Building Stronger Communities in Coquitlam

Posted by Olivia Williams & filed under Diversity, Identity, Uncategorized.

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On August 30th, the All Our Neighbours initiative launched the first of its Community Roundtables, a project designed to explore how global migration has affected local communities, with the goal of ultimately bringing neighbours together across the Lower Mainland.

The event took place at Coquitlam Library’s City Centre Branch. Participants and volunteers had the chance to mingle for a while with the food and drink provided before settling down to begin the discussion. The first question on the table: are inclusive communities valuable, and if so, how can we attain them?

Community members suggested a number of steps. One of the most common was to simply be more proactive by saying hello, inviting people to dinner or throwing neighbourhood barbecues. People in big cities often have the habit of keeping to themselves. The value of children was emphasized as well. Not quite as prone to prejudice as their elders, they have the potential to create bonds between families of different origins through their friendships. (The flip side to this being that those who aren’t parents can have more trouble fitting in.)

Language barriers can pose a lot of difficulty to forming that ideal inclusive community. Even the best-intentioned folks who wanted to do their best to make friends could have trouble reaching past those. One participant shared that while she rarely experienced much discrimination before speaking, once her accent became apparent others’ attitudes would visibly change. It’s fine to be helped and encouraged, another added, so long as it isn’t done condescendingly. Creating an environment where people won’t feel judged for trying to speak less familiar languages opens the way to stronger ties.

Later the discussion turned to the source of negative attitudes toward newcomers. Many contributors pegged the media and family environment as the main culprits. The repercussions of the American election, from which Canada is not immune, were inevitably raised. Stories of discrimination were shared, including that of a man who attempted to help find a job for a black kid from his neighbourhood with a mental disability, only to be told by the store he approached that they “already have one of those.” Some acknowledged that local problems particularly specific to Vancouver, such as the affordable housing crisis, ratcheted tensions even higher.

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Some of the most interesting conversations sprang from the final group activity, which gave participants the chance to answer a question anonymously: had anyone in the room ever known somebody who felt they didn’t fit in because they weren’t from immigrant families? Or, perhaps, felt that way themselves?

Some admitted they had. The common idea that immigrants have more opportunity than those born in Canada cropped up multiple times. Others suggested that people feel excluded from participating in the cultures that immigrants bring with them, or even jealousy over their vibrancy and visibility. People feel less integrated into their communities than when they were homogenous. Many pointed out that these feelings come from a place of privilege; as the dominant culture in Canada shifts away from its colonial roots, some are feeling unsettled as they sense their social superiority fading. There’s a fear that making society better for new arrivals is different from making it better for everyone, and that it worsens for others in exchange.

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Being able to push past these kinds of biases and openly engage with one another is part of what the All Our Neighbours initiative is all about. Spending time in a room full of people that we think of as the Other (or vice versa) can be uncomfortable. The reality is that our neighbourhoods are already composites where we live side by side with the Other every day. Finding common ground can be easier said than done, but frank, empathetic discussions are a great place to start.

The next Community Roundtable will be held on September 13th in Surrey, with a following Roundtable in Richmond on the 19th. More information can be found on the official website.

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