Arts & Culture

by Daniel Leon Rodriguez in Calgary

Jose Duque, an immigrant from Venezuela, is using music to keep children in band practice and out of trouble on the streets.

In his native country, Duque participated in the El Sistema program, for over 16 years as an orchestra player, music teacher, and later, as a regional co-ordinator.

The program, which is run in countries around the world, gives children from diverse backgrounds a safe and fun place that fosters discipline, increased self-esteem and a sense of community.

When Duque immigrated to Calgary 10 years ago, he thought there were no children living in poverty in the city.

“I thought Canada was paradise,” says Duque, adding he imagined no one in Calgary would need a program like El Sistema.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Duque soon started to see the cracks in his new homeland.[/quote]

The opportunity to dream

However, Duque soon started to see the cracks in his new homeland – Canada wasn’t the perfect paradise he imagined.

At Our Lady of Guadalupe Church, he met many low-income families who had difficulties keeping their children away from drugs, gangs and isolation.

“I wanted to offer disadvantaged children the opportunity to dream,” says Duque.

That is why five years ago, he decided to start a free after school music program at the church.

Now, with the support of International Avenue Arts and Culture Centre (IAACC), Duque’s small initiative has grown into the Calgary Multicultural Orchestra (CMO) – a full-time program with three professors and 60 students based on the El Sistema program model.

The program operates in Calgary's Forest Lawn area, which has double the percentage of low-income households than the rest of the city, according to Statistics Canada. IAACC funding provides children with free musical instruments and music lessons every weekday from 4 to 6 p.m.

Jose Antonio Abreu, founder of El Sistema youth orchestra system in Venezuela, shares the story behind the program.

Diverting children and youth from the streets

Duque says CMO will create positive outcomes similar to other El Sistema projects around the world – a decrease in juvenile crime and school drop-out rates. However, to achieve his dream he requires more participation from the community.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Some people believe that orchestral music is something exclusive, but it isn't true.”[/quote]

“If we could get 1,000 children from Forest Lawn and other communities in the northeast we could create a real change,” says Duque. 

According to a study by the Inter American Development Bank for every dollar invested in the El Sistema program in Venezuela, it reaped about $1.68 in social dividends – with benefits such as a decline in juvenile delinquency and improvement in school attendance.

The biggest rate of juvenile delinquency occurs between 4 and 7 p.m., explains Duque, which is the timeframe when children spend more time alone after school and before their parents return from work in the evening.

“We are giving a space to these kids to do something special,” he says. “We are taking them away from the streets, the drugs and the gangs.”

Putting a focus on inclusivity and tolerance

Amédée Waters, program administrator for the CMO, says the program aims to bring together children from all incomes, races and religions. 

“The idea is to create a sense of inclusivity, tolerance and community,” says Waters. “Some people believe that orchestral music is something exclusive, but it isn't true.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[T]he program makes children and parents focus on what we have in common instead of what makes us different.”[/quote]

Mark Lobnowcs, whose 11-year-old child participates in the CMO, agrees that the program creates more tolerance. 

“I think it is marvellous that the program makes children and parents focus on what we have in common instead of what makes us different,” says Lobnowcs.

He also says the program is a great opportunity to learn music from top professional musicians. “It is amazing that someone with Jose’s qualifications is doing something like this for free.”

Hikmat Kafi, whose seven-year-old daughter has been with the CMO for over two years, says that the program has helped her daughter to open up to other children.

Kafi arrived to Canada from North Sudan 10 years ago. She says that her daughter’s participation in the CMO has had a positive influence on her two brothers. “If you see your child happy, then all the family is happy too,” she shares.

The program costs IAACC over $2,300 per child per year, and funding can be an issue, according to Waters.

Right now the program has a waiting list of over 30 children, but it doesn’t have the funds to pay for teachers and instruments.

“It is always a struggle to find the funds,” says Waters. As a result, the program is always looking for volunteers and used musical instruments.

{module NCM Blurb}

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City 

A group of citizens is accusing Videotron, one of Quebec’s largest telecommunication companies, of failing to provide mandatory community television service in the province. 

“Videotron is required to provide access to training, equipment and studio space for community members to create community-produced content,” says Laith Marouf, the project co-ordinator of Independent Community Television (ICTV), the group making the complaint. 

Marouf says community television must also represent the linguistic, ethnic and aboriginal composition of the community. 

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) requires every satellite or cable television provider in Canada to allocate five per cent of its revenue to Canadian content. 

“They can take two of that five per cent and put it towards their own community media channel, which is what a lot of them do because they have a bit more control over it,” explains Steve Faguy, a Montreal-based media blogger.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Marouf says community television must also represent the linguistic, ethnic and aboriginal composition of the community.[/quote]

In Montreal, 50 per cent of the content on community channels must be access programming, or content produced by members of the community. 

After ICTV’s first complaint against Videotron, the CRTC decided in 2015 that the company had failed in its mandate and told Videotron to bring its community channel MAtv Montreal into compliance by August, 2015. 

In November, ICTV filed another complaint of non-compliance, claiming Videotron fails to provide the required 50 per cent minimum access programming, not only in Montreal, but in eight of MAtv’s nine distribution zones across Quebec. 

Defining community TV 

As part of its 2015 decision on MAtv Montreal, the CRTC also asked Videotron to set up a citizen advisory committee by March, 2015. 

“The committee was formed because MAtv wanted to be sure that the choices that are made in their programming really respond to the needs of the multiple communities on the ground,” says Aïda Kamar, a committee member and president of Vision Diversité, an organization that supports artists and cultural events in Montreal. 

Kamar says the committee reviews program proposals from the community and decides which ones are ready to be produced. According to her, since the committee was formed, MAtv has started providing training to the community. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We have a big problem in Montreal, because when you look at TV, it doesn’t always resemble what’s on the street.”[/quote]

Prior to the first complaint, “Couleurs d’ici” was the sole program on MAtv Montreal focused on immigrant communities.  

Three shows about ethnic communities in Montreal have since been added to MAtv’s programming.

“We have a big problem in Montreal, because when you look at TV, it doesn’t always resemble what’s on the street,” says Kamar. She explains that adding programming focused on ethnic communities is not the solution. 

“We don’t want to separate programs for immigrants and programs for non-immigrants,” she says, adding all programs on MAtv should reflect Montreal’s ethnic diversity, as well as its official languages. 

Fifteen per cent of ICTV’s programming model includes programs in third languages. Currently, all programs on MAtv Montreal are in English or French. 

“Not allowing ethnic communities to produce in third languages is part of the racist problems we see here in Canada, and especially in Quebec where we see the rise of new nationalism,” says Marouf. 

Kamar, who directed her own Lebanese television program for 10 years, has a different view. She says that while her show was in Arabic, she also included a French segment in each episode. 

“I wanted Quebecers who do not speak Arabic to understand what we were saying, to understand that while I was Lebanese, I was also a Montrealer,” says Kamar. 

Programs in third languages separate Montrealers rather than bring them together through their common languages, she explains. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“This absence translates into a feeling of not belonging for immigrants especially."[/quote]

Support for ICTV 

In 1982, AMEIPH, a non-profit, multiethnic organization supporting people with disabilities in Montreal, started producing a program called “Nous Sommes Encore Là” (“We Are Still Here”). In 1998, Videotron discontinued the program.   

AMEIPH sent a letter of support for ICTV to the CRTC, stating that requests to restart the program on MAtv were rejected, leaving the people represented excluded from the media.

“This absence translates into a feeling of not belonging for immigrants especially, and ignorance of what represents today a very large segment of the population of Montreal and Quebec in general,” says Teresa Peñafiel, AMEIPH’s spokesperson.

She says this causes people from ethnic communities to turn to television from their countries of origin, contributing to their isolation.

ICTV’s complaint also has the support of the Canadian Association of Community Television Users and Stations (CACTUS). 

Andre Desrochers, a CACTUS board member, is leading a class-action lawsuit with other Videotron subscribers in Montreal against the corporation. 

CACTUS recently filed complaints of non-compliance against 47 community cable channels across Canada. It also asked the CRTC to take away control of community television from private corporations and give it to non-profits. 

ICTV’s complaint also comes in the midst of the CRTC’s public forum on the future of community television across Canada. 

The public has until Apr. 15 to submit comments to the CRTC regarding this complaint. 

Marouf says there will be a 10-day period for Videotron to reply to the complaint, after which ICTV will have 15 days to respond. It will then be up to the CRTC to decide whether Videotron is in compliance with the regulations. 

Attempts to contact Videotron for comment in this article were unsuccessful.

{module NCM Blurb} 

by Melissa Shaw in Richmond, British Columbia 

Richmond community members came together last week to discuss breaking down the barriers of racism as part of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation’s (CRRF) three-year Our Canada Project. 

Held at the John M.S. Lecky UBC Boathouse, the Living Together symposium featured guest speakers and guided public discussions aimed at building a more inclusive community. 

Local member of Parliament for the riding Steveston-Richmond East, Joe Peschisolido, spoke about the role of society and government to mitigate conflicts and bring people of all different backgrounds together. Richmond’s acting mayor Bill McNulty highlighted the city’s diverse historical roots, including its First Nations, Japanese, Chinese and European influences. 

One of the panel discussions, moderated by Robert Daum, Simon Fraser University (SFU) fellow in diversity and innovation, focused on the forces that shape Canadian identity. 

“We keep using the word immigrant in a way that says some people belong more than others who arrived here on this territory, [when instead] we are all guests on Indigenous land,” stated Henry Yu, history professor and principal of St. John’s College at the University of British Columbia (UBC), during the panel.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We keep using the word immigrant in a way that says some people belong more than others who arrived here on this territory."[/quote]

Yu explained that early Europeans in Canada were called settlers, while people from other countries are called immigrants. 

Bringing people together

Dr. Kanwal Singh Neel, program coordinator of the Friends of Simon tutoring program in the faculty of education at SFU, added that many people want to feel a sense of belonging in Canada, while preserving their native language and culture. 

Neel said sporting events like Vancouver Canucks’ hockey games and the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics bring people together. 

Elaine Chau, an associate producer for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) program “The Early Edition”, said the sharing of food builds a sense of belonging and community. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“When we look at what we eat, even something as simple as rice pops up in every culture.”[/quote]

“When we look at what we eat, even something as simple as rice pops up in every culture,” said Chau. “There are so many ways to relate around the dinner table that we can celebrate our differences.” 

Addressing underlying tensions

When asked what challenges Richmond faces in creating inclusive communities, Chau said the issue of Chinese-language-only signs is more about the tensions “bubbling underneath,” because people she spoke with felt they were not welcome in Chinese shopping areas. 

“People need to think about what can be done to make people want to venture into places that look unfamiliar,” she said. 

Yu added that people should examine what’s causing the hurt feelings underlying the issue of Chinese-language-only signs and focus on building reciprocal relationships. 

Metis writer and arts activist, Joanne Arnott, said the arts can be used to accomplish this goal and share culture. She drew on examples like a multilingual art project she led, as well as local poetry gatherings, which she explained encapsulate a person’s rich roots and emotions. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“How can we overcome these challenges? Through dialogue, through telling stories that create empathy."[/quote]

In regards to the question about how to address xenophobia and racism in the wake of the Canadian government’s decision to accept 25,000 Syrian refugees this year, Yu encouraged people not to isolate themselves from those they fear. 

“How can we overcome these challenges? Through dialogue, through telling stories that create empathy so we understand, ‘Who are these people, what are their hopes and dreams?’” said Yu. 

He said the picture of drowned Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi was powerful because it changed people’s feelings towards refugees. 

Neel highlighted the importance of dialogue by using the example of the speculation that resulted over recent media coverage of three men taking ‘suspicious’ photos in the Pacific Centre mall, who the police described as looking 'Middle Eastern'. 

Social change takes hard work 

Later in the symposium, Suresh Kurl shared an uplifting story about coming to Canada from India and Richmond resident Cecilia Point talked about the Musqueam Nation’s successful fight to preserve a burial ground. Their stories are included as part of the CRRF’s 150 Stories project. 

The public also participated in roundtable discussion sessions to create a timeline of important events that have impacted the city and develop a plan to address 11 key issues including the growing wealth gap and housing costs. 

About 100 members of the public attended the event including students, local First Nations representatives and politicians. 

“Social change takes hard work on the part of many, many people,” said attendee Caroline Wong, reflecting on the day’s programming. 

Other participants expressed hope that the collected feedback would be put into action. 

Attendee Kanwarjit Sandhu said that people can ask for change, but “we have the power to change one thing, that is ourselves, our attitude.” 

The CRRF will hold upcoming symposiums in Halifax, Nova Scotia; Hamilton, Ontario; Red Deer, Alberta; and Yellowknife, Northwest Territories in 2016. The Our Canada Project culminates with Canada’s Sesquicentennial in 2017.

{module NCM Blurb}

by Hadani Ditmars in Vancouver, British Columbia

So then … the Oscars are guilty of being a tad too monochromatic and a chorus of notables from Spike Lee to Michael Moore are threatening to boycott the whole event.

Now even Donald Trump has weighed in on the whole issue – and rather gingerly at that – calling the fact that this year there were so few black actors nominated as “unfortunate.”

But as Spike Lee noted on Instagram, the " 'real' battle" over racism in Hollywood is not with the Academy Awards but in "the executive offices of the Hollywood studios and TV and cable networks," where gatekeepers decide which projects get made and which don't.

"People, the truth is we ain't in those rooms, and until minorities are, the Oscar nominees will remain lily white," he wrote.

While one can’t argue with Lee’s logic, it seems a truism to say, “Hollywood is white.”

Corporate culture or racism

Puritan America was after all, founded on a cult of whiteness. And Hollywood itself was largely a myth, a WASP fantasy constructed by Eastern European Jewish immigrants partly as a way to assuage their feelings of being outsiders. Neal Gabler’s book An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews Invented Hollywood examines the way new immigrants “whitewashed” their way into their own version of the American dream.

And as actor Janet Hubert (of Fresh Prince fame) said to her Oscar boycotting peers “Y'all need to get over yourselves. … You are a part of Hollywood. You are a part of the system that is unfair to other actors." 

Hollywood has had its moments.  In the 30’s, great anti-war films like All Quiet on the Western Front, and Idiots’ Delight espoused pacifism, Chaplin’s Modern Times the plight of the working man, and the classic Capra film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington was deemed “anti-American” and “pro-Communist” for its portrayal of government corruption. And 1970's American cinema was provocative and political  (Three Days of the Condor, All the President’s MenDay of the Locust, Dog Day Afternoon). But Hollywood always seems to slip back into dull dominant cultural narrative mode. That may, of course, be more due to corporate culture than racism per se.

And for many actors of colour around the world, Hollywood has been a godsend.

As black British actor Idris Elba noted in a speech to MP’s at Westminster this week, he and many of his peers had to go to the U.S. to advance their careers. He mentioned a “glass ceiling” for black actors in Britain, saying, “I was very close to hitting my forehead on it.” Although last year’s Martin Luther King epic Selma was snubbed by the Oscars, it did offer U.K. actor David Oyelowo a starring role.

Culture by bureaucracy

Here in Hollywood North, where a low loonie means a production boom in American TV and films, I know many Canadian actors of colour who would starve if it weren’t for the plethora of parts they play every year on everything from cop shows to feature films. (Full confession: I have paid my rent on latina housewife in Swiffer commercial and belly dancer in Ford advert roles during rainy Vancouver winters).

The parts may be one dimensional, but at least they exist. While racism may be less overt in Canada, it’s not less institutionalized and Canadian film culture is hardly a model of diversity. If Hollywood is about aggressive corporatism, the Cancon attempt to revive the “old stock” cultural corpse verges on necrophilia.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]While racism may be less overt in Canada, it’s not less institutionalized and Canadian film culture is hardly a model of diversity.[/quote]

In Canada, culture-by-bureaucracy (as opposed to the more American free market model) perpetuates a quaint colonial old boys system and the Anglo inspired  “multiculturalism” that, as opposed to the Hollywood casts of thousands style, only allows for single representatives/gatekeepers of entire ethnic groups – normally safe, inoffensive, controllable and palatable to liberal CBC listeners.

The system is run by a crew that’s more monochromatic than the Academy, who go bravely forward like colonial administrators on a mission – partly to perpetuate “Canadian values” – one of which seems to be denial that American-style racism exists in Canada.

But just as our neighbours to the South perpetuate the “American dream” of opportunity, even as statistics about race, wealth and poverty put paid to it, we have our own Canadian myths, many of which create their own “glass ceilings” for artists who are not “Canadian” enough.

Culturally fragile place

In a recent article penned for Canadian Art magazine, Chinese-Canadian artist Ken Lum, who now lives and works in Philadelphia, wrote an eloquent treatise on differences between his homeland and adopted home.

While admitting that living in the U.S. is a “Faustian pact”, he writes of the strictures of a “certain ideal of what can constitute Canadian culture,” and remembers a leading Canadian curator expressing displeasure at his East Vancouver inspired work that juxtaposed corporate signage with portrait studio style images of people of colour as being “cold” and “not very Canadian.”

Entities such as the CBC continue to advance the narrative of Canada as a culturally fragile place, with stories of success beyond the borders of Canada promoted as somehow rare. The narrative of a nation comprised of isolated communities in constant threat from the forces of nature endures, in spite of the reality of Canada’s increasingly cosmopolitan urban centres. The reality of vibrant, multi-ethnic urban clusters is folded into the former meta-narrative of the bush.

By contrast, he notes that artistic expression in America exists without “qualifiers”.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The system is run by a crew that’s more monochromatic than the Academy, who go bravely forward like colonial administrators on a mission – partly to perpetuate “Canadian values” – one of which seems to be denial that American-style racism exists in Canada.[/quote]

So while Hollywood may perpetuate its nation’s founding cult of whiteness, at least there’s a discussion about race and culture that makes headlines in Variety. And while recent Canadian cinema offers some encouraging signs (Fire Song, Felix and Meira, Mina Shum’s documentary Ninth Floor about a black student protest movement in 1969 Montreal), I always get the feeling that even raising the issue of diversity in Canada is considered somehow, impolite, or at the very least, something that should be assigned to an all white committee to discuss and write a report on.

It’s certainly not an issue that inspires boycotts of the Canadian Screen Awards (previously known as the Genies) or expressions of concern by right wing politicos.

While a perfect system only exists somewhere over the cinematic rainbow, if I were forced to choose between Hollywood fantasia  (think the factually inaccurate, inflammatory, but thrilling Argo) vs. earnest documentarianism approved by committee, I think I know which side of the Faustian bargain would prove most seductive.


Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone and is working on a new book about ancient sites in Iraq. She has been reporting from the Middle East for two decades and is also a singer and musician.  

{module NCM Blurb}

by Daniel Leon Rodriguez in Calgary

For some, Alberta’s history is just about cowboys, oil, and Conservatives, but a new television series is shedding light on the many contributions that minority groups have made in the province.

An Omni TV magazine-style series, “Alberta Roots”, goes under the surface to tell the stories of immigrant communities and their contributions to the wild rose province, since the time of their early settlement to the present. 

For example, members of Calgary’s Jewish community gave the city its iconic white hat, the +15 Skywalk bridge system and the Jack Singer Hall Centre.

Gingi Baki, the executive producer of the show, says immigrants with their kind spirit have defined Alberta since its beginning – defying the intolerant redneck stereotype many hold of the province. 

“Generosity is a common theme among all immigrants,” said Baki, who adds that throughout Alberta’s history when immigrants did well, they also helped others in their communities.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Generosity is a common theme among all immigrants.”[/quote]

The province’s first pioneers were from Great Britain, the U.S., Germany, Ukraine, Scandinavia and other parts of Europe.

Among the first immigrants to come to Alberta from the U.S. were black farmers who were denied equal rights in Oklahoma. Many Chinese workers made Calgary home as well after the national railway was built.

“There have been small pockets of immigrants through all our history,” says Baki.

Many immigrants have also come to Alberta because of the good economic times – from the gold rush to the first oil booms. However, many of them stayed after because of the beauty of the province, Baki suggests.

“The openness, the skies and the sunsets stay in your soul.”

Facing racism in the pioneer years

Kirk Niergarth, a professor of Canadian history at Mount Royal University in Calgary, says it was hard for minority groups to settle in Alberta right up to the early 20th century.  

In 1911, a white teenager, Hazel Huff, lost her mother’s diamond ring and blamed it on a “big, black, burly nigger”* who broke into her home and assaulted her.

Media hysteria broke in Edmonton, and her assault was blamed on black people immigrating to the province, according to historical archives.

When Huff later told the truth, it was too late. “The damage was already done,” says Niergarth.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The waves of immigration created anxiety of the unknown.”[/quote]

In 1892, a Chinese man fell ill with smallpox in Calgary. To contain the disease, city officials burned the laundry where he lived, and put all of its occupants under armed quarantine.

A mob of 300 people tried to run the quarantined individuals out of Calgary when they were released – and the RCMP had to control the situation. 

Niergarth explains that Alberta – like the rest of Canada – felt troubled by the changes newcomers were bringing to society.

“The waves of immigration created anxiety of the unknown.”

Alberta’s changing fabric

It is not a secret that Alberta is growing rapidly. Part of this growth is that more minorities are moving into the province.

According to Statistics Canada census data, the growth of Alberta visible minorities has skyrocketed. In 1991, visible minorities made 9.4 per cent of Alberta’s population. As of 2011, they represented 18.4 per cent.

Of those visible minorities, a 2008 report shows 91 per cent settled in the major cities – Calgary and Edmonton. But that also appears to be changing.

Presently, the city of Lethbridge attracts many visible minorities thanks to its low cost of living and good job market. The city is home to the biggest Bhutanese community in Canada.

Surya Acharya, an agricultural research scientist and immigrant from India, moved to Lethbridge from Edmonton in 1989. His friends told him that he was moving into “redneck country.” They said he wouldn’t survive too long in the small southern Alberta city.

It has been almost 30 years, and Acharya says he has been comfortable in Lethbridge since he arrived.

“They were wrong,” he adds.

Today, he is the president of the Southern Alberta Ethnic Association, where 32 different ethnic groups from four different continents are represented.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"People only care that you work hard – it doesn’t matter your colour or religion.”[/quote]

Acharya says things have changed extensively since he moved into Lethbridge. “It is more common these days to see visible minorities in Southern Alberta.”

Acharya says the reason why there aren’t more visible minorities in rural Alberta isn’t because of intolerance, but lack of resources and entertainment opportunities.

“Jobs only keep them busy for 40 hours,” he says.

Alberta’s immigrant spirit

Acharya says that the redneck stereotype is untrue in modern Alberta. For him the pioneer immigrant spirit is what represents the province.

“It doesn’t matter where you came from, people only care that you work hard – it doesn’t matter your colour or religion,” he shares.

Niergarth says the stereotype of Alberta being a redneck province comes from the interpretation of its culture and politics in other parts of Canada.

Things like the Calgary Stampede and the platform of the Reform party were associated with the redneck image, he explains.

However, these views of Alberta aren’t always accurate. “It is not based in research, so proceed with caution,” Niergarth says.

If Alberta was really intolerant there would be no immigrants in the province, he adds.

“Maybe the proof is in the dough.” 

“Alberta Roots” is being aired on Omni TV in Alberta and British Columbia. In the future it will be aired in Ontario, and it will be available on the Omni website. 


*Editor's Note: "The racial slur, albeit disquieting, was quoted precisely from a historical context to establish the type of mentality that existed among some people." 

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by Hadani Ditmars in Vancouver, British Columbia

As the Palm Springs International Film Festival wraps up and Thursday’s Oscar nominations loom, I remember the words of my old friend Paolo Consigilio.

The expert Italian mask maker fused his commedia del arte style craft with a Pasolini like cinematic sensibility and spent time in both Canada and his homeland.

When I asked him once to define the difference between the two places he said, “In Italy, everyone wants to be the protagonist in the movie.”

In Canada, he said, we are content to be on the sidelines.

I contemplate this from Vancouver’s Hollywood North where every other person seems to be connected to the film industry and after a week spent at the Palm Springs International Film Festival, where Canadian cinema is a star attraction.

While Palm Springs is more known for its population of aging Republicans and its modernist architecture, the festival, now in its 27th year, has quietly become a hub for world cinema. This year all nine of the films shortlisted for the Foreign Language Oscar and their directors were present at the festival.

Canadian presence

99 and a half miles from Los Angeles’ Paramount Studios, Palm Springs has always lived in Hollywood’s shadow. Once a getaway for Hollywood stars (who under contract could not go farther than 100 miles from the studios) 10% of its population is now Canadian.

Key film festival administrators are Canadian, and Telefilm is a big film festival partner. With its incongruous mix of Hollywood glamour and earnest world cinema ranging from a first weekend gala celebrating stars in the mainstream firmament to the opening night Finnish film The Fencer about the Cold War in Estonia the festival also provides an interesting lens on Canadian culture.  Indeed, the eight films from the true north strong and free this year provided much food for thought.

Maxime Giroux’s Felix and Meira - Canada’s Foreign Language Film Oscar submission for 2016  (which sadly didn’t make the shortlist)  tells the story of the romance between an Orthodox Jewish woman and a bohemian French Canadian artist in Montreal. 

Ryan McKenna’s Sabali is about a French Canadian woman who receives a heart transplant from a Malian immigrant woman and then befriends her son.

Phillippe Falardeau’s My Internship in Canada is a satirical look at the relationship between a Quebecois politician and his Haitian intern, while Adam Garnet Jones’ Fire Song concerns a “two-spirited” First Nations man living on an Anishnabe reservation in Northern Ontario who must navigate between his cultural and sexual identities.

Versions of multiculturalism

Program in hand, I contemplated the differences between Canadian and American versions of multiculturalism as I settled into my room at the Palm Mountain Resort. My immediate neighbours, an inter-racial lesbian couple from nearby San Bernardino, where the recent shootings unfolded like a bad Hollywood movie, chatted excitedly about the Lily Tomlin film Grandma. But when the subject changed to current events, the blonde half of the couple mentioned that her son attended the same shooting range as one of the shooters, Tashfeen Malik. She blamed U.S. President Barack Obama and his “open-door visa policy” for “letting those people in.”

My old friend Paolo’s words rang in my head at the opening weekend gala, where a red carpet full of paparazzi greeted stars like Johnny Depp and Cate Blanchett, who were honoured by the festival.

I tried hanging out with fellow journalists waiting for 10-second sound bites and rapid-fire photos of Hollywood’s finest, but it felt weird. Later, inside the gala dinner, I wondered if it were my Canadian sensibility that stopped me from lining up for photographs with Johnny Depp. As enthusiastic fans stepped up, I watched from the sidelines.

I chatted with some young Czech filmmakers who didn’t have tickets to get in, from the vantage point of the cosier hotel lobby and fireplace. I was briefly reminded of the Hollywood comedy A Night at the Roxbury and the “inside-outside” nightclub, where the real party happens on the edges of the club.

Dividing screens

Later, in an interview with young Anglo-Jordanian director Naji Abu Nowar, whose first feature the Oscar shortlisted Theeb was about the Arab Revolt of 1916 seen through Bedouin eyes, I thought more about invisible dividing screens.

Theeb is the first Arab film shot in the Bedouin dialect, and one that steers clear of stereotypes common in mainstream Arab cinema (not unlike, said the director, “old Hollywood cowboy and Indian films”) as well as Western colonial narratives like Lawrence of Arabia.

The cast were all first time Bedouin actors some of whom were unfamiliar with the whole concept of cinema. At a local screening in the desert, one of the young nieces of a lead actor who meets an untimely death on screen proved inconsolable, until her very much alive uncle was brought forward. She had to be shown the edges of the screen before she was entirely convinced.

In a world where the most interesting stories unfold at the edges, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of what’s real and what is celluloid.

And in a world where mainstream narratives – often more fantasy than reality – still dominate, I think I may be content to remain on the sidelines. At least until a fresh set of protagonists emerge to pierce the screen and show us new horizons.


Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No Fly Zone and is working on a new book about ancient sites in Iraq. She has been reporting from the Middle East for two decades and is also a singer and musician. 

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by Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver

Depending on whom you ask, the actions of Louis Riel, and Dr. Norman Bethune, along with others who lived through difficult times, can be seen as verging on treasonous or justified. Add to that list Mewa Singh.

Outside of Canada’s sizeable two million plus South Asian community, few Canadians will have heard of Singh who is revered as a Che Gueverra-like figure, in particular by Sikhs. A new play, The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson, which opened January 8, is the first major artistic production to re-evaluate a man whom many view as Canada’s forgotten martyr.

In the play, Mewa Singh is placed on the stand to answer for his real life shooting and killing of William Hopkinson, a Canadian immigration official. The incident took place in the same art gallery 101 years ago on October 21, 1914 when it served as the Vancouver’s Provincial Courthouse.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Outside of Canada’s sizeable two million plus South Asian community, few Canadians will have heard of Singh who is revered as a Che Gueverra-like figure.[/quote]

On that morning, Singh walked up to the third floor rotunda and killed Hopkinson with four shots from his revolver. He then handed over his weapon to the authorities and took full responsibility for his act, knowing he would receive capital punishment.

“I shoot. I go to station,” he proclaimed, in his limited English.

Within three months on Jan. 11, 1915, Singh was hung from the gallows in New Westminster. He died at age 33, the same age as Hopkinson.

Lionized by Sikh Canadian community

Despite the violent nature of Singh’s act, he has been lionized by Canada’s Sikh community in the same way Louis Riel has been by the country’s Metis population. Though he is a character written into Canadian history books as an assassin, in the Sikh community he is their version of Tiananmen’s Tank Man, the solitary protester saying no and standing his ground against the machinery of institutionalized repression. 

There are numerous sports and literary events organized annually in his tribute. The dining hall in Vancouver’s Ross Street Sikh temple, the country’s largest gurdwara where India’s Prime Minister Modi stopped by with Stephen Harper for a visit last April, bears his name and iconic image in memorial. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"He stood up in the most difficult of circumstances and follows in the tradition of other Canadian martyrs like Louis Riel.”[/quote]

For playwright Paneet Singh, The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson is a forum to cast light on the murky events that led to the shooting and to reveal the social conditions that made the collision between Singh and Hopkinson unavoidable.

“I have been surrounded by this story since I was a child, when my mother would tell it to me,” said Singh. “Mewa Singh’s name resonates in the South Asian community, but it has been locked out of the mainstream. This play exposes his actions through the framework of the times in which he lived in order to move the story into the 21st century. He stood up in the most difficult of circumstances and follows in the tradition of other Canadian martyrs like Louis Riel.”

Hopkinson and Singh were born and raised in India, and in adulthood, both migrated to Vancouver. Singh left a small village near Amritsar, Punjab to find his fortunes while Hopkinson left his post as a policeman after his first wife died. The Raj in India was beginning its slow fade. Hopkinson had never lived in England and so chose to renew his life in Vancouver. 

But at the turn of the 20th century, Canada’s promise as a new world Gold Mountain came with caveats for non-white immigrants over their European counterparts. The Canadian government had institutionalized racism through legislation like the Chinese Head Tax and the continuous journey clause. The latter was utilized in 1914 in the infamous Komagata Maru incident which was playing out at the same time as the Singh versus Hopkinson duel.

Despite holding very different stations in life, the destinies of Hopkinson and Singh became intimately tied to each other in B.C. Hopkinson’s fluency in Hindi landed him a job as a government agent. His assignment was to harvest information from the Sikh community about their sympathies for Indian independence from British rule. He had a number of active moles in the community burrowing for intelligence.

Singh's legacy reflected in politics today

Hopkinson’s methods were as heavy handed as his agents were clumsy – they shot and killed two Sikhs at the local temple. Hopkinson threatened Mewa Singh to become an informant, or to find himself the next target.

What Hopkinson didn’t anticipate, was that Singh would accept death before turning. Killing Hopkinson would not save Singh, it would only give rise to another Hopkinson. But making a public statement by killing him in the open and by embracing the death penalty would make a statement that resonates to this day.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Neither could have foreseen the modern multicultural Canada their clash would inadvertently help cast.[/quote]

For Sikhs in Canada who were struggling for a foothold in Canada at the time, Singh’s defiance would inspire their push for political equality – an achievement coming 30 years later in 1947 when South Asians and Chinese were granted the right to vote.

Mewa Singh’s singular act echoes still in the disproportionate success of South Asians in Canadian politics – there are 16 MPs of Sikh heritage currently serving in Canada’s Parliament. Had the Chinese community their own version of Mewa Singh, perhaps they too would be better represented at the highest politics levels.

William Hopkinson’s pernicious agenda was a spear foiled by Mewa Singh’s shield. Hopkinson left India seemingly to find his piece of the Cotswolds in the new world. But the new world would not be shaped by the old rules, as he fatefully discovered in his encounter with Mewa Singh.

Neither could have foreseen the modern multicultural Canada their clash would inadvertently help cast. 

For more information on the play click on the link for The Undocumented Trial of William C. Hopkinson.


This piece was was first published in The Globe & Mail. Republished in partnership with the South Asian Post.

 

by Shan Qiao in Toronto

Just weeks before its 40th anniversary one of the three major Chinese daily newspapers in North America has ceased printing in Canada.

The World Journal issued its last edition on Dec. 31, 2015, marking yet another setback for the ailing Chinese ethnic media.

From daily newspapers to TV and radio stations, traditional ethnic media outlets have been fighting to survive under the irrevocable challenges brought on by the rise of social media.

Like other traditional Chinese media, World Journal has been struggling with declining readership and advertising revenues, coupled with increasing labour costs.

Founded by the United Daily News Group in Taiwan on Feb. 12, 1976, World Journal mainly targets readers from the island whose political perspectives are not aligned with Beijing. 

Announcement not a surprise to some 

The closure of the newspaper’s Vancouver and Toronto offices resulted in more than 20 full-time jobs in editorial, translation, graphic design and printing being slashed on New Year’s Day.

The World Journal will keep publishing in the United States; its North American headquarters in New York, along with its west coast bureaus in Los Angeles and San Francisco will remain in tact.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s obvious that traditional media is a dying business, giving up the market to new media and free pickup weekly newspapers.”[/quote]
 
Jiansheng Ge, a senior reporter who has been working for the newspaper in Toronto for over eight years after emigrating from Taiwan, was not shocked by the abrupt announcement the newspaper’s CEO made earlier in December.  

He says he knew the end was coming, he just didn’t know when.
 
“It’s obvious that traditional media is a dying business, giving up the market to new media and free pickup weekly newspapers,” he laments.

According to Ge people are joining the battlefield to publish free weekly newspapers without paying enough attention to quality because it’s a legitimate and easy investment for them. 

Examining why the newspaper folded
 
Joseph Lau, the founding president of Toronto’s Chinese Media Professionals Association, appealed on WeChat, a popular Chinese social media app with over one billion users, to buy the World Journal’s last edition on Dec. 31 to show support. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Traditional media has a weakness, from my perspective, which is a ‘one-way’ communication."[/quote]

“Media colleagues should examine why the business is not doing well,” he says. “Traditional media has a weakness, from my perspective, which is a ‘one-way’ communication. You won’t be able to trace back your readers’ data, not like new media that grabs users’ information for its marketing purpose.”  

He adds that World Journal publishing electronically online for some time was also part of its downfall. 

“This is suicidal and it kills the hardcopy edition, but it’s the trend nobody in the business can avoid,” Lau says. 

“I believe news always needs content regardless what the carrier is, either on paper or on a smart phone. Paper media’s readership will be less and less, losing to other carriers. However, we are not a fully digital age yet. In the coming 10 years, paper media still has some space to survive.” 

He adds, with a laugh, that his own online TV news channel, www.torontotv.net, has been operating since 2003 and is still “surviving”. 

Finding work for former ethnic media 

After losing their jobs in ethnic media, reporters can find it difficult to find work. They often find themselves using transferable skills to land work in other fields. 

A popular career alternative is working as a politician’s constituency assistant. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Media professionals often make great hires for both public and private sectors."[/quote]

Two reporters, who preferred to remain unnamed, who previously worked at OMNI TV found jobs at the riding offices of Conservative member of Parliament (MP) Bob Saroya and Liberal MP Shaun Chen after Rogers cut most of its ethnic programming last year, while a former reporter for the World Journal started working for Liberal MP Arnold Chan months before the newspaper announced its closure. 

Miriam Ku, a former World Journal reporter who left journalism several years ago in pursuit of a career in politics has since worked as an assistant for a municipal councillor and is now an outreach adviser for Ontario’s Conservative party leader, Patrick Brown. 

Wilson Chan, who is Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne’s communication adviser, previously worked as Editor-in-Chief of a Chinese daily newspaper called Today Daily News that was rebranded to Today Commercial News after he left. 

“Media professionals often make great hires for both public and private sectors, whether it could be working for a politician, an NGO (non-governmental organization) or a public relation firm,” says Ku, adding that media professionals’ vast knowledge on current affairs, strong community networks and effective audience-focused writing talents are useful when seeking jobs.

Some reporters work as licenced interpreters in the community, hospitals or courtrooms. Others become part-time realtors serving the particularly property-hungry Chinese community, and often, their part-time income easily supersedes their humble reporter’s salary. 

As for Ge, he had already planned something years before the closure announcement was made. 

He is a seasonal Chinese language teacher working at the elementary school level for the Toronto District School Board. Although his working hours are not enough right now, he is confident and wants to pursue this path, getting more training to become a full-time teacher in a more stable and sustainable job environment.

{module NCM Blurb}

Monday, 21 December 2015 00:15

Winter Solstice Rituals Break New Ground

Written by

by Hadani Ditmars in Vancouver, British Columbia

As a Vancouverite, I have always been particularly obsessed with winter solstice. I blame this on Seasonal Affective Disorder and the fact that, in addition to our incredibly short winter days (we are at a higher latitude than Toronto), we also suffer from a profound lack of sunshine this time of year.

It often requires Herculean efforts to just get out of bed in December, and its a time of year when I feel a profound kinship with the black bears of British Columbia, who, unlike working humans, have long surrendered to winter hibernation, dreaming of spring time berries.

I have witnessed solstice rituals around the world. My favourite was in IrelandNewgrange (the seat of the Fairy Kingdom) where every year on the solstice, a shaft of light illuminates an underground chamber with unfailing accuracy.

Happily, it seems that locally there is a new movement afoot to reinterpret rituals about the coming of the light, from many different cultural communities. While some  like the Goh Ballet’s Nutcracker or Early Music Vancouvers recreation of 17th Century German Yuletide  celebrate established traditions, others are breaking new ground.

Deep listening

My first encounter was with Music on Mains concert, entitled Music for the Winter Solstice. While firmly based in a Western contemporary classical music tradition featuring culturally Christian composers, the evening was a secular exploration of the meaning of Solstice.

The emphasis was on a sense of meditative stillness and contemplation – something that came quite naturally to the event where a group of music lovers forsook shopping mall chaos to sit together in an intimate space and practice the art of deep listening. Composer in residence, Caroline Shaw, even offered a simple carol for the assembled audience to sing together.

Poetry by the late Robin Blaser as well as Colin Browne was offset by seven compositions ranging from Schubert to Alfredo Santa Ana (whose A Short Song for the Longest Night of the Year was a highlight).  Couloir Duo Ariel Barnes (on cello) and Heidi Krutzen (on harp) playing (with pre-programmed electroacoustics) James Maxwells Serere offered a compelling musical exploration of seasonal sentiment that took listeners on a contemplative journey from darkness to light and back again.

If the concert celebrated the sacred art of slowing down, the serenity of the evening prepared me well for the sparkle of an inter-faith Hanukkah party two days later.

Organized by local Reform Rabbi David Mivasair, it was held at a Palestinian restaurant called Tamams, whose owner hails from Jerusalem, but has been battling Israeli courts to keep her residency. The party was partly a fundraiser for her legal costs, but was mainly a lovely celebration of the Hanukkah traditions of miraculous light in the midst of darkness, not to mention Canadian multiculturalism.

Inter-faith connections

I arrived to find a packed restaurant of celebrants  including Palestinian Christians, Pakistani Muslims and Israelis – listening to Rabbi Mivasair sing Hanukkah songs, illuminated by dozens of candles and menorahs in the window of Tamams.

I found some space at a table and sat down to a Palestinian feast that included a delicious kind of Arabized latke. My dining companions included a South Asian Sufi professor of classical Arabic and a Jewish musician, who as it turned out, were both from Chicago.

The whole event had an appropriate air of Levantine cosmopolitanism, as befits a region where separation walls are an historical anomaly, and where a mercantile culture meant many interfaith social connections.

I remembered stories from my great-grandparents village in the Bekkah Valley of how holiday rituals were shared by Muslims and Christians alike  from midnight mass to Eid-il-Fitr. I remembered, too, stories from Palestine of friends in Gaza with Jewish grandmothers, of pre-1948 inter-marriage and of current movements like the Jerusalem Peacemakers who pray and celebrate holidays together.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]...how wonderful it was that this kind of gathering was so effortless and so possible in Canada – a place with no checkpoints or occupying soldiers or religion stamped into ones passport.[/quote]

When I lived in Jerusalems old city in 1994, writing for the first post Oslo accord joint Israeli/Palestinian monthly magazine (the New Middle East), I always took a three-day weekend, listening to the hypnotic Friday prayers at al-Aqsa mosque, accepting offers of Shabbat dinners, and going to mass on Sundays.  With a mixed faith, mixed race background, Ive never liked to limit my options. So this Hanukkah party was perfect.

Small rituals

Before I had a chance to count my blessings and to consider how wonderful it was that this kind of gathering was so effortless and so possible in Canada – a place with no checkpoints or occupying soldiers or religion stamped into ones passport  I was swept up in the celebration.

I sang some songs with the Jewish musician from Chicago –  La Vie En Rose  pour la francophonie  Besame Mucho  just because  and eventually lead the room in a rousing rendition of Hava Nagila. Next on the program was a little group belly dancing to the music of Marcel Khalife.

In a slightly surreal moment, I ended up doing Arabic arabesques with a gay Israeli/English couple (Shai and Nigel) who entertained me with stories of a recent trip to Tokyo for a square dancing convention (yes, it is big in Japan!)

The evening ended with a traditional game of dreidel (which Tamam won!)

I was lucky to receive a special Hanukkah blessing from Rabbi Mivasair  a prayer in Hebrew and one in English – keep your light going strong, even when darkness surrounds you.

It is comforting to know that in these dark days of winter, and even darker days of global violence, there are small rituals we can enact together that still have the power to illuminate from within.


Hadani Ditmars is the author of Dancing in the No-Fly Zone: a Woman's Journey Through Iraq, was a past editor at New Internationalist, and has been reporting from Africa and the Middle East for two decades. 

{module NCM Blurb}

by Aziza Hirsi in Toronto 

In July 2015, three sisters – Ilhan, Hodan and Ayan Ibrahim – launched Qurtuba Publishing House, an Islamic publishing company based out of Ottawa. 

The company is committed to reclaiming the stories and perspectives of Muslims and engaging in the sharing of knowledge for both Muslims and non-Muslims. 

“[We want to] help shift the narrative by producing relevant content on issues Muslims are facing today in the contemporary context and [provide] practical solutions on how to overcome these problems,” says Ilhan, the CEO of Qurtuba Publishing House. 

Health and wellness for Muslims 

One of the areas that Qurtuba is focusing on with its work is health and wellness in the Muslim community. 

Ayan, the managing editor and co-founder, is preparing to publish her book, The Health Conscious Muslim: One Muslim Woman’s Journey of Navigating the World of Health and Fitness, which draws on her experiences to become healthy and active. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Especially for Muslim women ... we all think about it, [but a healthy lifestyle] is not accessible to us.[/quote]

“Coming from a Somali background, our cultural foods are very much based in high fats, high sodium, high sugar content fat,” says Ayan, who works as a nurse and draws on her medical experiences. “We have to eat it in moderation.” 

“Looking from a health standpoint, we are consuming a lot of unhealthy food in our cultural food,” she adds. “A lot of Somali people and Muslim people are feeling the consequences of that.”

“We have a high rate of diabetes, [the risk of having a] stroke is also prevalent in our community. And [there are many who] are overweight.” 

A major part of the problem with accessing such information is the lack of literature from minority voices. 

“Health isn’t at the forefront for Muslims,” Ayan explains. “I think, especially for Muslim women, we dream about it, we all think about it, [but a healthy lifestyle] is not accessible to us.” 

Many echo similar thoughts.

“I want to lead a healthy lifestyle,” says Iman Togone, a student at the University of Toronto. “But I don’t know where to begin. It’s very difficult to find healthy and affordable alternatives to junk or fatty food.” 

Togone also express concern about finding a way to balance her love for traditional Somali food with a healthy lifestyle.

“Having a book written by someone like me would help me overcome other barriers as well, such as finding a women’s gym to exercise or one that has women’s hours that are convenient.” 

Reenas Mohammed, a second year student at the University of Toronto, says it’s difficult to lead a healthy lifestyle when your family does not. 

“Being healthy is critical especially as you get older,” Mohammed says. “Being able to look to someone like me who is able to break down the steps to being healthy is a significant inspiration.” 

Non-western perspectives 

For the founders of Qurtuba Publishing, the lack of educational material on non-western perspectives is another area of concern. 

“We love to learn, however, the information we wanted wasn’t available,” Hodan, the company’s marketing manager, says. 

“I studied political science and international relations and – as much as I love western thought – … there was such a lack of content [on the…] Islamic perspective.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]"[A]s much as I love western thought – … there was such a lack of content [on the…] Islamic perspective.[/quote]

“Why aren’t there more books catering to contemporary Muslim intellectual needs?” Hodan asks. “And why isn’t there a diversity of topics … that [address] the contemporary needs of Muslims?”  

These same questions and concerns may have spurred the establishment of Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist, as well as other religious and Islamic, publishing companies. In this regard, Qurtuba Publishing House is not necessarily unique, but where the company aims to go further is its commitment to share knowledge. 

“What makes us different from other publishing houses is that we provide practicality of those books,” Ilhan explains. 

“We are hoping to take our books that we are producing and actually create workshops to help people develop those tools and those skills to overcome those problems they may be facing in their families, in their personal lives, in their spirituality, [and] in their communities.” 

Qurtuba's vision was what first caught Mohammed's attention when she found out about the publishing house. 

“I was impressed with their commitment to helping Muslims grapple with modern day problems like debt, conflicts with parents and self development,” she says. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We didn’t start [this] company to make money.”[/quote]

Solving a social problem

Where many other publishing companies have been established solely for profit, Qurtuba was established out of a commitment to social justice.

“Being someone who comes from an immigrant community or marginalized or minority community, we just naturally have an affinity with that type of thinking,” Hodan explains.

“We didn’t start [this] company to make money,” she says. “We wanted to solve a social problem which was how do we help create more economic resilience in Muslim communities?”

“How do we start supporting a new narrative?” Hodan continues. “How do we contribute constructively to mainstream discussions [as well as] how Muslims think about themselves [and] how other people who are non-Muslims think about us?”

{module NCM Blurb}

New Canadian Media provides nonpartisan news and views representing all Canadian immigrant communities. As part of this endeavour, we re-publish aggregated content from various ethnic media publishers in Canada in an effort to raise the profile of news and commentary from an immigrant perspective. New Canadian Media, however, does not guarantee the accuracy of or endorse the views and opinions contained in content from such other sites. The views expressed on this site are those of the individual writers and commentators, and not necessarily those of New Canadian Media. Copyright © 2019 All rights reserved