“Cultural buddies” program: Older children showing young new Canadians the ropes in life

The cultural buddies program pairs immigrant children up with older mentors who teach them about North American traditions like Halloween. Photo: Caitlin Childs
The cultural buddies program pairs immigrant children up with older mentors who teach them about North American traditions like Halloween. Photo by Caitlin Childs

Finding yourself in a strange country as a child is bewildering, above and beyond the usual terrors that accompany childhood. Our south Vancouver schools seem to recognize this and that’s where the “cultural buddies” program comes in.

The program is aimed at introducing a child to bizarre North American customs such as Halloween and Easter. The program pairs up first generation immigrant children with first generation immigrant young adults. These older “mentors” guide their younger counterparts, smoothing out culture-shock, alienation and all of the other fun stuff that comes with being introduced to a new environment.

With immigrants making up 40 per cent of Metro Vancouver’s population according to StatsCan, this couldn’t come at a better time. One should note the fact that the program is not like the residential schools system – the aim is to acclimatize children to new circumstances, not make them more “Canadian”. This is a wise choice, because there is no Canadian cultural identity. Not in any thoroughbred, stereotypical way, at least.

Canada is a blank slate, on which a mosaic of plural identities lies

This country is home to the hyphenated identity – we are Irish-Canadians, Italian-Canadians, Chinese-Canadians, Indo-Canadians. Our identity comes with a prefix that modifies norms and habits we’ve developed in our exposure to other people in the mosaic.

As opposed to the American model, which is aimed at transforming different ethnic identities into the “American” identity, our multicultural country actually accepts difference.

This is one of the reasons why the proposed Quebec charter is ridiculous along with being racist – what’s a pure Quebecois look like? White, Catholic and Francophone? How can one immigrant population, cut off from the motherland by centuries of time and the Atlantic Ocean, lay the guidelines for how other immigrant groups behave?

United by our differences

Other than a shared desire to differentiate ourselves from Americans, we are mostly united by the fact that we’re different. Not only are we different, we also generally respect each other’s differences.

The buddies program has endured as a community connections program, and that’s something that I, as a boring Canadian of mixed ancestry, take pride in. There’s always room for more people on our blank slate.

For more information on the program, call South Vancouver Neighbourhood House at (604) 324-6212.

Reported by Glen Truax

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