Ilaneet Goren

Country of Origin:

Ukraine

Themes:

Citizenship, Immigration, Racism/Discrimination, Human Rights & Social Justice, Identity & Heritage, Multiculturalism & Diversity, Adjusting to Life in Canada

Photos:

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Bio

Ilaneet is a registered social worker with extensive experience in group facilitation, mental health, community development, and human rights advocacy. As a Diversity Specialist at Community Living Toronto, an organization that supports people with intellectual disabilities, she leads research, education, outreach, and partnership development initiative to promote equitable and inclusive service delivery and organizational practices. Living in the Soviet Ukraine and in Israel before moving to Canada has given her a unique perspective on the value of intercultural dialogue. She has a Bachelor of Social Work from Ryerson University, and a Masters of Social Work from the University of Toronto. An experienced group leader and life skills coach, Ilaneet uses creative methods and mindfulness to help un-learn prejudice and biases and build connections between people that lead to social change. She volunteers as a mentor with Supporting Our Youth (SOY) program for LGBTQ+ youth and with CultureLink settlement services. Ilaneet also serves on the Board of Directors of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, and InterChange For Peace, an international network of peace-builders.

Story

Since I was little, my life has been defined by the effort to fit in. As a two-time immigrant, assimilation was second nature: I became skilled at adapting to new cultures and languages like a chameleon blending in with its surrounding. I was born in Kiev, Ukraine when it was part of the Soviet Union and was raised in an ethnically diverse family of Russian, Ukrainian, Polish and Jewish descent. Outside of our home, conformity was a way of dealing with a choiceless reality, from the brown school uniforms to compulsory association with the Communist Party. I was ten when my family emigrated to Israel as part of the mass migration of Soviet Jews during the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s. It was definitely a culture shock and, for several years, I was bullied for being the immigrant girl with the odd accent and clothes. To be different felt like being under a magnifying glass and I often wished I were invisible. But I channelled my energy into integrating as quickly and seamlessly as possible, pushing away my cultural roots and even changing my name to a more native-sounding one. For my parents, achieving a sense of belonging proved to be far more challenging and, after eleven years in Israel, they once again looked for a new home, this time moving my brother, sister, and me to Canada. Here, for the first time in my life, I experienced a reality in which it was not only OK to be different but I could be proud of it! In Toronto, being ethnically and culturally diverse was part of the norm. I remember joining an English class thinking I would learn to be “more Canadian.” To my surprise, the students were encouraged to express their cultural differences and share their immigration stories. I spoke openly about my early life in a communist country with a couple from the former Yugoslavia, and shared stories about Israel with a woman from Korea who had never met a Jewish person before.

What I appreciate most about Canada is its respect for human rights. Here I was also able to find a new sense of community and belonging as a gay woman. Today I live with my wife of two years in the Church-Wellesley Village, a dear-to-my-heart neighbourhood where I marched with friends in support of equal marriage rights a decade ago, and where I now volunteer and support LGBTQ community services and mentor queer and questioning youth. I’m not afraid to be different anymore. As a diversity educator, I use my experiences to challenge the biases and stereotypes that stand in the way of our human connection. To me, identity is fluid and on a continuum, evolving constantly as we continue to grow and learn about ourselves and the world around us. I no longer strive to fit in; rather I look to discover what makes me different and unique, and I use this to build bridges across our human diversity.