We can talk all we want about the discrimination, indifference and, yes, outright hate experienced by newcomers to Peterborough, but hearing about it straight from the mouths of those who daily live that reality is a potential game changer.
That’s the hope of the New Canadians Centre that, on Friday (February 2), premiered its “Our Neighbourhood” video series — a compilation of testimonials from six newcomers, each speaking not only to the opportunities that their new home has provided them but also unsettling moments when it’s been clear they’re not welcome.
With support from the City of Peterborough, the video series produced by Impact Communications was funded via a Community Support, Multiculturalism and Anti-Racism Initiatives grant provided by the federal Department of Canadian Heritage.
Each video in the series can be viewed on the New Canadians Centre YouTube channel.
The premiere, held at Ivy Event Space on Hunter Street West in downtown Peterborough, drew a large crowd, each of the video participants among them:
- Tim Nguyen, a high school student from Vietnam, a musician, and a young leader who, as someone with an accent, talks about the challenge of starting over in a new country.
- Tashvi Menghi, a teenager from India who arrived just one year ago and, as an artist and youth activist, strives to be a support for other newcomers struggling to fit in.
- Miguel Hernandez, a Venezuelan artist who, in Canada for close to 10 years, has met the challenges of immigration and settlement through his art.
- Fatma Al Ahmed, a high school student from Syria who, as a woman who wears a hijab, speaks to the challenges and barriers that young Muslims face.
- Bhisham K. Ramoutar, a native of Trinidad and Tobago who highlights the value of representation in traditionally marginalized fields and spaces.
- Samantha Banton, a Jamaican poet and entrepreneur who wants to see more diverse spaces and representation become a reality, and has taken steps to move that along.
VIDEO: “Our Neighbourhood” video series trailer
The New Canadians Centre’s Mauricio Interiano, who came to Canada in 2010 from his native Honduras and subsequently earned his BA in international development and sociology from Trent University, was front and centre at the event, introducing the screening before welcoming each of the participants profiled in the video series.
“We really wanted to showcase some aspects of being a newcomer that are not always in the media,” said Interiano. “We often are really quick to celebrate what newcomers are doing here, but it’s time to talk about the challenges that newcomers face when they’re in a new country.”
“Our six speakers, at some point in their video, speak about some of the challenges they’ve had — but it’s important to note that these are not complete stories. These videos are conversation starters.”
Interiano noted the New Canadians Centre assisted close to 1,400 newcomers last year. He added a big part of the centre’s work involves increasing the community’s “capacity of receiving and welcoming refugees and immigrants.”
“Peterborough is well known for for receiving and welcoming newcomers,” he said. “I want to believe, as a newcomer, that it is a safe space, but that doesn’t mean bad things don’t happen. The videos highlight the hopes and dreams of each participant, but also the discrimination and racism that each has experienced.”
Interiano, who was involved in the process that determined who would be profiled, said each participant deserves admiration for their courage to put themselves out there.
“It’s not easy to talk about such challenges,” he said, adding “They want to see a change.”
In his remarks, New Canadians’ Centre executive director Andy Cragg said the video series serves up some hard truths deserving of more attention by the community at large.
“Peterborough is incredibly welcoming but, at the same time, it’s a community where Indigenous people and people of colour experience racism and discrimination on a regular basis. Both of those things are true and that can be uncomfortable.”
The video series, said Cragg, “validates the experiences of folks in our community who love living here but who also have that experience (of discrimination and racism) on a regular basis.”
Also on hand was Reem Ali, the City of Peterborough’s diversity, equity and inclusion officer. She too praised the courage of each participant.
“I did a quick online search of what it means to be welcoming,” said Ali. “It means making someone feel happy and accepted. It means welcoming everyone while calling for all of us to be transformed. It means showing compassion, cordiality and generosity. It means having intentional, inclusive practices and norms that enable all of us not only to survive but thrive. It means we focus on integration rather than assimilation.”
“They (the videos) are gateways to identifying the themes, or rather, the symptoms that are holding us back from being welcoming. Symptoms that point to systemic inequities and diseases that we don’t like to talk about much, such as racism, hate, and discrimination.”
Ali pointed to the takeaway of the videos’ production and sharing.
“These (examples of discrimination and racism) are not problems that individuals or specific groups must address alone,” Ali explained. “These are societal and systemic issues that require collective action. But the stories also remind us that there are bright moments as well as opportunities for becoming more welcoming and inclusive, and that we all have a huge role to play in that.”
For more information about the New Canadians Centre, and including its many programs and offerings for newcomers, visit www.nccpeterborough.ca.