Tapestrama promotes diversity and understanding

Matt Gardner
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At a time when multiculturalism has come under increasing attack in Europe and elsewhere, Tapestrama 2012 provided Prince Albert residents with a resounding defence of cultural diversity.

The annual event organized by the Prince Albert Multicultural Council (PAMC) has the mission of promoting multiculturalism. Organizers and vendors alike agreed that allowing people to experience different cultures was the best way to tear down the walls that divide us.

“I think it’s really important because as Canadians, we all have a distinct cultural background,” PAMC language instructor Chantal Chalecky said. “So it’s varied, and it’s nice to be able to share with each other, keep that alive.”

The council’s assistant executive director Alice Zhang, who immigrated to Canada with her husband from China six years ago, agreed. She argued that promoting cultural understanding was particularly important in Canada, where all citizens other than First Nations peoples are descended from immigrants.

“We need this kind of event to bring them together, to co-operate with each other, not just to keep their own culture for themselves,” Zhang said.

Critics of multiculturalism allege that the concept divides people more than it unites them, by separating them into their constituent nationalities and cultures.

To Chalecky, this only confirms the need for people to experience different cultures.

“I’ve lived in Toronto … and yeah, I’ve experienced that as well,” she said. “There are certain neighbourhoods where you’ll meet people who really only speak Portuguese, because they’ve never really integrated. I think that’s what the important thing about our council and these types of events is, because it allows people to showcase their culture, get people interested, and … at the same time, make connections with others in the community. It’s really neat.

“Even my class, for example, last session I had a Chinese woman helping a Pakistani woman learn to drive … The culture might be different, but the experience is the same. Moving to another country can be a challenging thing.”

Prince Albert has a substantial number of immigrants. The influx of foreign nationals into the province has increased in recent years with the economic boom and legislation such as the Saskatchewan Immigrant Nominee program.

Perhaps as a response, Tapestrama this year hosted information booths from organizations such as Global Partners International, Prince Albert Tourism and the P.A. Destination Marketing Fund.

The culture might be different, but the experience is the same. Moving to another country can be a challenging thing. Chantal Chalecky

Reactions on the change of venue from the Exhibition Centre to the E.A. Rawlinson Centre were mixed. Between serving Filipino cuisine such as rice noodles, spring rolls and steamed dumplings, volunteer chef Meriam Caguin noted that it was now impossible for vendors to watch performances from their booths.

“This is actually a good place to show different cultures,” she said. “But then it would be nice if we could see also what’s happening on the other end, because we’re all the way back in here. The previous ones I’ve been to the Exhibition and it’s good because … you can actually see the stage. But the ones who are performing, you can’t see them now here. That’s the only thing.”

Still, overall reaction seemed positive as people sampled different cultures. Emphasizing the notion of multiculturalism, some vendors from different nationalities even shared tables.

Such was the case with Pakistani vendor Hina Jahanzaib and Egyptian vendor Amna Hamid. The former had lived in Canada for five months, the latter for 12 years.

“We know each other, so we don’t have that much stuff,” Hamid said, pointing to her Egyptian art, pens and small model pyramids. “Just we have small stuff in our home. Usually we use those ones in our home, so we sell them for when there is something multicultural … to show people our culture, our stuff. This is the purpose, not just for business or sale or anything, just to show people … our culture, what we can do.”

Jahanzaib displayed a wide variety of Pakistani merchandise, including wall hangings, bedsheets, handmade slippers, Islamic art and framings with holy verses from the Qur’an.

“I’m here just to let people know what our culture is about and what we have there, the specific things,” she said. “These are from a long, long time ago. They have a history, so (I) just (want) to share and to know the different cultures here, too.”

Organizations: Prince Albert Multicultural Council, First Nations, Prince Albert Global Partners International P.A. Destination Marketing Fund Exhibition Centre E.A. Rawlinson Centre

Geographic location: Canada, China, Toronto

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