As part of a series exploring the lack of diversity in key municipal institutions, we asked, from left, Nathan Hall, Berak Hussain, Elaine Kicknosway, Gwen Madiba and Monica Wu, what stories of theirs the Citizen, and the media at large, should be telling.
“Because I work a lot with families, newcomers and immigrants who are struggling financially and who are sometimes homeless, it's the stories of resilience and also the challenges faced by newcomers who don't have a status in Canada that I think aren't being told. People who wake up every morning and go to work or knock on every single door to obtain a job.
“I've heard this comment enough to be worried about the perception about newcomers into the country, the perception of homeless members of the community, whether they're BIPOC or not. Poverty affects everybody and it affects them the same way — the mental and financial effects of poverty are the same. But sometimes I hear comments like, `Why don't they just get a job?' And the reality is that a lot of them are looking for jobs, or working so hard. I know of a couple that has five or six children, and both of them work so they're never at home together with the children. And they keep telling me, `We work so hard so that we can obtain our papers; we have to show that we are able to contribute to the Canadian society.' And yet there are so many benefits that they don't have access to because they don't have status in Canada.
“And you would think that it's just non-BIPOC people who make these comments, but no, there are BIPOC people who make these comments. I find it so offensive and inconsiderate. There's a lack of wanting to know about the struggle of the other, and it's so easy for so many people in society to just `other' others. There's this whole othering thing — `They're not one of us.' `I work so hard for my money; why would I give it to this person? They don't work.' And it's not true; they work. I see them every day. I see them knocking on doors, looking for jobs. There was a mother who told me, `I'm West African. I'm from Nigeria. Women in my country, we work. If I wasn't here, I'd be in the market in my country, selling with my baby on my back. I don't want the government to give me money. I want to be able to earn my money and to say that I worked for it. This is part of my culture, part of my values. I don't like this situation.'
“I feel these stories are not being told properly, so people often think that these are people with their hands out, waiting for us to give them things. Maybe there are people like that, but as far as I'm concerned, the majority of people I've worked with want to work. They want to contribute to society. They want better lives for themselves and their children. But we don't always see this.”
Gwen Madiba is the founder of Equal Chance, an organization that empowers Black women. She also operates programs that help homeless and at-risk Black families in Ottawa.
“In general, media tends to portray Asian communities negatively on the news. There are not enough positive images.
“I think most Canadians tend to believe everything they are told on the media, television, radio and newspaper.
For instance, Canadians were informed that Wuhan, China started COVID-19. But media forgot to update us on the positive news of Wuhan, such as Wuhan citizens starting their normal life many months ago, in 2020. If Canadians heard about it from social media, they would probably consider it as fake news, because the media has not confirmed it.
“Sometimes, Canadians have to learn the reality of foreign countries' affairs through YouTube, because people travel and provide information to the world, instantly. The solution: There should be more positive voices, images and facts on our media. If media cares about fighting anti-Asian racism, they should start promoting positive stories on Asian-Canadian communities. For example, telling the human story of people of colour and marginalized people.
“Everyone has a personal story, and media can help to dispel misconceptions and presumptions by demonstrating that we are more alike than we realize. To help Ottawa Citizen readers to learn more about Asian-Canadians and their contributions to Canada, the Citizen could create a column of `Questions and Answers on Asian-Canadian communities.' Readers might be interested to learn what Ramadan is. Or about some medical tools invented by Muslims that the western world is still using now.
“Until this year, the media has been lukewarm to Asian Heritage Month. After 19 years, the Government of Canada declared May as Asian Heritage Month, and most Canadians still don't know about it. Asian Heritage Month gives us an opportunity to learn of Asian-Canadians' contributions to nation-building, science, business, government, sport and art, and their culture. By learning and sharing information with each other, we open dialogues that will lead to harmonious existence and break social barriers and stereotypes.
“The Ottawa Citizen and major institutions can become sponsors to some of the Asian Heritage Month events. Geographically speaking, Asians include people from Turkey to Japan. In Ottawa, the Ottawa Asian Heritage Month Society works with pan-Asian organizations such as the Canadian Turkish Heritage Foundation and the Intercultural Dialogue Institute. In 2019, they hosted an Asian Heritage Month event in association with the Ottawa Asian Heritage Month Society. There are many non-profit organizations run by volunteers that need sponsors and partners so they can showcase their talents, skills and culture with their fellow Canadians.
“I've been working with the pan-Asian community for so long. I've been doing this since I was 18, so for the past 50 years, and I've been so fortunate to learn so much about all the other countries and their cultures. I witnessed Apartheid in South Africa at the age of 12, so I know it is important that we promote cross-cultural understanding.” Monica Wu is co-founder of the Ottawa Asian Heritage Month Society.
“When Abdirahman Abdi was killed, the public outcry was minimal, it did not permeate the public consciousness. The social conversation didn't have that level of intensity.
“But once George Floyd happened, that conversation took a whole new light. Before last year, racism was talked about as if they were isolated incidents that would pop up unexpectedly like a Whack-a-Mole. We were easily dismissed and knocked back down when we'd stand up against it. We know that when we raise our hands we're going to get labelled as troublemakers, we know we're going to get chastised, that our stories are going to be scrutinized beyond anything else. By keeping these conversations at a personal level, institutions were able to limit their accountability and deny the greater systemic and institutionalized problems. With George Floyd, it just got so much momentum and everyone