For the past 30 years, the Cowichan Intercultural Society (CIS) has worked to provide services and support to new Canadians. On May 20, the community of Lake Cowichan will be able to partake in an aspect of this process by attending a local celebration of the organization’s “Bringing Stories to the Street” series.
Jackie Martin, project coordinator for CIS, says that this event, which will feature samplings of food and music from Peru, is part of the organization’s efforts to pair immigrants with businesses and thus create an atmosphere in which immigrants can learn more about Canada and meet, and be accepted by, local residents.
Through CIS, local business owner, David Work (Cafe Mochica) and his wife Carla, who is from Peru, have been partnered up with Annette and Luis Fernandez (Luis is also from Peru). Together the couples will be hosting this intercultural event at the Lake Cowichan Recreation Centre. The event is free to attend, and the first hundred people will receive vouchers which will allow them to try samplings of Peruvian food such as humitas (the northern Peru version of a tomale) and anticuchos (skewered BBQ beef heart), for free. Work says he will also be showing his documentary Ancient Sites of Peru. After the film he will put on some local Peruvian music and guests will be able to dance and mingle. He says that if others in the community have music from Peru that they would like to share, they are more than welcome to bring along a CD.
Both the Work and Fernandez families hope that the Cowichan Lake communities come out to enjoy this event and help them in their effort to break down barriers and stereotypes between immigrants and the community. Both Mrs. Work and Mr. Fernandez have faced challenges since their arrival in Canada. Mrs. Fernandez says it was hard to watch her husband struggle with adjusting to a new culture. Because his accent was quite pronounced, Mr. Fernandez was taken advantage by hisemployers. “They thought he wouldn’t complain when he wasn’t paid overtime,” she says. “He quit quite a few jobs because of that.”
Mr. Fernandez also went through a period of loneliness and culture shock. “In Peru, you can go out at any time of the night and there is always something going on,” explains Mrs. Fernandez. “So it was quite lonely for him when he first came here. He would come home and say ‘let’s go out and do something’ but everything here shuts down in the evenings and there is nothing to do.”
Martin says that the CIS is the only agency in the area that provides immigrant services. At this time, Vancouver Island University in Duncan does not provide English as a Second Language classes so new Canadian residents must travel to Nanaimo or Victoria. “Bringing Stories to the Street” is a way to create two-way communication between businesses and immigrants through stories and art. Businesses in 11 communities in the Cowichan area are participating in this intercultural exchange. Each immigrant and business partnership will create an arts-based multicultural event to share with community members.
Bring friends and family to the multipurpose room of the Cowichan Lake Recreation Centre on May 20, from 6-9 p.m.