Residents aim to make immigrants feel welcome in their community
As the first snow hit Calgary, forcing many to pull out their thick winter coats, mittens and hats, many families were gathering inside Tom Baines School representing their cultures. Warm reds, oranges and yellows, mixing with vibrant blues and greens, filled the halls as many wandered through a sea of handcrafted paper Canadian flags.
On Thursday, Nov. 17, families in Edgemont and surrounding communities gathered at the school to celebrate the many diverse cultures in the Edgemont community, for an event known now as the Edgemont Culture Night.
The event, sponsored by The Calgary Foundation and the City of Calgary's community and neighbourhood services, aimed to bring families from all cultures together, embracing one another.
Jennifer DiMarzo, a community social worker for the City of Calgary, said Culture Night has provided an opportunity for community members who may not have been actively involved in their community to step forward and share a piece of their cultural traditions with their community.
It was DiMarzo who first saw the great diversity of the community while looking at a profile of Edgemont on the City of Calgary's website, which initiated the idea for the Edgemont Culture Night.
According to the profile, in 2006 Calgary's immigrant population totalled 242,750, or 24.8 per cent of the total population. Of that population, 6,500 immigrants had settled in Edgemont by 2006, accounting for 37.8 per cent of the community's total residents. These statistics suggest Edgemont's diversity is large in comparison with the city of Calgary as a whole.
"This diversity is a real strength of the community," said DiMarzo.
Miriam Quapp, a math learning leader at Tom Baines School, jumped at the opportunity to be the school's representative for the festivities.
With no noted examples of bullying or discrimination between students based on ethnicity or culture, Quapp said, "It was really a chance to celebrate. And as a school with a diverse population, it was also a way to celebrate [the] students."
While the night did appear celebratory, it was not just about fun, but also about teaching the kids about respecting diversity.
"Yes we're proudly Canadian, and part of why we are proudly Canadian is because we are diverse and we can accept other people's identities," Quapp said.
"Young kids always face issues when they come from another country, and our kids, when they understand what the issues are, they are very empathetic, they are very accepting. But if we don't make them aware [of] how difficult it is, or even the traditions that belong to another family, the kids don't really understand it."
There were children of all ages in attendance, with schools including Mother Mary Greene School, Edgemont School (both elementary, grades 1-6) as well as Tom Baines School (grades 7-9) in participation. All schools urged students to participate by showcasing their art and talents.
Zhong Gu, an immigrant to Canada from China, said she and her family were required to attend because her son, a student at Edgemont School, had artwork on display. After attending she said the night was great for different cultures.
As people first walked through the front doors of the junior high school, the sounds of children laughing, along with small pounds of a drum were floating through the air.
Immediately to the right, only a couple of feet from the entrance doors, there was a gymnasium. In it was a group of children and adults embracing the art of African drumming.
Straight past the gym and to the left down a hallway was the Chinese cultural area, where young children could be found playing their cultural Chinese zither, while others enjoyed the art of calligraphy. On the other side of the school, another room housed Chinese lion dancing.
Up the spiral stairs to the second level was more entertainment, including a talent show and even a performance from the Mother Mary Greene School choir.
As time passed and the clock neared 8 p.m., people continued to line up for the Tastes of The World section, including foods from Pakistan, China and India.
Music began to fill the room. In the corner of the main hall, children of all cultures gathered around a grand piano, playing pieces ranging from the classics of Chopin to more modern songs including Adele's "Someone Like You."
Nadia Reid not only attended the event, but also played a large role in making the event come to life.
"Immigrants do not feel comfortable coming into the school because it is such a different culture from what they are used to," she said. "So opening up the school like this and showing them we are embracing what they are about, and what we have to offer, was our goal."
Reid's son Jared, 13, explained the students might seem uncomfortable because many can't speak English, making it difficult for them to integrate.
As an active volunteer for the event, he said, "I think it is important that everyone in the community is an equal."