The All Our Neighbours initiative continued on September 19th, in the colourful, welcoming environment of Richmond’s Brighouse library branch. Once more, members of the community gathered together for a heartfelt discussion on how global migration had affected their neighbourhoods. In an era of rising tensions and toxic internet comment threads, the Community Roundtables are bringing back the forgotten art of sitting down face-to-face and having a real conversation on contentious issues.
The previous two events focused on the same set of questions that had been voted for in advance online, but this time, rather than focusing on how to create inclusive communities, the participants were asked about contributions that had already been made to their neighbourhoods by immigrants. They also discussed whether immigration at large had a positive effect on Canada.
Overall, there was an overwhelming sense that immigration had only made Canada more prosperous. One contributor pointed out that the contributions of immigrants extend beyond the practical skills they bring to their new homes; it’s also about the qualities they help develop in others.
Many people also agreed that Canada is an accepting, tolerant home, and that our multiculturalism and diversity is part of our national identity. “You don’t have to leave behind your immigration story in order to be Canadian”, stated one participant. “Your story adds to the Canadian experience.”
Of course, not all people in Canada are so accepting. Following in the footsteps of previous Roundtables, the next question up for discussion was negative attitudes toward Canadian newcomers. The usual suspects, like language barriers and harmful media, were discussed at length. Some people also delved into the best “survival strategy” for immigrants who want to change their image: hard work and innovation, in the hopes of eventually proving their own worth through their actions.
Finally came the topic of how and why some people born Canadian feel excluded or devalued. Far fewer of the Richmond’s citizens had felt excluded themselves compared to previous Roundtables, where the same issues were discussed in Surrey and Coquitlam. Still, a significant number of people had met others who were dealing with these feelings of isolation.
An insightful contributor brought up how misleading the term “white” can be. It implies a cultural or experiential monolith, where in fact there is none; diversity can be found in every community. Cultures in general are more nebulous than they might appear at first, even for immigrants. Another participant pointed out that a refugee just arriving to Canada will situate themselves differently in their culture than someone born four generations later. The benefits anti-immigration advocates are jealous of often only apply to those newcomers as well, yet the resentment spreads to encompass all visible members of that community.
“We have to give them time to accept that things are changing”, one woman argued. Prejudice cannot be undone in one night, but living side by side can hopefully gradually change people’s perceptions.
Another young man compared the process of uniting cultures to working out a difficult marriage. “You have to understand and adapt”, he said. The relationship between you is never quite going to be what you expected at first, he added, but with a bit of effort, you can still find a way to make it work.