by Melissa Shaw in Vancouver
As the number of first generation Italian immigrants in Vancouver decreases, the city’s Italian Cultural Centre – Il Centro – is planning for a future led by successive generations with support from the non-Italian community.
Il Centro is developing a revitalization plan to offer new public facilities and services to community members.
As part of this project, the centre has started to engage in a community consultation process. About 250 people participated in the Il Centro Ideas Fair in October, which was intended to gather input from the public for future construction on the four and a half acre property.
Mauro Vescera, executive director for Il Centro, says the revitalization of the 38-year-old centre will transform it from a cultural centre into a community centre by adding various amenities such as a cinema, theatre, daycare, exhibit space and commercial space, as well as room to expand the Westside Montessori Academy located on the property.
The project’s architecture and development team are working on drawings to present back to the organization’s members for a vote in April or May of 2016, Vescera explains.
Some of II Centro’s older members are, “quite attached to the building” he says, adding, “we’ve got three buildings here, two of them are kinda ready to go.”
“At this time I can’t say yes it will be knocked down, or no it won’t be knocked down. It’s likely some of it will go down, but we’re not sure which pieces and when, because it’ll be a phased project,” Vescera explains.
He says the city is supportive of the project.
“This part of East Vancouver is a little bit underserved and they certainly love the idea of a non-profit organization building something for the community."
Understanding the new generation
Anna Terrana, Il Centro’s former vice-president and the president and executive director of the Italian Cultural Centre Society from 1980 to 1993, says that the centre has a history.
“I don’t agree with destroying anything of what has been built before,” she says.
“They seem not to want to deal with the past and it’s a mistake because without the past you cannot build the future and they will lose the support of many people in the community.”
Terrana encourages young people to have their say in what they would like to see included in the centre. So far, she is on board with a lot of the new ideas for the renewal.
She makes note of the Italian Cultural Institute, which offered cultural events and language courses in Vancouver, closing last year.
“The Italian government decided that they were going to get rid of it unfortunately so [Il Centro] is the only entity inside [Vancouver] that can continue with our culture.”
Gabriella Luongo teaches Italian classes and runs a youth group at the centre. She says expanding the opportunities for youth to volunteer beyond cultural activities has helped keep them engaged with the centre.
One of these initiatives includes youth working with the City of Vancouver Park Board on the Still Creek rehabilitation and enhancement project. The creek runs through the centre’s property and youth volunteers cleared debris from its banks to improve water flow.
Luongo says Il Centro has also begun hosting a farmers’ market on every third Friday of the month called MERCATO: Italian Market. In 2014, it broke ground on a community garden at Beaconsfield Park.
“We’re more than just maybe strictly cultural, but we’re also active in the community and I think that entices people,” she says.
Remaining connected to Italian roots
In 2014, Il Centro partnered with the organizers of Italian Day on the Drive to support a motion from Vancouver city councillor Melissa De Genova to officially designate the nearby Commercial Drive area as “Little Italy”.
Council approved the motion, but Vescera says a community consultation is being conducted. He expects the area to be formally recognized as “Little Italy” during Italian Day on the Drive, which is held in June to celebrate Italian Heritage Month.
Luongo says the centre continues to provide support for new Italian immigrants including hosting a dinner on Dec. 23.
“A lot of them actually become our teachers at work because they were teachers in Italy, but here [their] qualifications aren’t recognized so they’ve been working with the Italian language classes.”
Looking to the future, Vescera says the centre would form an agreement with the project’s developer, Bosa Properties, to sell a portion of the 200 to 400 apartment units in the marketplace to cover construction costs; the remainder would generate revenue for the centre.
Il Centro would apply for government grants to pay for amenities such as gymnasiums, theatres and cinemas. He says loans would cover the rest of the costs and would be repaid using funds from the centre’s catering business, amenities, school and property rentals.
“It has to make sense so that five or 10 years from now our goal is that the Italian Cultural Centre will be financially sustainable, culturally vibrant and engaged with the community,” he says.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
BRITISH Columbia is moving to strengthen and diversify trade in Asian markets in order to grow the economy. Through a new Asia trade strategy, the Province will be opening trade and investment representative offices in Southeast Asia, developing a new strategy for India and expanding its activities in mid-size Chinese cities. Through the actions identified […]
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THE Province announced on Wednesday that it is taking a number of steps to prepare for the arrival, resettlement and integration of refugees in B.C. Supported by $500,000 through the $1 million Refugee Readiness Fund, the government will fund five Refugee Response Teams to proactively plan for the settlement of refugees in their communities. […]
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by Belén Febres-Cordero in Vancouver
Immigrants from Asia are three to 12 times more likely to get hepatitis B than their Canadian-born counterparts, says a new public education campaign launched by S.U.C.C.E.S.S., an immigrant-serving organization in British Columbia.
Dr. Eric Yoshida, professor of medicine at the University of British Columbia and head of the division of gastroenterology at the Vancouver General Hospital, explains that the high prevalence of the hepatitis B virus (HBV) among newcomers can be attributed to mother-to-child transmissions at birth or early childhood in countries where infection rates are high, and where vaccination is uncommon.
Infection rates are also impacted by the lack of systematic testing and treatment for new immigrants arriving to the country, as well as high costs of medications, lack of awareness, and difficulty accessing medical care.
“I know many HBV carriers who ignore the infection because they can’t find a stable doctor or a doctor who speaks their language,” says T.H., who migrated to Canada from Taiwan when he was 12 years old and is an HBV carrier.
Another difficulty he recognizes is that the resources available are mostly provided in English, or are too technical.
Urgent need for education
Aiming to reduce the barriers that newcomers may face when accessing these resources, S.U.C.C.E.S.S. carried out the Let’s Talk About B: Hepatitis B (HBV) Public Education Program.
“We recognized the urgent need for the program after conducting 1,000 surveys among different groups, through which we discovered that most people don’t know much about hepatitis B,” explains Queenie Choo, CEO of S.U.C.C.E.S.S.
Financed by a grant of the provincial government, S.U.C.C.E.S.S conducted 68 educational workshops and participated in 105 community and outreach events to raise awareness about the risks, prevention, diagnosis, treatment options, and self-management tools of hepatitis B among the general public and Asian immigrants in particular.
It reached almost 30,000 individuals of all ages among Chinese, Korean, Filipino and South Asian communities in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland.
“Every community is unique and each one requires different information. The resources available need to adapt to each population so that people are more likely to engage with them,” says Alan Huang, S.U.C.C.E.S.S. HBV program manager.
“For this reason, the materials we created were culturally appropriate,” he adds. The workshops were given by facilitators who spoke the language of the communities they focused on, were provided in places where these populations usually congregate, and addressed cultural beliefs that could prevent people from getting involved.
Huang also says that they focused on Asian populations because they tend to have a higher risk of getting hepatitis B. There are approximately 60,000 to 100,000 chronic carriers in B.C. Near 70 per cent of them are immigrants, and among those, over 85 per cent are of Asian descent.
Dr. Yoshida explains that while several factors increase immigrants’ risks of getting infected, HBV is also prevalent in other regions of the world. T. H. considers that educational programs such as Let’s Talk About B “can raise awareness and help people understand that HBV is not just an immigrant disease, but something we should all be aware of and encourage people around us to get tested.”
According to a S.U.C.C.E.S.S. press release, around 75 per cent of the participants discussed HBV with their primary care providers and/or got screened. The organization continues engaging community-based organizations and public health officials to promote and deliver health campaigns among other populations across Canada in the future.
Hepatitis B (HBV) is a type of liver disease caused by a virus. Billie Potkonjak, director of health promotion and patient services of the Canadian Liver Foundation, explains that one of the main risks of HBV is that if it is not diagnosed and treated on time, it can increase patients’ chances of developing liver cancer and other chronic conditions, such as cirrhosis.
However, HBV is a “silent killer,” according to Choo. Dr. Jessica Chan, family physician and chair of the Hepatitis Medical Advisory Committee for S.U.C.C.E.S.S., says that the condition is likely to go undiagnosed because symptoms do not appear immediately.
HBV is diagnosed through a simple blood test that can be performed for free at family doctors’ offices and walk-in clinics. Nevertheless, as Dr. Chan points out, unless people specifically tell their doctor that they want to be tested, physicians will assume that somebody else has already performed the screening.
Hence, Potkonjak highlights that “it is extremely important to talk to your doctor, so that they can diagnose the disease if you have it, and prescribe appropriate medication to stop the virus from destroying your liver.”
Stigma can prevent people from seeking appropriate care. “HBV is somewhat of an unknown disease in Canada. It is not a topic I like to discuss openly, in fear of being rejected,” says T.H.
One of the myths around HBV is related to its transmission. Dr. Chan explains that although hepatitis B can also be transmitted by blood or body fluids, the majority of people worldwide get infected during childhood or infancy.
Dr. Yoshida adds that it cannot be transmitted through food, coughing, or casual contact. “It is not contracted because you had lunch with somebody or sat on a crowded bus.”
The difference between hepatitis A, B, and C may also be unknown to the general public.
Fear of deportation is present among immigrants, but Canada does not deport people because of the disease, and individuals should not be discriminated based on health status in the country, explains Dr. Yoshida.
A person who migrated from Hong Kong and has lived with HBV for 35 years recommends people to engage with projects such as the Let’s Talk About B Program and the Living with Liver Disease Program offered in different provinces by the Canadian Liver Foundation.
“It is important to stay positive and get in charge of your own health,” he says. “Don’t be afraid of talking to your doctor, getting tested, and receiving treatment if you need it. There is nothing to be ashamed of, and this can save your life.”
RANDEEP Sarai, MP for Surrey Centre, after meeting with the Sikh Societies of British Columbia (SSBC) over the weekend, after the federal government released its refugee plan, said: “The amount of support that the community is generating is encouraging.” The assembly of community leaders created a website – www.BCSikhs.com – which provides updates on the […]
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by Deanna Cheng in Vancouver
Karate practitioners from Saskatchewan and Quebec came to B.C. recently to compete at the Sato Cup Invitational Karate Tournament on Nov. 14.
Some competitors traveled from outside the country to test their skills. They came from places such as Japan, India, Grand Cayman Island and the Philippines.
They also came to pay respect to the tournament's namesake, sensei Akira Sato.
A karate master who often travels to teach at other dojos, Sato is an eighth-degree black belt who came to Canada in 1970. He founded his dojo in Vancouver with affiliated dojos across North, Central and South America.
Amid the cheering and sportsmanship, Vancouver showed off some of its local talents.
Darbyanh Lee Heenan, 16
Dojo: Odokan Kingsway Shito-Ryu Karate Club
This half-British, half-Chinese karate-ka has been training since she was eight years old. In her fourth year with the B.C. team, Darbyanh Lee Heenan uses karate to release the stress from homework and exams. "Since, in grade 11, grades really count."
The martial art instills a sense of discipline and calms her hyper personality.
Heenan's karate goal is to win gold at Karate Canada national championships in both free sparring and kata, a series of forms, techniques and transitions.
With school, she'd like to study dentistry, which is something she was interested in since she was a little girl.
"I really liked my dentist and saw him as an inspiration."
Evan Kwong, 19
Dojo: Vancouver Shito-Ryu
Evan Kwong has been with the B.C. team for the last five years and is on the national team roster.
The University of British Columbia (UBC) student finds karate helps develop him into a well-rounded person. "When I was younger, my biggest hurdle was difficulty getting onto the kumite (sparring) team. It was a big roster."
Going into a new division now (age 18 to 20), he's debating whether to take some time off to train for the international stage or head straight into it. When faced with better opponents, he's driven to beat them.
Kwong wants to medal at the Pan-American Karate Championships one day.
Nia Laos-Loo, 19
Dojos: Burnaby Mountain Karate, Nekkei Karate
This pink-tip-haired fireball was introduced to karate by her younger sister. "It was something to do together and my sister Claudia, and I have become best friends. She's my role model."
Even though Nia Laos-Loo has been training for two years, she's currently part of the B.C. squad.
"Karate is a chance for me to express myself. Before, I wasn't expressive. I wasn't sporty either."
The Simon Fraser University student is studying mechatronic in engineering and when she graduates, she wants to invent new things in software and mechanical engineering.
Dheva Setiaputra, 26
Dojo: University of British Columbia Karate Club
Dheva Setiaputra has been practising karate for the last two years. Before karate, he studied kendo, the Japanese martial art of the katana.
Karate makes him strive to be better. "You can tell when you improve."
The training mentality spreads to the rest of his life.
Setiaputra said respect is paramount within the martial art culture. "To competitors, colleagues. Everybody. You don't trash-talk anyone."
Arriving from Indonesia in 2000, Setiaputra is working on his PhD in biochemistry at UBC.
Re-published in partnership with Asian Pacific Post.
by Simran Singh in Vancouver
Indo-Canadian representation in Canada’s new government goes beyond the cabinet ministers Prime Minister Justin Trudeau introduced to the country at his swearing-in ceremony earlier this month.
In what he called “a cabinet that looks like Canada,” 15 of Trudeau’s 30 ministers are women, two are aboriginal, two have disabilities and four are Indo-Canadian Sikhs.
The Indo-Canadian representation of Trudeau’s cabinet was noted around the nation and internationally. From India’s Hindustan Times to New Zealand’s Indian Weekender, global news media showcased Canada’s newly appointed Indian cabinet ministers.
A total of 23 Indo-Canadian representatives were elected into parliament in the recent election, an astounding increase compared to the nine Indo-Canadians elected in 2011.
Moreover, 20 of the Indo-Canadian MPs speak Punjabi, making it the third most-spoken language in Canada’s House of Commons after English and French.
Punjab: A political hotbed
Although this year’s Canadian cabinet announcement appeared to draw a lot of attention to Indo-Canadians’ representation in politics, their involvement has remained steadfast in all levels of government across the nation.
Most Indo-Canadian politicians originate from the northern Indian state of Punjab, which has a rich, politically, fuelled history. Their political inclination is embedded in their cultural background and heritage.
“The first thing you have to look at is that Indo-Canadian politicians are mostly Sikhs and [they are] a small, yet highly motivated, religious sect that developed a kind of reformation movement,” explains Shinder Purewal, a professor of political science at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in Surrey, B.C.
Purewal adds that the geographical positioning of Punjab in India has made it a political hotbed for centuries.
“Every invader from Alexander the Great down to the Ahmad Shah Abdali came through the Punjab,” explains Purewal. “So you are dealing with a group of people that never led any kind of comfortable lifestyle. They were constantly invaded. It moulded that spirit of trying to resist oppression and exploitation and that kind of unity created is highlighted [in the] Sikh diaspora.”
Gradual political participation in Canada
That sense of unity remained for Punjabis when they first settled in British Columbia in 1903.
In 1907, the province of B.C. disenfranchised not only Punjabis, but all of the South Asian diaspora. They were not allowed to vote in federal elections or participate in politics.
After 40 years, the voting restrictions against South Asians were lifted in 1947, but their political involvement developed slowly.
“The numbers didn’t warrant for [Indo-Canadians] to actually be successful at either provincial levels or federal levels,” says Purewal. “But they did work for the parties mostly as volunteers and also raising funds. They were doing this from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s onward.”
Although political participation was gradual, Indo-Canadians were motivated and outspoken on many issues impacting their communities.
Ujjal Dosanjh, the first Indo-Canadian provincial premier and a former Liberal federal cabinet minister, began his community activism by advocating for the wellbeing of B.C. farmworkers.
Many of these workers were South Asian and Chinese immigrants, who were being underpaid and mistreated.
Like Dosanjh, Raj Chouhan, a long-time member of legislature in B.C., explains how he was driven by advocacy for farmworkers during his early days in Canada.
“My activism started almost right away. When I came to Canada, I saw people working in the farms – they were treated so badly,” says Chouhan. In 1980, after speaking out on the issue, he became the founding president of the Canadian Farmworkers Union.
Inspiring the next generation
Both Chouhan and Dosanjh point to the political culture of India as a nation playing a large role in motivating early Indo-Canadian politicians.
“I had this sense of pride in our history and our civilization, and in the morals and values of the independence movement,” Dosanjh recalls. “There was politics all around as I was growing up.”
India’s democratic system is the largest in the world. It fosters a feeling of responsibility to get politically involved amongst Canada’s South Asian diaspora.
“[Politics in India] is part of life, it’s like a second nature,” Dosanjh says. “It is a very comfortable position for [Indians] to be in when they come to Canada – to be part of the political system.”
That political voice has grown stronger as the South Asian representation in Canada’s highest level of government serves as inspiration for the next generation of young Indo-Canadians.
But Dosanjh highlights that no matter who you are, politics is about believing in yourself and your values.
“You don’t do it for glory. I did it because I believed in it […] Winning or losing isn’t the issue. In the end you have to look at yourself in the mirror and see if you have been true to yourself,” he says.
“I would say to young people, if you believe Canada can be a better place, and you want to make it better, go into politics.”
by Deanna Cheng in Vancouver
An advocate for Vancouver’s Chinatown has started a petition against rezoning a central block in the district because she says it would cost the site its heritage designation and distinct character.
Nicole So, a graduate of the University of British Columbia (UBC), says the rezoning of the 105 Keefer site from a historic area to a development district doesn’t create space for cross-cultural, intergenerational experiences.
The 23-year-old advocate says the revised 105 Keefer plan is what “everyone” doesn’t want.
The revised rezoning application is for a 13-storey building by the Beedie Development Group that includes 127 residential units and 25 seniors social housing units on the second floor. It also has commercial space on the ground floor.
The petition asks for more senior housing, as well as more community and cultural spaces. So aims to have at least 1,000 signatures e-mailed to the City of Vancouver by Dec. 1.
The 14-page city document stated most participants want a “real” community and not something created solely for the benefit of tourists and visitors.
“There was frequent mention of the importance of inclusiveness of Chinatown – for Chinese of various linguistic and cultural backgrounds as well as non-Chinese speakers, for young and old,” states the report.
The report showed community members wanted a sense of festivity in Chinatown and to make it a “cool” place to visit, especially for youth.
So mentions the Nikkei National Museum and Cultural Centre in Burnaby as an ideal example of culturally sensitive space. The centre focuses on preserving and promoting Japanese Canadian culture.
Not interested in another ‘yuppie’ area
Houtan Rafii, vice-president of residential development at Beedie Living (the home-building division of Beedie Development Group), said in an e-mailed statement that the company would work with the city on expanding and enhancing the nearby Memorial Plaza, a space with a monument for Chinese Canadian soldiers who represented Canada in past wars.
The statement said many Chinatown stakeholders received the amendments Beedie Living made favourably.
“One amendment in particular that is resonating positively with people is our voluntary inclusion of 25 seniors’ homes, which will be a $7 million asset to Chinatown and represent 20 per cent of the entire building,” Rafii said.
The City of Vancouver said in an e-mail to New Canadian Media that an increase in the building’s height from 90 feet to a maximum of 120 feet to support public benefits including heritage, cultural, affordable and social housing projects is under consideration.
The city encourages concerned individuals to provide feedback by early January.
A fading Chinatown
Toronto realtor Vivian Kim visited Vancouver in July for four days and wrote to someone in a Facebook group, “You must eat the garlic wings at Phnom Penh in Gastown!”
Phnom Penh, a well-known Cambodian-Vietnamese restaurant, is actually located in Chinatown.
“In my memory, Gastown and Chinatown all melded into the same kind of look,” recalls 33-year-old Kim during a phone interview.
“It didn’t jump out to me as a big Chinatown,” she adds.
Kim says in comparison Toronto has a handful of Chinatowns with distinct neighbourhoods. She describes the one downtown as having an abundance of Chinese signage in red and gold, outdoor food markets and local mom and pop businesses.
Susanna Ng, co-owner of New Town Bakery & Restaurant in Vancouver’s Chinatown, says people often complain about Chinese businesses closing down and moving out due to changing economy and residents.
From her perspective though, business is good. She says her clientele tends to be more Caucasians and young people. “[I] don’t see many old people now. They’re in nursing homes or passed away.”
As Chinese business owners are getting older, they are retiring, Ng adds. “Their kids, the second generation, don’t want to take over the place. They sell it instead, so no more local businesses.”
Ng even struggles to find replacements for her restaurant staff, having had two cooks who retired recently. “In the Chinese newspapers, every time I open [them], the ads for ‘cooks wanted’ grow bigger and bigger. This is what I have to fight with.”
While the past fades away, a new Chinatown in Vancouver is being rebuilt and young Chinese students are eager to be part of the vision.
International student Jane Jing Yi Wu is studying visual arts at UBC and she is working on a blueprint for the Keefer block.
The 22-year-old Chinese national pulls ideas from her home, the China she knows. Wu wants to incorporate space for community art, family-oriented nightlife and food markets.
When Wu first came to Vancouver three years ago, she was neutral about Chinatown. After learning about Chinatown’s history in an Asian migration course, Wu started to care more.
Walking through the area, she thought of how the Chinese people paid the head tax, fought for their rights and survived in a new country years ago.
She said that even though she’s an “outsider”, she wants the city to know that she cares.
“I’m not Canadian, but I feel it’s time for us to do something for [future Chinese migrants].”
Editor's Note: This article has been updated from the original published version which incorrectly reported Beedie Living was working with the city to expand and enhance the 105 Keefer site instead of the nearby Memorial Plaza.
THE B.C. Liberal government permitted the professional association governing B.C. veterinarians to discriminate against South Asian professionals for over a decade by providing it with an emergency indemnity, say the New Democrats. “A 10-year-long battle against institutional racism was dragged out because the Liberal government was underwriting the veterinarians association, which allowed it to persist with […]
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THE South Asian contribution to the province’s and the country’s shared history will be on permanent display in the B.C. legislature after Wednesday’s announcement by Premier Christy Clark that an historically symbolic flag would be installed inside the Parliament Buildings. The 1874 version of the Red Ensign flag is one of the first Canadian flags […]
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-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit