Passages Canada was in the friendly city of St. John’s, Newfoundland last week launching the digital companion to the storytelling initiative. The beCOMING Canada video series debuted for 80 high school students from St. Bonaventure’s College and Holy Heart High School, as well as the Minister of Education, Clyde Jackman.
The 23 videos showcase Canada’s defining diversity, with stories from refugees arriving from war-torn countries to those of longstanding citizens who can trace their Canadian ancestry back many generations.
St. John’s was a fascinating place to launch the films because Newfoundlanders tend to express a strong sense of place and identity. Our distinguished guests watched the beCOMING Canada interview with Jessica Walsh, a native Newfoundlander, who fondly recalls the tight-knit community of her childhood. Jessica spoke of her surprise when she visited England and discovered her affinity for British culture, which she explained with a quick history lesson. Newfoundlanders only became Canadian citizens when the province joined Confederation in 1949. Her family can recall the bitter debates that divided the province. Confederation passed with a slim 52% majority. Still today, there is a distinct Newfoundland culture that cannot be found anywhere else.
A young student from St. Bonaventure’s took to the podium and corroborated much of what Jessica had said. She talked about the importance of Sunday dinners in her family and her pride at calling herself a Newfoundlander.
She was followed by an Iraqi student who is new to her school. We soon learned she’s a natural comedian – she had us in stitches with her stories of culture shock which centered on the Canadian high school dating scene!
These accounts were accompanied by stories from Canadians who have only recently started calling this country home. Azim Lila joined us via Skype from Toronto and took us on his journey of growing up in the small village of Tanga, Tanzania and immigrating to Toronto as a 9 year old.
Students giggled as he recounted his confusion at seeing his teachers handing out gummy worms in class as an incentive. We also felt his challenges as he spoke of how quickly his older sisters had to grow up to help the family get established.
Passages Canada speaker Remzi Cej, emceed the event and is also a relative newcomer to Canada. Remzi and his family fled conflict in Kosovo and arrived in St. John’s in 2000. He remembers arriving at the airport in St. John’s, which was under construction at the time, and his mother remarking jokingly, “We left one war zone for another!”
The message, that our diversity is our strength, was hit home by the vibrant dance troupe, Bollywood Jig. Led by artistic director and Passages Canada speaker, Sanchita Chakraborty, these young performers have made it their mandate to combine traditional Indian dance with other international styles from Chinese dance to salsa to hip hop to the famous Newfoundland jig!
All these different stories were united by our shared commitment to learn from one another and foster understanding. We are so fortunate to have connected with this unique and vibrant community. To learn more about our video series, check it out!