Travel the world without leaving town at Pemberton Multicultural Week, Nov 17-23
I first caught wind that Pemberton had a Multicultural Network when the Rotary Peace Event incorporated peace-crane making into its celebration. (And here I was thinking I was the most exotic thing in Pemberton. Aussie Aussie Aussie, oi.) Then I had the chance to connect with Carole Stretch, Mika Matsudate and Angelie Ann Chua, to find out more about the group behind the upcoming Pemberton Multicultural Week.
How long have you been around?
The PMN formed over the first few months of 2012 following a process of focus groups and consultation regarding what challenges and opportunities face immigrants living Pemberton. The group was named in June 2012 and now meets regularly.
Who and what is the Pemberton Multicultural Network?
We are a group of local immigrants and other interested community members working together to
- support and help immigrants
- improve opportunities for immigrants
- connect immigrant groups and the community of Pemberton and the Sea to Sky corridor
- actively participate in the community
Whilst Pemberton has always attracted newcomers, the last 2-3 years have seen a large increase in the number of new immigrants settling in Pemberton. In 2011, when Sea to Sky community social service agencies were asked to identify a key population requiring social support, they chose to focus on the immigrants choosing to live and work in the Sea to Sky corridor. That project, begun in January 2012 with a series of focus groups, has resulted in Pemberton in the creation of the Pemberton Multicultural Network (PMN), led by an immigrant advisory board and focusing on supporting immigrant and refugee families to help them acclimatise, adapt, and integrate socially, culturally, economically and politically.
The project has grown largely out of similar work in Squamish. Focus groups and networking started out of the English as a Second Language Settlement Assistance Program (ESLSAP) in Pemberton which provides language and cultural support for new immigrants, but is now broadening.
(Download the brochure to find out more. PMN brochure)
Who are your supporters/funders?
The funding for the Welcome Sea to Sky project is from Vancouver Coastal Health SMART Fund. The project forms part of the Social Support Common Outcomes Pilot focusing on the development of social support networks and their outcome on health, and on the development of closer collaborations between social support agencies and the immigrant communities. It is being coordinated by Capilano University (Community Development and Outreach Department) on a collaborative basis with Vancouver Coastal Health, Sea to Sky Community Services, Whistler Community Services Society and Howe Sound Women’s Centre.
What is the cultural make-up of Pemberton?
I think you might be surprised by how many nationalities have chosen to settle in Pemberton. There is a sizeable Japanese population here, increasing as a significant number of couples move up from Whistler, often as they have families and find a more affordable place to live with a nature-loving and friendly community. There are also now significant numbers of Philippinos, mostly working in the hospitality industry, and caregivers. Again, they are typically moving out of either Whistler or Squamish. Other nationalities represented in the group are Mexican, Argentinian, Nicaraguan, Taiwanese, Korean, Polish, German, Swiss.
Why is there a need for a Multicultural Network, here?
A number of reasons… Firstly, when people are living out of their own cultures and away from home and family, it’s helpful to have a place and a group of people to meet with where you can find support and information from others who have experienced, or are experiencing, the same as you. Many immigrants also find themselves in life situations that Canadians and their family back home find it difficult to relate to. This is true when you are learning to function in a new culture and may simply be differences at work, but becomes especially true when raising families. Not only are new Canadians having to learn about Canadian schools and attitudes to childrearing, they must negotiate how much they want to maintain their children’s multicultural heritage, and that can be extremely difficult especially when they reach school age.
At the same time, Pemberton is seeing increasing numbers of immigrants choose it as home. Our children are increasingly going to school with children from many different backgrounds and cultures and we believe it’s important that we open our cultures to the community, and that we take the effort to learn about Pemberton while offering our skills, values and experiences to the community. We, as a group, want to contribute what we can to the community. The event is a first step toward building that dialogue and mutual understanding.
Who is Multicultural Week for? Is it really geared towards kids? What age?
Multicultural Week was conceived as something that was for everyone of all ages, of all cultures and backgrounds, and languages. While a lot of the activities are geared towards children, we hope that there will be lots of interest for everyone, and of course the children will bring in the parents! The children will lead the way…
What is the biggest challenge for someone not born-and-bred Pemberton in living here? (For me, it’s keeping up my supply of Vegemite. But I’m about to have a kid… and I suspect that might change and become a bit more nuanced, a bit more about maintaining a sense of my identity, passing on some of the things that were important to me growing up, even though I live in a different country and climate now…)
Well, you’ve said it. By coming to live here you’ve made a decision to embrace Canada and Canadian culture, but that doesn’t mean giving up all those things that make you the person you are. Our personal and family cultures are as important as the larger one we choose to live in, but for those raising families outside of their own culture that means there are many decisions to be made. Which family traditions we choose to keep and follow can be fun, and children can see these as a point of pride. However, if we come from a different language background, what language do we choose to use – at home, at school, with friends? It can be hard work making sure that the children speak a different language at home from at school. What happens when they bring friends home? What happens if there are customs you want to keep at home which need to be explained to any friends of your children? How do we make sure that our children respect those different heritages and are not ashamed of it? Does it matter if mum makes mistakes in English? Does it need to embarrass the children? Whilst the children are easily going to learn the local language, if the children don’t speak their parents’ language this will cut them off from their grandparents and relatives in the home country. All in all, it’s a tricky road to walk – and that’s just on the subject of language. Other challenges range from those outer things like the weather, to knowing how to pick up cultural cues in social situations and recognising communicative norms.
What do you think is the biggest benefit for kids growing up in Pemberton, from being exposed to some of the influences of fellow-residents with different backgrounds – be they Australian, Japanese, Filipino, Lil’wat or elsewhere?
As immigrants who have moved to live in another country and culture, the group already knows that to experience a different culture is to see the world through different eyes. And to be able to do that means that we are able to put ourselves more easily in others’ shoes. If we can raise children able to do this, we believe we are raising people who will better communicate, better empathise and better able to deal with the conflicts inherent in today’s societies. Pemberton offers a very unique opportunity for our children to mix with and learn from children from a wide range of widely differing backgrounds.
During focus groups, PMN members felt that for immigrants and newcomers simply making contact with and being able to talk to Canadians is valuable. The group thought a multicultural event would be valuable to showcase their own cultures to residents/locals. They would all like to be able to help locals become more aware of the skills, experiences and cultures they bring to the Pemberton community. They also want to give back to the community where they can. They are hoping that this event will create new understanding and interest in other cultures, start building new connections and networks across the community. At the same time, the PMN thought that activities which don’t require much verbal interaction would be a good way for them to meet and mix with Canadians and other locals, hence the focus on cultural activities like crafts, games, sports, music etc. Cost is a barrier to participation so the group wanted to make sure people could come without paying. Also that at least some food would be available free of charge.
What do you like about Pemberton?
The group felt that one of the best things about Pemberton is the friendly people who are happy to help around town e.g. with strollers etc. It seems that locals have more time to do that rather than in a more urban environment. Pemberton is a safe place for our families and children. We especially like that it is a small community. There are job opportunities, many of which come from being a neighbor of Whistler, which can sometimes be an advantage but housing is more affordable than in Whistler. There are people from many cultures living in the town, which is a good experience for children especially. At the same time, the town is close to nature – lakes, forests, creeks, animals. The surroundings are great and so residents can enjoy an outdoor lifestyle. We believe that in Pemberton you are more able to make long-term friends (as opposed to Whistler, where people tend to come and go). The community comprises a lot of families with children, so if you have children there are many opportunities to connect into the wider population.
What do you find challenging about life in Pemberton?
On the flip side we see unaffordable land or housing – compared to other parts of the province, and a current lack of jobs – compared to previous years. It is an expensive place to live. Groceries are expensive due to the distance they are trucked in, shopping is very limited with few stores and there is no local entertainment. There is no higher education so to get any training at all people have to either move away or travel significant distances. The local infrastructure and environment pose some challenges including too many power lines, too much rain, bad road conditions on the highway in winter, little public transportation. Perhaps Pemberton is suffering some growing pains from expanding too quickly. So it is easy to be/feel isolated in Pemberton – both from the town itself and from the outside world, and especially if you don’t speak English so well. Lack of good English also makes it harder to be accepted into established local social groups.
Why should people come out and check out the activities at the Multicultural Week?
There are many things that all cultures share in common, such as games, music, or crafts. They may be slightly different but it’s fun to discover these differences, broaden our horizons and perhaps improve our understanding of how different cultures see the world in slightly different ways.
Where can we get more info?
For more info on the Multicultural Celebrations check out www.facebook.com/PembertonMulticulturalWeek. For more information on the Pemberton Multicultural Network visit www.pembertonmulticulturalnetwork.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find brochures, posters and flyers at the Pemberton Library and at Sea to Sky Community Services and at other locations around town.
And if people want to volunteer, how can they get involved?
We’d love people to come along and help out on the day. No skills needed, just an interest in other cultures and people. We need:
People to help set up (10-11am) and take down (3-4pm)
People to help at activities tables:
- Paper basket weaving (no experience required)
- Face mask painting and piñata decorating (simply creativity required!)
- International toys and games (once we’ve shown you how they work, it’s up to you…)
- With the language competition to hand out and take in answer sheets (no skills needed)