A new local event sets the stage for immigrants, refugees and Indigenous communities to share their stories.
The first of the three-part event series (at Century House this Saturday, March 18) focuses on immigrants, who, according to the 2021 census, make up 37.5 per cent of the city's population.
“There is generally a connotation around the word ‘immigrant' — but an ‘immigrant' could mean many things,” said Dalia Al Hussaini, founder of the local non-profit Defyne Development that’s organizing the event.
There’s so much diversity within cultures, but not many are aware of it, added Al Hussaini.
The event is a step towards exposing people to that and more.
Called Community Connections, the event will include a panel of three immigrants from varied backgrounds, who will share their experiences of settling in Canada.
The panelists include: Yuka Yamamoto Woods, who grew up in Japan, immigrated to Canada in 2009 and currently works at the Purpose Society as an early childhood development facilitator; Priyanka Krishna, who lived in different parts of the world before coming to Canada in 1998, and is now the outreach coordinator for the BC Government Caucus; Tedros Geday, who is originally from Ethiopia, but currently works with ISS of BC to support immigrants and refugees on their new journey in Canada.
“You will see how everybody's story is very different,” said Al Hussaini.
A safe space to share stories
The event is a safe space for the panelists to talk about their challenges, and for the audience to ask them questions.
“We are champions of inclusion. In the registration form, people can put in the questions that they want to be addressed. We will also be circulating a document at the event where people can write down their questions anonymously. This is to allow them to be able to ask questions even if they are introverted; and to ask them without the fear of being questioned.”
So far, some of the questions that have been asked have included basic ones such as — “Where do you go for your real estate needs?” or “What are some of the settlement agencies that you find most useful?” said Al Hussaini.
This way, the event also helps understand the needs of the community, she said.
What made Al Hussaini and Defyne Development co-founder Alex Walmsley launch the event series is a recent anti-racism report by Jasmindra Jawanda, urban/social/cultural planner and diversity, anti-racism and gender consultant for the city.
“It spoke to the need for spaces for people to connect."
Striving for inclusivity
Al Hussaini sits on a number of committees in New Westminster including the Local Immigration Partnership Committee, and the SPOKES Anti-Racism Committee.
As part of these committees, she is involved in discussions about the opportunities and needs for immigration — an important one being the need to make events inclusive.
For the upcoming Newcomers Festival and Informational Fair, Al Hussaini said, the committee has already discussed "ensuring that the signage is in different languages, so people know where to go; hit as many as their needs so that they are encouraged to come and make sort of like a road map within the event."
"It's about how do you make room for immigrants to become decision makers, and also how you can try to be as inclusive as possible with the services that you're offering,” she said.
The event on Saturday, funded by the WINS (Welcoming and Inclusive New Westminster) and the New Westminster Spokes Committee, is a step forward towards creating such opportunities for the community to connect.
"We wanted to get the ball rolling to have events that are inclusive."
“It's more like a 'community connection' event where individuals are encouraged to come and look at immigrants in a positive light. It's not just all about trials and tribulations, it's not just sadness there is to it.”
“There are a lot of positive things as well about immigrants, and we are trying to shift the narrative to a strength-based one.”
The event will take place at Century House, on March 18, between 12 and 3 p.m. The event will feature art works by local artists — Johnny Tai and Natalia Botero — and food items from different cuisines including Ukrainian, Caribbean, Filipino and Sri Lankan. The event is free for all; those interested can register online.