New Canadian Media

by Carlos Tello (@SegunDoviaje) in Vancouver, British Columbia

Juliana Forero still remembers the exact place, time and date when she learned about Paola Murillo’s dream of connecting Vancouver’s Latin community with the rest of the city. It was at a Tim Hortons coffee shop, an hour before midnight, on December 13, 2008.

That night, Murillo told Forero that she wanted to create a Latin plaza in Vancouver – a place where Latinos could showcase their culture, do business with other Vancouverites and network.

“We talked about it all night,” says Forero. “And we started working on it the following day.”

In Latin America, plazas are places where people spend their free time. Kids play with each other, and adults relax, get some fresh air and engage in conversations. Due to their nature, plazas also attract countless artists and vendors. It is not uncommon to see music players, painters and itinerant sellers. Murillo’s aim was to recreate that atmosphere in Vancouver.

“Carnaval del Sol is a space that allows us to help artists, vendors and entrepreneurs get themselves known. It also allows us Latinos to be seen, to show that we exist.” - Paola Murillo

Latincouver, a non-profit dedicated to bring together Latin Americans living in Vancouver with other groups, was the result of Forero’s and Murillo’s late-night conversation. By hosting social and cultural events, as well as business networking activities, Latincouver has become a bridge that unites Latinos and non-Latinos.

One of Latincouver’s main events is the Carnaval del Sol, where the dream of the Latin plaza comes to life. The Carnaval is a massive, two-day annual event that allows visitors to experience Latin culture, arts, food and music. Last year’s event attracted 100,000 Vancouverites.

“Carnaval del Sol is a space that allows us to help artists, vendors and entrepreneurs get themselves known,” Murillo explains. “It also allows us Latinos to be seen, to show that we exist.”

This year, the carnival will be held on July 11 and 12 at Concord Pacific Place in downtown Vancouver. It will feature artistic performances, sports tournaments, children’s activities and more than 70 food vendors. 

Building the dream

Murillo left Colombia when she was 16 years old. Fascinated with culture since early childhood, she wanted to find a multicultural city she could call home.

After spending four years in Paris, 10 in Kentucky and five months in Montreal, Murillo arrived in Vancouver and realized it was the place she had been looking for all those years.

“I always used to say that I wanted to live in a city where people spoke tons of different languages,” she says. “But not even in my wildest dreams I could envision a place as multicultural as Vancouver.”

After settling in the city, she started working in human resources. That led her to learn how hard it could be for Latin immigrants to re-attain their professional status after arriving in Vancouver.

“Often, when I recommended a Latin candidate, people would tell me: ‘This person doesn’t speak English,’ or: ‘This person is working as a waiter, he’s not a professional,’” Murillo recalls. “It was really hard to validate their credentials.”

According to Murillo, something else working against Latinos living in Vancouver was the absence of a strong, integrated Latin community.

“I would go to consulates and wait hours to get an appointment. Sometimes when people saw me they would say: ‘there goes another crazy person trying to rally people together.’” - Paola Murillo

Dwelling on these issues, she came up with the idea of the Latin plaza – a place where Latinos could get together, showcase their culture and professional capabilities, and present themselves to the city.

Murillo acknowledges that not everyone agrees with her approach of bringing all Latin Vancouverites together in one big group, but she believes that the bigger the community, the more powerful it can be.

After creating Latincouver, Murillo started knocking on doors looking for people willing to help her accomplish her dream.

“I would go to consulates and wait hours to get an appointment,” she remembers. “Sometimes when people saw me they would say: ‘there goes another crazy person trying to rally people together.’”

The first Carnaval del Sol was held at the Hellenic Community Centre in 2009. It attracted about 500 people. The attendance pales in comparison with the 100,000 visitors the carnival attracts nowadays, but Murillo saw it as the confirmation that the countless hours she and a group of volunteers invested organizing the event had paid off.

“I believe that attracting those 500 visitors was probably harder than bringing the 100,000 that now come to Carnaval del Sol,” she says.

More than just a carnival

Last year, the British Columbia provincial government proclaimed June 28 to July 6 as Latin American Week to, “acknowledge and celebrate the many contributions Latin Americans have made to British Columbia and Canada.”

“I believe that by doing these events we are creating spaces where we can integrate not only Latinos, but everyone living in Vancouver.” - Juliana Forero

This year, Latincouver’s celebration of Latin American Week kicked off with a parade on Canada Day, and continued with a Latin arts exhibition, a Latin film night and an outdoor sports event. Celebrations continued this week with the second edition of Tastes of Latin America and the Inspirational Latin Awards, a gala event that recognized distinguished members of the Latin American community for their contributions to B.C.’s economy and cultural development.

Forero is the producer of Latincouver’s events during Latin American Week. It is a demanding job, requiring her to commit up to 20 hours a day. It is exhausting, she admits, but the idea of preserving her culture in a foreign country keeps her motivated.

“I do this because I feel committed with the community,” she says. “I believe that by doing these events we are creating spaces where we can integrate not only Latinos, but everyone living in Vancouver.”

Through her work, Forero sees firsthand how these events bring people together. The volunteers she leads, many of whom had to leave their families behind when they emigrated, generate strong bonds with each other while working to produce the Latin American Week celebrations.

“Leaving home is hard,” says Forero, who is originally from Colombia. “The volunteers, they find a family here.”

 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

 

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by Deanna Cheng (@writerly_dee) in Vancouver, British Columbia

Twelve tables of mahjong (Chinese tile game) in Vancouver’s Chinatown Memorial Square fill up with fervent game-goers within 15 minutes. Silence quickly turns into chatter mixed with the clickety clack of tiles. A diverse pocket in British Columbia's largest city comes to life.

Last Saturday, a local group called the Youth Collaborative of Chinatown (YCC) hosted a public games night titled, ‘Chinatown Mahjong Social: A Hot and Noisy Night’. The games night was the first to kick off a series of events to regenerate public spaces in Chinatown.

‘Hot and noisy’ is a play on the Cantonese word yitnaau and the Mandarin word renao and loosely translates into a measure of liveliness in an atmosphere.

Mahjong is a game played between four players with a set of 144 tiles inscribed with Chinese characters and symbols. The game is one of skill, strategy and calculation. It also involves a degree of chance – or what some seniors would call luck.

‘Bring Your Own Poh Poh

‘BYOPP – Bring your own poh poh (grandmother)’ called out the youth group’s Facebook post advertising the June 20 event.

Mark Lee did more than that. Along with his grandmother, he brought his boyfriend, his sister and her husband.

The 24-year-old is half-Chinese and half-British; his connection to Chinatown stems from a deep connection to his grandmother.

“When I was little, she’d pick me up from preschool. When we were sick, she was there to make us feel better … and also, make us drink soups.” 

As a kid, Lee would ask her to teach him how to write Chinese and she showed him simple words. When he asked her to teach him Cantonese, she told him to go learn Mandarin. So he did.

The University of British Columbia graduate now has a major in linguistics and a minor in Chinese. He’s also fluent in Mandarin and has a basic understanding of Cantonese.

“The whole reason I’m involved with Chinese was to communicate with Grandma,” Lee says. “It’s been nine years and I still can’t.”

“This is ideal … seeing old folks with young people learning how to play mahjong.” - Mark Lee

One of his goals is to learn Cantonese. Another one is to be part of the revitalization effort of Chinatown and to prevent gentrification.

“I hear stories about people with family in Chinatown, but [they] never come here,” he says.

Lee wants to do more than organize just social events with the YCC. He wants an intergenerational connection. He admits the language barrier can be an obstacle, but points out that there are others who can translate – and that it’s an opportunity to learn the language. All that’s required, he says, is for people to show up to their events.

“This is ideal … seeing old folks with young people learning how to play mahjong.”

Players of All Ages and Ethnicities

Colourful paper lanterns hang on the trees next to where local artist Yule Ken Lum has set up his cart doubling as a makeshift studio. He invites the public to finish decorating the last tiles of his 300-piece mosaic. It depicts the words ‘CHINATOWN’ in a giant heart stencil.

Lum says he is surprised by the age and diversity of the turnout. “At the Chinese chess table, it was good to see a poh poh sitting by a Caucasian girl, like a team.”

“Our goal is to engage youth to take part and do what they’d like to see instead of listening to the ‘doom and gloom’ about Chinatown in the media.” - Doris Chow, Youth Collaborative of Chinatown

Meanwhile, on a board with neon sticky notes, participants write suggestions for future events. Some ideas include: tai chi, line dancing and outdoor film screenings.

As all the tables of mahjong fill up, passersby appear disappointed so event organizer Kathryn Gwun-Yeen Lennon (pictured above on the right) offers to set them up with Chinese chess and Chinese checkers. They choose to watch instead.

Resisting Chinatown’s ‘Doom and Gloom’

Vancouver’s Chinatown spans about a nine-block radius, not including the residential area. It is part of the downtown eastside, one of the city’s oldest neighbourhoods and is commonly referred to as ‘Canada’s poorest postal code’.

In recent years, Chinatown has undergone large and rapid development projects, including sky-high condominiums occupied with young urbanites that don’t speak Chinese, construction plans for water main upgrades along Pender Street, located near the centre of Chinatown and the end of the Chinatown Night Market. But there is still more work to be done.

“Our goal is to engage youth to take part and do what they’d like to see instead of listening to the ‘doom and gloom’ about Chinatown in the media,” explains YCC member Doris Chow (pictured above on the left).

Seniors often want to communicate their history with youth, but don't know how to go about it, she adds. “The YCC can work as translators to help shrink the intergenerational gap.”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Arts & Culture

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Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

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