By Kevin Boiragi
‘Canadian Experience: Shaping Lives and Generations’ was co-organized by Bengali Information and Employment Services (BIES), and Kevin S. Boiragi, a YCAR Graduate Associate and Masters Candidate in Geography.
The event was held on 25 July 2015 at Access Alliance in Toronto.
The General Secretary of BIES, Golam Mostofa, opened the event and was followed by a screening of Boirgi’s documentary, Canadian Experience: Shaping Lives and Generations.
The documentary focuses on “Canadian Experience,” “Public Space,”, and discusses various forms of settlement barriers. It features Ranu Basu (YCAR Faculty Associate, Geography). It can be viewed at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v1zK41PiTPA&feature=youtu.be
Dr. Fahim Quadir, Associate Dean, Faculty of Graduate Studies, York University, briefly shared his thoughts on “Democratic Cosmopolis” and “Participatory Governance” prior to giving the floor to the first panelist, Dr. Basu. She spoke about ways to build unity among migrants through the use of “Public Space”. Showing photographs, she elaborated that any form of social gathering, commonly known as adda in Bengali, could be seen as a vital tool to gain political momentum in pressuring public representatives to consider community’s needs, especially for newcomers to Toronto. Dr. Srabani Maitra from the University of Waterloo talked about labour market barriers that South Asian immigrant women face after arriving in Toronto. An important question that she raised was “How can we get Canadian work experience if none at the first place are giving us the first opportunity?” This creates a vicious cycle of low paid survival jobs and unemployment leading towards poverty, said Maitra.
The floor was then opened to audience members. This session was the most engaging part of the entire event, said Boiragi, where community members shared their own settlement experiences and integration struggles. It was quite alarming to know the level of ups and downs that newcomers have encountered through the years living in the community, despite of obtaining education from Canadian institutions, having professional certification or volunteer experience, he said.
In the next session, Halim Miah, BIES Advisor, raised the question: “Employers are looking for the best candidate, how can we, immigrants (with different origin, heavy accent, lack of Canadian work or educational experience) be the best candidate?” Matthew Kellway, Member of Parliament for Beaches-East York, mentioned some of the structures: acts and laws that corner immigrants of colour in Toronto. He said that this city was not been this way all the time and asked if the community members would like to see it being changed. He emphasized the importance of unity, and said that the Bangladeshi community is divided in many causes among themselves. Dan Harris, Member of Parliament for Scarborough Southwest took the audience back in history with the transformations of “the Golden Mile,” which has been turned into a complex dominated by service industries where mostly people of colour are employed. Similar to Kellway, Harris also emphasized the importance of unity among community members.
One of the attendees noted that statistics portraying the average income of individuals living around Victoria Park Station is $45,000 but it is $250,000 in Rosedale. It is rather the government planning and distribution of the supply and demand and managing the population of immigrants properly, she said. To her, the key factor was compatibility with available employment positions. “When we didn’t find anything for survival, we became desperate and forgot to implement any strategy prior to applying,” she said. She threw the question to the audience: How can we translate our experience and expertise into this society and job market? Have we ever thought about this issue before applying? A local school teacher in attendance emphasized how crucial it is to take collective action and create local campaigns.
Imam Uddin, President of BIES then gave thanks to all participants, volunteers and co-organizers.
Special thanks to Fahmida Binte Nizam, BIES Volunteer, for her assistance at the event.
YCAR was pleased to support this initiative.