Working towards cultural harmony in Richmond

A shot of the crowd at RCCS’s recent Autumn Festival in Richmond. Photo courtesy of the Richmond Chinese Community Society.

Census data shows that 10.4 per cent of Richmond citizens cannot speak either of Canada’s official languages, up two per cent since 2006.

Some Richmond groups are initiating efforts to help the immigrant population transition into their new city.

Henry Beh, executive and founding director of the Richmond Chinese Community Society, said that the main objective for the organization’s upcoming year was to continue their efforts to help integrate new Chinese immigrants into Richmond society.

Stressing the importance of cultural understanding

“The most important thing we can do as a community is to foster understanding between the different cultures,” said Beh. “It’s not enough to just throw money at the problem.”

The RCCS offers educational resources to both immigrants and citizens on a variety of topics, but it does not receive funding from the government to offer these programs and rely heavily on donations to provide these services.

“A lot of these new immigrants face growing resentment from non-immigrant citizens,” said Beh. “This is why education of cultures on both sides is such a crucial issue.”

Beh added that the RCCS is limited in what it can do in terms of services such as ESL classes because of the lack of government funding, but believes that what it does do is important enough that people will donate money to the cause.

Other organizations, such as Richmond Multicultural Community Services, do receive government funding to offer similar outreach programs. This extra funding comes with strings, however, and RMCS is forced to operate under a strict set of rules.

Government funding changes the rules

“It used to be that we would serve anyone who came to our doors, but then the government changed the rules about who we can serve,” said RMCS Activities Coordinator Ashok Ratton. “Now we cannot serve temporary workers or international students.”

RMCS organizes events, such as their upcoming celebration for Diwali and Eid on Nov. 26, to help bring together people of all ages and cultures to promote cultural harmony.

RMCS also offers a weekly English conversation class where immigrants can learn basic English phrases to get by on a regular basis. Ratton said that it is not an ESL course, but that it teaches the important aspects of the language to foster continuing language development.

Isolation and loneliness are huge obstacles for any new immigrant

“Isolation is one big factor that immigrants face,” said Ratton. “If they come here as refugees or skilled workers they don’t have family or any real support system. Leaving the house becomes a big fear for them.”

Jiu Xing, a Chinese immigrant who came to Richmond 10 years ago, said that it was very difficult for her to become comfortable in her new home.

Not all immigrants who come to Canada stay in Canada

“I struggled with the language at first,” said Xing. “If it weren’t for [Richmond] being such an immigrant-friendly place I probably would have gone back [to China].”

Ratton said that this was not uncommon, and that 14-15% of new immigrants will leave Canada either to return to their home country, or to seek citizenship somewhere else.

Both Ratton and Beh stressed the importance of community harmony as a big part of Richmond’s future growth.

“Segregation of cultures is very dangerous as it just causes resentment and ignorance on both sides,” said Beh. “We need to come together as a people and learn to get along.”

Reported by Clayton Paterson

This post first appeared on Paterson’s Richmond News Beat blog.

The Voice Online’s At Large section features blog posts on municipal beats including Burnaby, Coquitlam, New Westminster, North Vancouver, Richmond, Surrey, Delta and Metro Vancouver produced by Langara journalism students.

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