper publisher. It gives me the impression that Canadians are always fearful of the unknown. This fear is especially applied to people of colour. There used to be a stereotypical belief which cast doubt on all immigrants’ ability to do a job. Hence, most employers were then reluctant to hire immigrants. However, once Canadians see your performance and are impressed with it, then that fear is gone, replaced by acceptance and respect.
Q: Immigrants tend to have more riveting life stories and this is surely true in your case. What's the one message about immigration that you'd like your readers to take away from your book?
A: My message to employers is don’t indulge in stereotypical thinking and don’t judge immigrants because of their colour. Give them a chance to prove themselves on the job-try them out on probationary period and then make a decision.
To [my] fellow immigrants. My message is don’t be disappointed by failures or hurdles that you encounter during your time of settlement. Keep on trying and you’ll finally succeed.
Q: You have written for mainstream media, owned town newspapers and contributed in many ways to the telling of Canadian stories. How would you describe the state of Canadian journalism today?
A: These are very uncertain times for media in Canada, especially newspapers. In most Canadian cities, newspapers have either folded or are owned by newspaper chains. In many major markets, the chain has also bought their competition, creating a virtual monopoly. With the result: editorial staff has been cut down to a bare minimum, local stories have been replaced by wire stories and the number of pages has also dwindled.
Canada has a lot of excellent journalism schools in every city, churning out J graduates in huge numbers who don’t have a job to go to. It’s a sad and pathetic time for those planning to enter the profession.
My suggestion to J-graduates is to start knocking on doors of weekly newspapers and forget about working on dailies as an entry point.
Q: Lastly, if the forced emigration from East Africa were to happen today, do you think Canada and the average Canadian would be just as welcoming as in the early 1970's when you arrived?
A: The prevailing mood in Canada today is pro-immigrant, pro-refugee, partly because of Justin Trudeau [and the] Liberals’ policy to welcome immigrants and refugees.
Since the 70s, Canadians have learned what immigrants can do and how hardworking they are. Several immigrants have sought civic, provincial and national public office and have done remarkably well in these areas. In business, professions and politics, immigrants have shone brilliantly and the society at large have been appreciative of their contributions. They are now respected by the main stream society.
George Abraham is the founder and publisher of New Canadian Media. A former Nieman Scholarship recipient at Harvard University, he has over 26 years of newsroom experience, including work with publications such as aljazeera.net, the Toronto Star, the Ottawa Citizen and more.
By: Caora Mckenna in Halifax
Inside the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market on Halifax’s waterfront you’ll find a stack of the Dakai Times newspapers. Printed in Chinese and English, the quarterly newspaper is a tiny nod to the growing immigrant population in the area. On Saturday mornings, the market fills with sounds, scents and accents from all corners of the world. The lone stand of newspapers tells a different story. Local ethnic media - integral to community integration for newcomers - is almost entirely absent from the airwaves and newsstands in the province.
The provincial government is working hard to bring immigrants to Nova Scotia. Nearly 5,500 newcomers arrived in 2016 -- the highest number in the last decade -- and more are expected for 2017. Significant resources are being put into the Atlantic Immigration Pilot and Halifax Partnership to bring immigrants to the province and keep them here. One thing missing for new and old immigrants is information in their mother tongues. Where local media is absent, newcomers are leaning on international sources for news from home in a familiar language.
Filling the gaps:
Halifax is home to the majority of Nova Scotia’s immigrants and the few local ethnic media outlets catering to immigrants are there, too.
Meng Zhao started the Daikai Maritimes Newspaper in 2012. It covers local events, highlights local business owners, and regularly documents its issues in the Nova Scotia Archives. Through a partnership with The Chronicle Herald, 30,000 copies are distributed four times a year as well as 5,000 copies at specific neighbourhoods in Halifax Regional Municipality. Zhao set out to fill a gap in a niche community, and five years later is still the only print source in the province printed in a minority language.
The second most spoken language in Halifax is Arabic, but it wasn’t until the spring of 2016 that Montreal based 1450 AM launched 99.1FM Radio Middle East in the city. The station broadcasts Arabic programs and a selection of Arabic and international music. Account executive for the station Oudai Altabbaa says the minority language audience is on the rise in Halifax, and “somebody needs to tap into it and talk to it.”
Altabbaa knows there is great potential for the economy to grow by capitalizing on this market. But “it’s extremely hard to educate businesses here about the benefit of this because they are not used to it, and as we know Nova Scotia is very traditional,” he says. “So when you tell them it’s an Arabic radio station, they don’t take you seriously.”
Working to highlight the importance of immigrant voices and stories is My Halifax Experience. The quarterly magazine fills news stands in ethnic grocers and community centres, and content is regularly published online. Filled with helpful tips and inspirational stories, in English, it speaks to all immigrants, beyond their mother tongues. The online website has expanded to My East Coast Experience with the same goal in mind.
International magazines and newspapers available from libraries or specialty newsstands are filling in the rest of the gaps. Halifax Public Libraries has an extensive collection of subscriptions in Spanish, German, Arabic, Russian, Hindi, Japanese, Chinese and more. Atlantic News, a specialty store for newspapers and magazines, fills one to four regular subscriptions for Russian newspaper Argumenti & Facti and German sources Der Spiegel and Die Zeit weekly and biweekly.
In 2011, immigrants accounted for 5.3 per cent of the Nova Scotian population. That proportion is expected to rise to between 7.7 and 10.7 per cent in 2036, according to Statistics Canada. Immigrants in Halifax made up 8.2 per cent of the city’s population in 2011. By 2036, that will rise to 15.2 per cent.
“When immigrants are feeling like they are a little bit more connected with opportunities that come up because of radio stations or media speaking their language,” says Altabbaa, “they might decide to stay in Nova Scotia.”
As Nova Scotia welcomes more immigrants and tries to keep them in the province, ethnic media has an opportunity to catch up, then develop and grow.
This article was republished under arrangement with Mirems.
By: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
To be the “last king” of anything means you left this world either a legend or a tragic figure. Maharajah Duleep Singh, the final monarch of the Punjab kingdom, who was forcibly separated from his family as a child, dispossessed of the Koh-i-noor diamond, converted to Christianity as a teenager, died a penniless, broken man in Paris, and is today buried in England, clearly falls into the latter category. But just as some within England’s Sikh community are seeking to exhume his remains for return to the Punjab, so are others working at rehabilitating his victim legacy.
Veteran U.K. actor and filmmaker Kavi Raz is one of these reformers. His film, The Black Prince, is a new production on the deposed monarch, who as an 11-year-old was removed from the throne and by 15 was exiled to England after his kingdom was annexed by the British in 1849. Unlike other ‘last kings’ such as Louis XVI of France and Nicholas II of Russia, Singh was spared the guillotine and firing squad, but the impressionable boy king would live out his life cut off from his family, culture, and homeland, remaining forever hidden away, if not lost, from his people.
Raz’s biopic sets course to rescue Duleep Singh from the forgotten recesses of English and Indian history. For the writer-director and his fellow producers, The Black Prince is clearly a passion project; the period piece is scripted in a mix of English and Punjabi, showcases an international cast, and features detail-oriented sets of Victorian England.
The film is not song-and-dance Bollywood, nor does it fall into the Punjabi-language genre which is bloated these days with slapstick comedies. Like the recent Oscar nominated Lion, The Black Prince is part of a new wave of film and television content capable of generating box office revenue domestically and internationally. In Canada, there are over one million Punjabi speaking South Asians who provide a niche target for the film.
Raz knows his target demographic well—he is originally from the Punjab region—and has crafted a story to win the hearts and minds of this audience. Unfortunately, this comes at an artistic cost, as The Black Prince seems more like a mission than a movie at times. Raz presses hard to recast Duleep Singh as a freedom fighter and a devotee of the Sikh faith, selectively omitting facts to make this case. The oversimplification of Duleep Singh’s re-initiation into the Sikh faith is one example of the film’s rolling-pin approach to the maharajah’s story (more on this pivot point below).
This heavy-handedness flattens characters throughout the movie, whether they be villainous English officers or the maharajah’s wives. Raz’s Duleep Singh is a stripped-down joyless version of an ex-sovereign, who was known to have thoroughly appreciated the velvet trappings of aristocratic life. We also see very little of a maharajah who took considerable pride in being a sportsman, playwright, and musician.
This ‘Black Prince’ who is constantly in a black mood is played by the eminent Punjabi musician Satinder Sartaaj who is forced to brood through his lines and awkward silences that ask too much of his acting skills. When he is not weighed down by a gnawing sense of displacement—the maharajah was, technically speaking, England’s first Sikh immigrant—he suffers from an identity crisis. That only intensifies when he finally reunites with his mother, Rani Jindan, superbly acted by Shabana Azmi.
These repetitive scenes of inner anguish neither advance the story nor reveal the complexity of a maharajah who, as a blue-blooded aristocrat, may have felt as much kinship with members of Europe’s ruling classes as with the average Punjabi peasant or Sikh devotee. The use of a third-person narrator would have relieved the maharajah from having to make banal political statements every other scene. Alternatively, Raz could have shot the film as a historical docu-drama interspersed with interviews to maximise his control over the narrative.
Eventually the maharajah’s contrived emotional distress culminates in a lukewarm climax when he re-converts to Sikhism during a failed passage to India—the British government denied him entry to travel to his homeland. Now near the end of his life, his unrest becomes outright rebellion as he bands with a group of Irish rebels and Russian agents and takes the helm of a quixotic, and ill-advised, plot to seize back his kingdom.
While there was likely some revolutionary fervor in the maharajah’s desire to overthrow English rule in India, it is a stretch to credit these actions solely to a pious freedom fighter, as Raz has suggested.
Historically there was also a financial motive—and a reasonably just one—behind Duleep Singh’s fall-out with his captors. Like many Victorian-era estate holders of his time, he was perpetually in debt due to a profligate lifestyle. His promised annual pension in 1860 of £40 thousand per annum ($7.7 million CAD in today’s terms) was always short-paid by half every year. While £20 thousand per year afforded him a luxurious lifestyle as single man, this amount, not indexed to the rate of inflation, became insufficient later in life as he became a father to eight children and husband to two wives.
At the time of Punjab’s annexation, the British government had also seized his family’s vast personal estates and holdings which should not have been included as state properties. Despite Singh’s ongoing campaigning to the Crown, these assets were never returned, much to his vexation.
Among Sikhs, there is a commonly held view that the modern downfall of their Punjab state actually began over 150 years ago when the kingdom created by Duleep’s father, the great Maharajah Ranjit Singh, crumbled after the Anglo-Sikh wars. A century after the golden age of the Lahore Darbar, Punjab was torn in half by Partition in 1947, and today what is left is being further shredded by rampant drug abuse, gross corruption, farmer suicides, and environmental damage.
Solutions remain elusive, but heroic accounts from the past provide hope that things can be better.
The Black Prince covers an important story that has long required production. While this movie pays tribute to the maharajah by rescuing him from the shadow of history, it does not, however, set him free. Over a century since his death, Duleep Singh still remains a pawn—now of modern-day Punjabi and Sikh identity politics—as he once was during the Great Game of colonialism in the 19th century.
Jagdeesh Mann is a media professional who works as the executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post. This article has been republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post.
By: Ted Alcuitas in Vancouver
The ‘paper son’ who became a community leader and literary pioneer
“Knowledge does not set you free – it enslaves you.”
Strong words from a strong man.
Jim’s insatiable appetite for history and what he learned motivated him to “create a new reality”, giving birth to such organizations like the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop (ACWW) which he co-founded.
The 68-year old Wong-Chu died on Tuesday, July 11, 2017 after a stroke he suffered earlier this year.
In his last TV interview (February 2016) he told Sid Chow Tan of Access TV that there was “no inspiration” for him when he started the seminal literary grouping, Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop back in the 70s.
"There was no inspiration – it was euphoria and discretion,” he recalls the beginning of the movement to create a space for Chinese Canadian writings.
“Bellyaching” with him at the time was Paul Yee and SKY Lee who later rose to prominence with their writings.”
“ We asked ourselves : What if? And Why not?”
“None of us were writers and we didn’t know the basics. We started from scratch.”
The ‘paper son’ who never finished Grade 11 first dabbled in photography before pursuing a degree in Creative Writing at UBC.
“I was working in a cafeteria and photography was just like making coffee,” he told Tan in the interview.
He finished a photography course at the Vancouver School of Art, now called Emily Carr University of Art + Design.
His collection of photographs of Chinatown taken from 1973-1981 lay dormant until 30 years after when he realized he had a treasure trove of historical significance.
The 80 photos (out of 500 negatives) was shown in an exhibit at Centre A Gallery in October 2014.
It was accompanied by his own poems and Paul Yee’s.
Born in Hongkong in 1949 two years after Chinese Canadians were granted the right to vote, Jim came to Canada as a ‘paper son’ by an aunt when he was four.
Paper sons and daughters adopted false identities at a time when Canada restricted Chinese immigration.
It was not until he was seven years old that his aunt told him – “I am not your mother”.
That discovery completely devastated him, knowing that he did not belong neither to the country he was raised or the country he was born into.
Up and until his death this month, Jim was still haunted by the ghosts of his past.
“It feels like you’re not a part of everything around you, that your participation is not welcome and not well-received…” he told writer Nikki Celis of The Georgia Straight on April 16, 2016.
“In my late teens and early 20s, I was very confused. You’re constantly haunted by this idea that you’re not legal. It destroyed me totally as an individual,” he says, stone-faced. “That’s identity for you—when you talk about identity to the infinite extreme, it feels like you’re a fake.
Giant of a man
Jim Wong-Chu was quite literally a giant of a man.
He stood not all of 5’ -5” but he could talk to you about almost anything – from books to history and politics and everything else.
Some called him the ‘Moses’ of the Asian Canadian literary world for finding and nurturing emerging writers and eventually having their works published.
The list includes Paul Yee, Wayson Choy, SKY Lee, Evelyn Lau among others.
Madeleine Thien, the recent winner of the Governor’s Award for Fiction and the Giller Prize was hired and mentored by Jim to be editor of Ricepaper magazine even before anybody knew her.
“I remember going to met Jim and being amazed at all the knowledge at his fingertips, all the stories and memories he had,” Thien recalls in an interview for B.C. Bookworld.
Jim lamented the lack of visible minority writers in mainstream literary festivals and saw the need for one that showcases visible minority writers.
“In the past, many of the mainstream literary festivals were good at recognizing diversity and inclusiveness but as we are seeing, including one or two token visible minority writers is hardly a way to illuminate the writing of a community.,” he told BC Bookworld in September 2014.
He was the driving force behind LiterAsian, an annual literary festival launched in 2013.
The first of its kind in Canada, LiterAsian seeks to promote and celebrate works of Asian Canadian writers through readings and workshops.
This year’s event will be on September 21-24 during which the recipient of the now-renamed “Jim Wong- Chu Emerging Writers Award” will be announced.
One of the most enduring legacy of Jim is Ricepaper magazine published by ACWW.
It was started as a newsletter in the 60s and its first editor was architect and author David Wong who went on to write ‘Escape to Gold Mountain’, a graphic novel about Chinese immigration to North America.
Now a webzine publication, Ricepaper celebrated its 20- year anniversary in 2015 with an anthology – AlliterAsian: Twenty Years of Ricepaper Magazine co-edited by Jim Wong-Chu, Julia Lin and Allan Cho.
This was Jim’s last anthology although he revealed in his Access TV interview that he was working on a book about Chinese immigration in B.C. for the provincial government. The publication of that book nor its title has not been confirmed.
Wong-Chu also spearheaded a Chinese Canadian radio program called Pender Guy and collaborated with Todd Wong to start Gung Haggis Fat Choy .
Among Wong-Chu’s books:
Chinatown Ghosts (Pulp Press, 1986)
Many-Mouthed Birds (D&M, 1991) co-editor.
Swallowing Clouds: An Anthology of Chinese-Canadian Poetry (1999)
Strike the Wok: An anthology of contemporary Chinese Canadian fiction (Toronto: TSAR Publications, 2003) edited by Lien Chao and Jim Wong-Chu.
AlliterAsian: Twenty Years of RicePaper (Arsenal Pulp 2015) co-editor with Allan Cho and Julia Lim.
Ted Alcuitas is the editor and publisher of the online newspaper-philippinecanadiannews.com. He has known and collaborated with Jim for a number of years as a board member of the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop.
By: Sam Minassie
As an integral part of Latin American Week, Carnaval Del Sol has returned for another year with an even larger assortment of activities, vendors and events. Initially established in 2009 with approximately 500 attendees, it has evolved into an annual pillar of the community. In comparison, the festival now hosts up to 100,000 guests annually.
The festival is slated to take place across 7 plazas: The Food Plaza, Kids Plaza, AON Family Plaza, YVR Travel Plaza, Urban Plaza, Sports Plaza and the Beer Plaza. The different sects will host fashion shows, body painting, street performers, live DJ’s and even artists at work on paintings and sculptures.While recent expansions have resulted in new additions, such as “Music on Wheels”, as well as a Beer Plaza which now seats 600!
An entrepreneur by her early teens, founder, Paola Murillo began her first business, selling sandwiches to schoolmates. And although she received backlash from school authorities, by high school she’d already added pens as a second venture. A testament to her resiliency, Murillo, has never been one to shy away from a challenge.
So, when she moved to Vancouver, recreating an authentic “Plaza Latina” was merely another opportunity. In several Latin-American countries, plazas serve as major hubs for residents to socialize, share news and celebrate. These areas often make up the most intricate parts of a city’s dynamics. Murillo's aim to help connect the community through a more traditional approach has been highly successful and has helped bridge the gap for many newcomers.
Originally from Columbia, Murillo came to Canada in 2005 with business aspirations that have lead her to a number of projects including Latincouver. The online platform which provides a central place to find news and information, also hosts a number of programs. With a list that includes the Latin-Canadian Professional Network (LCPN), Inspirational Latin Awards (ILA), ExpoPlaza Latina (EPL), and the Amigo Card; the site offers something for everyone.
Now a Canadian citizen, she has been honoured a number of times, including the prestigious Mary Ozolins award given to a BC woman who “provides exemplary and meaningful contributions to the community”. And was recognized as one of the 10 Most Influential Hispanics in Canada by the Canadian Hispanic Business Alliance in 2010.
Although Murillo’s efforts often resonate more closely with Vancouver’s Hispanic residents, initiatives like the ExpoPlaza target broader international business relations. The conference which focuses on improving intercontinental trade helps Canadian companies connect with South American distributors and organizations.
The festival is scheduled to host approximately 250 performers, musicians, and dancers, keeping the stage overflowing with talent throughout the weekend celebrations. Outdoor cooking demos by the Chefs del Sol will also showcase traditional Latin-American recipes. Entry is free and with a variety of over 25 food vendors to choose from, a virtually unlimited assortment of Latin-American dishes is available.
The event takes place in Vancouver at the Concord Pacific Place, just north of Science World, from 10am - 10pm on July 8 and July 9.
By: Fred Mercnik in Niagara-on-the-Lake
In 1918, 26 Polish soldiers were buried in the Polish Military Cemetery behind St.Vincent de Paul Church.The small plot of graves is immediately distinguishable from the others in St. Vincent de Paul cemetery. Surrounded by a small iron fence, the 25 graves bear the emblem of a white eagle, the symbol of a free Poland. The soldiers were newly emigrated Polish-Americans when they traveled from the U.S to Niagara-on-the-Lake to train for an independent Polish army during the First World War. About 20.000 trainees filed through Niagara from 1917 to 1919, sleeping in barns, outnumbering the town's residents. The men in the graves died in the Spanish influenza pandemic. Each year, local Poles march from downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake to the cemetery plots, commemorating not only the spirit of the volunteers but the liberation of the motherland.
Republished with permission from Fred Photo.
In partnership with Apathy is Boring, New Canadian Media will be posting first-person accounts from the 150 Years Young Project, a campaign that highlights the positive impact youth are making throughout their communities.
Aanjalie Collure, Scary Immigrants
“Why should pictures of normal people doing normal things attract any news? The fact that something like #ScaryImmigrants did, reminds us that we have a long way to go to break the stigma with new immigrants and refugees.”
Aanjalie is a global health and human rights advocate, both inside and outside the office. She currently works as a Senior Associate at Global Health Strategies in supporting their projects that raise awareness of global health concerns like HIV/AIDS and neglected tropical diseases. Aanjalie is also the founder of Autobiography Magazine, an online multimedia platform dedicated to raising awareness of untold stories and silenced voices around the world. As an immigrant herself from Sri Lanka when she was three years old, Aanjalie noticed, even as a child, the severe lack of attention given by mainstream media to the civil war happening in Sri Lanka. This experience sparked a passion in Aanjalie for bringing under represented stories to the forefront. To this effect, in December 2016, Aanjalie organized Toronto’s Untold Stories – a photography exhibit featuring members of marginalized and underrepresented communities in Toronto. Featured stories included those of a wounded veteran, transgender activist, elderly homeless man, and a victim of the Rwandan genocide. More recently, Aanjalie launched the #ScaryImmigrants campaign as an immediate response to the announcement of the immigration ban in the United States. She heard the announcement while waiting for her flight from Toronto to New York and was confounded by the absurdity of sentiments towards refugees and immigrants. Through this campaign, Aanjalie hopes to make use of satire by presenting immigrant families participating in ordinary day-to-day activities with absurd commentary suggesting that they are plotting against their new communities. In addition to all of this, Aanjalie is also in the process of producing a documentary discussing the challenges lower-income women face around the world with menstruation. For this project, she is planning visits to Kenya and Nepal as well as conducting interviews in the USA to discuss stigma associated with it, taxation of hygiene products, and other challenges. In the final product, Aanjalie hopes to present the amazing work being done towards menstrual equity.
Kennes Lin, Youth Reconciliation Initiative advocate
“I feel strongly, as a Chinese-Canadian woman, that we need to understand what the last 150 years have actually meant, and make sure that we have learned what is necessary for the next 150 years.”
Kennes was born in Hong Kong and lived in Shanghai, China until she moved to Mississauga, Ontario when she was thirteen years old. She became involved in Canada Roots Exchange through an exchange opportunity in Rankin Inlet for a week, where she was welcome to live with an indigenous community. Since then, she has become more involved with programs offered through Canada Roots Exchange, especially the Youth Reconciliation Initiative (YRI).
As a proud immigrant to Canada, Kennes has had the opportunity to understand the label of “settler” much better than most. After going to school in Canada, she realized how little is discussed about the history and circumstances of the country’s indigenous communities. While she did not feel personal ties to the country and its history, Kennes found it problematic that the indigenous population of Canada were not given the opportunity to feel that personal tie. At YRI, Kennes and the team across the country work to host events, activities, and an overall safe space that facilitates dialogue and understanding between indigenous and non-indigenous youth.
Through her experience, and the general narrative of Canada’s history, Kennes works on addressing the necessity to “unlearn” many considerations that are believed to be what the country was built on. She has been able to use her experience of having a Cantonese background while living in mainland China and understanding the interaction of the two cultures towards recognizing and appreciating the label she has as a settler. Through YRI, Kennes hopes that reconciliation can be achieved with harmony, and a universal understanding of Canada’s history and the missing parts that make up who the indigenous population are, what they have gone through, and where they are now.
The 150 Years Young Project: In celebration of Canada's 150th birthday, Apathy is Boring is teaming up with community organizers and city ambassadors to recognize positive contributions by youth. Follow the hashtag #150yy for more!
By: Nick Saul in Toronto
The first thing you notice when you walk into the light-drenched main room at Calgary’s The Alex Community Food Centre is the promise written in loopy script above the open kitchen: “Good food is just the beginning….” Or maybe it’s the bright chairs in Crayola red and blue and green. Or the large family-style tables where everyone gathers to eat delicious homemade meals together. Wherever your eyes happen to land, it’s clear the entire centre is designed to make people in this diverse low-income community feel at home.
At a time when public discourse is deeply polarized, when scarcity rather than generosity frames so much of our collective conversation, when many of us have never felt more disconnected from one another, a beautiful and welcoming public space comes as something of a surprise. Yet there’s nothing accidental about it. The Alex and our other partner Community Food Centres and Good Food Organizations across the country, finding ways to create inclusive, thoughtfully designed spaces is a core priority.
Nobody needs to explain why to Ellen*, a participant in the Diabetes Cooking Group at NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre in northwest Winnipeg: “This place will change your spirit,” she says. “As a newcomer, sometimes you feel discriminated against. But this place lifts you up, pushes the negative thoughts away.”
Creating spaces where people can come together and feel respected, spaces that not only make room for diversity, but actively embrace it, is central to the movement we’re building. It’s an approach rooted in the belief that the physical — how a place looks, feels, flows — plays a big part in determining the social — how people feel, treat one another and work together. When low-income community members step into The Alex or NorWest, Dartmouth North or other Community Food Centres, they see fresh, bright, well-kept rooms, comfy chairs to relax on, maybe fresh flowers on the tables, art or murals on the walls, books and magazines to flip through. Signs direct people to the resources they need. The smell of good food—fresh bread, homemade soup — wafts out of the kitchens. The sounds of laughter and maybe even a bit of live music animates the rooms.
For many low-income community members who live in small apartments or shared rooms, who might work long hours for low pay, who have to spend far too much time in the demoralizing work of negotiating the social service or justice system, Community Food Centres offer not just a nice place to spend time, but a true respite. And at its best it can shift their experience away from deprivation and toward something more interactive, respectful and engaged.
“I feel comfortable as soon as I come in the door,” explains Peter*, who comes for the community lunch program at Dartmouth North CFC. “It’s not like a soup kitchen. For a brief time, I feel like a king. And the food looks like it comes out of a magazine!”
Of course, good food is central to creating these positive, friendly places. Step into The Local CFC in Stratford, ON, and you’ll find yourself in the heart of the kitchen. There’s always a group standing around the big open island mixing or chopping, baking or cooking. The pleasure of cooking and sharing a good meal allows community members to find connections that cut across barriers of language, race, class and culture.
For instance, The Alex CFC recently collaborated with the United Way to organize a potluck at the centre that brought together Aboriginal and Filipino leaders to address a history of conflict between their communities. Individuals ate together, then held a talking circle, and drummed together – activities that helped them focus on the connection between their communities, and sparked a promise to work together more in the future. At the Regent Park CFC in downtown Toronto, the Bengali women’s cooking group celebrated Independence Day by showcasing their substantial cooking chops to others in the neighbourhood. And at the newest Community Food Centre in Hamilton, one of the first programs on offer is an Intercultural Community Kitchen with food from many cultures, and staff and volunteers who speak English, Spanish, Kurdish and Arabic.
In our Annual Program Survey, 95% of people told us they feel part of a community at their CFC — at several centres, that number hit 100%. By creating dignified, safe and engaged spaces where good food fosters belonging, we are striving to challenge the dominant narrative of fragmentation and division. We’re creating the kind of connected, inclusive and diverse future we want to see.
“I want to make friends. I want to belong. I want a community,” Rebecca*, another participant from NorWest's Diabetes Cooking group. “I found it here.”
Nick Saul is the co-founder and President/CEO of Community Food Centres Canada. This piece was republished with permission.
By: Sam Minassie in Toronto
"The World in Ten Blocks" is a two part documentary that offers viewers an in-depth look at one of the most diverse neighbourhoods in Toronto. Bloorcourt is home to a wide range of immigrants from across the world, which is inherently reflected in the small businesses that line its busy streets. Marc Serpa Francoeur and Robinder Uppal originally moved into the community back in 2011 while studying Documentary Media at Ryerson University. Inspired by residents' stories of resilience, they created a linear film, as well as a virtual tour that allows users to interact with shop owners. New Canadian Media conducted an interview with the two filmmakers via email.
Q: What were the biggest influences behind your decision to study Documentary Media?
A: Documentary has been a long-standing interest of ours going back to high school in the early 2000s, where we made our first short doc for a school project. As our interests in social justice, politics, and environmental issues evolved and deepened, documentary film increasingly emerged as the ideal form to bring together our varied skills and passions, including creative writing, journalism, videography, and photography. Moving into documentary work in the online sphere has only broadened these syncretic possibilities.
Q: The interactive tour provides a very unique experience, where did the inspiration for this idea come from?
A: As the children of immigrants, many of the themes explored in the project have long been close to our hearts. "The World in Ten Blocks" actually began as our joint thesis work in the Documentary Media MFA program at Ryerson University in Toronto, for which we originally moved to the city. The documentary is set in the community where we both lived when we started the project, and having gotten to know a few of the immigrant small business owners in the neighbourhood and heard their incredible stories, the idea for the project started to percolate. After producing a 34 min linear film, we began working in earnest on the interactive experience after graduation in mid-2013.
Two of the main underlying motives with this project are to share the diversity of the neighbourhood and to honour the immigration experiences of some of its small business owners. After experiencing projects like Hollow, Welcome to Pine Point, and others, we decided that an interactive documentary would be be the most compelling way to situate those stories in an engaging, user-driven exploration of the geography and history of the neighbourhood.
Q: There seemed to be a lot of thought and hard work that went into the project with Robinder even learning how to code, what would each of you say were the biggest challenges of the project and why?
Making the documentary is just one part of the process; finding an audience is a huge challenge in its own right, and often even the best-funded work falls very flat in this area. As independent producers working in the still relatively unknown realm of interactive doc, we felt that a "media partner" with an established audience who could promote and distribute the project would be a huge hand up for us. Looking at the Canadian media landscape, The Globe and Mail seemed the best fit, especially because we wanted to reach audiences not just in Toronto but across the country. As emerging creators without much of a track record, we were fortunate that the folks at The Globe were willing to give us a chance, especially given the lack of precedent for a partnership like ours (i.e. it's the first major interactive documentary they've hosted). While they didn't fund the project, we see a lot of potential for independent creators and media organizations, big and small, to partner in the delivery of in-depth documentary content that goes far beyond the scope of traditional news coverage.
Q: There are small mentions of the negative effects large corporations have on small businesses, most evident with “Wire’s Variety” which was closed by the time the documentary was released. In your opinion, what can the city do to support Bloorcourt’s independent businesses?
A: From our perspective, some of the most serious structural challenges for independent small businesses in Bloorcourt and throughout Toronto are problems that the city could go a long way toward addressing. Most notable is the lack of commercial rent control, combined with the ability of landlords to decline to renew leases entirely at their own discretion. The city has the capacity to address both of these concerns, and failing to do so will have serious consequences for our communities.
As real estate prices rise, there's often nothing that prevents a landlord from dramatically increasing the rent from one lease cycle to the next. This is a very real threat for all of the city's small businesses who rent and do not own the properties where they operate. Without some measure of rent control for commercial leases—which, keep in mind, is found in some jurisdictions—runaway commercial rents will lead to increasing numbers of downtown Toronto storefronts taken up by corporate chains, destroying the diverse character of neighbourhoods like Bloorcourt.
Unlike with residential tenancy, a commercial landlord can simply refuse to renew a lease at their discretion, despite the considerable investment that a tenant may have made to improve the space, building a customer base, etc. Just this past weekend (May 27th), one of the participant businesses in the project, Courense Bakery, closed suddenly when their landlord refused to renew their lease (apparently because they intend to sell the building). This is a big blow not only for the owners and staff, but for the neighbourhood as a whole, whose successive generations have patronized that bakery for some 35 years.
In addition, we also found out this week that participant business Pam's Roti will be forced to relocate (for the third time), as her landlord is refusing to renew her lease, ostensibly because he intends to install a Subway franchise in the same space. Pam and her husband have invested tens of thousands of dollars in improvements and renovations to the space, and it remains to be seen whether the landlord will compensate them. This touches on a third major issue, which is that very often small businesses lack strong legal counsel when it comes to designing the terms of their lease. Furthermore, it's not uncommon for a tenant to be too intimidated to pursue damages in court, given the generally more substantial financial resources of the landlord. The city could contribute to addressing these power dynamics by providing an ombudsman or legal advisor to review leases, a collection of resources/guides, or other types of legal support for small businesses.
Q: What is the most important lesson you took away from this experience and why?
A: Working on "The World in Ten Blocks" over the last five years has been a profound and life-changing experience for both of us, and we've learned lessons about a great many things along the way. We learned early on that things which seem stable can change very rapidly. For example, the closure of Wire's Variety took us by surprise—we were out of town for a few weeks and returned to a business shuttered after 33 years—and putting Wire's story together was far more difficult because of that. The overarching lesson for us as documentary filmmakers has been to never take for granted the ability to come back and film another day.
Q: What are some other upcoming projects people should look out for?
A: A new project that we're about a year and a half into focuses on a police abuse incident and its legal aftermath. It's set in Calgary, which is where we're from originally. The vision is for a serialized multimedia web piece that will be more reportage and a less immersive experience than Ten Blocks, although there's something of a through-line content-wise as the victim is a young immigrant. Our concept is to offer various levels of engagement: short videos that cover the main beat of a given instalment, with more expansive materials (documents, audio-visuals, etc.) for those that want to dive deeper. In some ways, the project feels like an obvious direction for us as we've long been interested in exploring the shortcomings of our civic institutions, and feel that narrowing in on this particular story will shed light on some of the profound dysfunction of a law enforcement and legal system that lacks fundamental safeguards to prevent the abuse of power.
We also just launched the last installment of League of Exotique Dancers Interactive, the interactive companion piece to the feature doc of the same name that opened Hot Docs 2016. This project presented a different challenge in that we were hired hands who were handed an existing body of material to work with (video, personal archives, score, etc.) and asked to come up with something compelling... which we think we did!
Also, in terms of the future of The World in Ten Blocks, the project has been invited to the prestigious Sheffield Doc/Fest in the UK, which is exciting because it has long been a goal for us to share the diversity and relatively high degree of inclusivity that we enjoy here in Toronto with audiences in Europe. The project will continue to be exhibited at a number of local events, galleries, and festivals, including a six-week installation as part of Making Peace (a multi-year international traveling exhibition) that will be up until the end of June.
One thing that has always been very important to us is to have the project seen and used in schools. To that end, we're really excited to have embarked on an ambitious outreach and knowledge mobilization program that focuses on junior and senior high school students, and utilizes the project to explore diversity, foster inclusivity, and engender appreciation for the historical contribution of immigrant communities to Toronto. We have some stellar collaborators on board who will take the helm to produce an educational guide for use in the classroom, and develop educator- and community-oriented workshops and presentations. We've even had a number of educators get in touch who have already started using the project in their classrooms going back to soon after the launch at the end of 2016, which is very exciting!
by Anita Singh in Toronto
In 1904, there were only 40 immigrants from India living in Canada, mostly from the Punjab. Largely based in Vancouver and surrounding areas, these pioneers came to Canada as labourers, in farms, on the railroad and in factories, creating a foundational community for South Asian immigrants in future decades – which has grown to nearly 1.4 million since the turn of the century.
As described in a brand-new podcast called ‘The Nameless Collective,’ produced by Jugni Style, the journey towards inclusion for these communities was not always an easy or welcome one.
The podcast describes the climate of early 20th century Canada. Previously-settled Canadians were concerned that new immigrants, particularly those from China and India, threatened jobs, culture and a way of life. Anti-immigrant public opinion was supported by the government, which established a “White Canada” policy, institutionalizing a preference for immigration from Europe. On the flipside, those from China and India were subject to the Chinese head tax, the continuous journey legislation and ghettoization when arriving in Canada, spotlighted in the recent government apology for the Komagata Maru incident of 1914.
The hosts, Milan Singh, Paneet Singh, and Naveen Girn, are a self-described team of researchers, time-travellers, detectives and hosts, who tell this history in with an entertaining impression. It unfolds the story of a community, where listeners will be introduced to personalized stories depicting the vividly personal struggles of a small, group of immigrants living and working in a land very different from where they came from.
The timing and content of this podcast is stunning in its unshakable feeling of familiarity. In our current political climate, racist killings in Trump’s America, a ban on Muslim immigration, a vote for Brexit in the United Kingdom, make the podcast immediately relevant and scarily contemporary.
For example, in episode two, the podcast follows the story of two women, Harnam Kaur and Kartar Kaur, wives of prominent members of the Khalsa Diwan society in Vancouver. In Harnam Kaur’s case, she travelled with her family to from the port of Calcutta to San Francisco enroute to Vancouver. On reaching the United States, Kaur and her family were held in detention for two months and deported to Hong Kong. In a second effort, Kaur, her husband and 16 others boarded a ship in Hong Kong destined for Vancouver.
Yet on arrival, Harnam, her son, and the other women on the ship were once again held in detention, while the men on the ship were allowed off to their labour jobs. As discussed by the podcast hosts, the Canadian government was concerned that the arrival of Asian women would begin to settle these unwanted immigrant communities, rather than continuing to be temporary labour migrants. It was several long months of waiting and debating within government, before the women were eventually allowed onto shore.
The strength of the podcast is the willingness of the hosts to go above and beyond to present new evidence and documentation. In episode one, the team makes a huge discovery the archives of the Vancouver public library, diving into a century’s worth of microfiched phone directories. They found that while ‘mainstream’ Canadians were listed by name and number, the phone numbers and addresses associated with immigrant communities were listed as “Hindoo” “Japanese” or “Chinese” instead of their names. As the hosts explain, “why would anyone want to know where these people lived?” By tracing these addresses, the team is able to identify neighborhoods where early communities settled in Vancouver. The hosts also acknowledge, that despite these discoveries, they will be limited by a limited evidence based and knowledge of this early community.
Further, the podcast will also be of particular interest to those familiar with Vancouver or the lower mainland. The hosts do an excellent job showing the connections between existing buildings and communities and key events in immigration history – like Chinatown and Japantown during the race riots, or how communities settled in the Indigenous territory of modern-day Kitsilano.
There are very few flaws in this podcast. The largest challenge is that the hosts have tailored the podcast towards an audience that is familiar with the basic immigration story of the region. Yet, if they want to connect with all Canadians interested in how our country became a multiethnic, multilinguistic state, the podcast would benefit with more contextual information for new learners of this history.
There are only three episodes of the podcast, and as episodes are released (one every week), listeners can anticipate the development of a richer and richer portrait of early 20th century immigration. With a growing audience, hopefully this podcast will not be nameless for much longer.
The Nameless Collective podcast can be downloaded on iTunes, Google Play for Android and Stitcher.
Anita (@bisu) is a Research Fellow at the Centre for the Study of Security and Development 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.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit