Fresh bread and new perspective

MC40_AfghanBreadI grew up in Vancouver but feel like I’ve explored new depths to this city having just recently met refugee women who call it their new home. Their perspectives shed new light for me on what it means to live in a multiethnic, multicultural community, one that welcomes people from diverse parts of the globe but doesn’t always know how to help them feel like they belong. I recently met a dozen women who came to Metro Vancouver fleeing violence and persecution back home. Across vast distances, these refugees carried with them their cultural identities, languages, religious beliefs, family values, and practices from various corners of our globe – the Congo, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Hungary, and Iran.

One woman, Huma, baked her traditional Afghan bread for us to enjoy as we talked around her dinner table of their struggles, their turbulent journeys to Canada, and their dreams for an abundant future for their children. Huma sleeps on the couch in her small Burnaby apartment with her two teenage sons in the one bedroom. Her husband remained in Russia, where the family originally fled during the war. She misses him, and misses aspects of her former life as Kabul’s first female television host in the 70’s, well-known and well-respected.

Despite facing dire poverty and in some cases racism in Vancouver, and despite having to learn a new language and customs that were quite alien to them, Huma and the other women expressed joy in living here. The opportunity to live in Canada was something they treasured. They missed their family members back in their home countries though, and their stories made me desire to make Vancouver an even safer, more inclusive place for them to thrive.

Rather than being passive victims of circumstance, I see refugees actively adapting to their new cultural landscape, and forming intercultural relationships that add meaning not only to their lives, but to the lives of the people they embraced, myself included. I marveled at the women’s curiousity and openness and questioned my own ability to remain that way if I were thrust into a new cultural milieu. The opportunity to listen to their stories expanded my own view of shared culture: the women remain open to adopting new viewpoints while expressing different parts of their cultural identity with their new friends, colleagues, and neighbours, parts they cherished close to their hearts.

For multiculturalism policy to have meaning at the community level, we rely upon a certain level of openness between Canadians and newcomers, upon our ability to see ourselves reflected in others, and ultimately, upon our willingness to bridge the divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’ so we are left with simply and most notably, ‘us.’

- Lindsay in Vancouver