New in town: stories of immigration
A new podcast project aims to be a gateway to help listeners understand the strain, strength, and success of newcomers
Shanga Karim immigrated from Kurdistan to Abbotsford. | Submitted
Being the new kid at school is never easy. Starting a new job is never easy. But starting life anew in a foreign country is a feeling known by few.
It's been eight years since journalist and activist Shanga Karim fled her home in Kurdistan, in northern Iraq. Her early days of settling in Abbotsford were positive—for the most part. But when she reflects on that time, one particular exchange “still stays in her memory”: purchasing a new cell phone.
Karim’s interaction with the sales agent was “welcoming” until he read her identification, which labelled her as a refugee. Then, Karim recalled, the man’s demeanor changed. He disappeared to the back of the store only to return to ask her to leave.
“It was very hard for me. It was very hurtful at that time,” Karim recently told podcast hosts Sumaiyyah Adam and Darien Johnsen. “When I go back to that time, I’m like wow how can he do that.”
Karim is one of eight local women who have shared their immigration story in Adam and Johnsen’s new podcast, which was produced by Abbotsford’s Archway Community Services.
The project aims to be a gateway to help listeners understand the strain, strength, and success of newcomers with the hope of fostering community.
The stories have offered co-host Adam a particularly unique perspective.
“It was such a growing moment for myself as a second generation Canadian,” she told The Current. “Being a racialized individual myself, I can think back to every single story and I have a standout moment in each one.”
The Stories of Resiliency podcast delves into the lives of newcomers, immigrants, and refugees who have come to call the Fraser Valley home. The idea was borne out of identifying and responding to the needs of newcomers while also preparing the community, Adam said.
The podcast host is also somewhat of a newcomer to the region. Born and raised in Toronto, Adam moved to Abbotsford just last year.
“In Abbotsford, I was told that there is so much diversity, and I’m also seeing diversity through my workspace…So I’m identifying the diversity, however, people are within their silos,” she said.
“And I think that speaks to the timeliness of this project… we’re in a multicultural community, there is diversity, however, why aren’t we seeing it all the time?”
Adam’s role as part of the Archway Diversity Education team is to address that question.
“When you hear diversity in your community but you’re not necessarily outright seeing it, that speaks to another underlying topic of discussion.”
Adam and her co-host Darien Johnsen hope the women’s accounts help promote a cross-cultural understanding and foster a sense of community.
In addition to Karim, listeners hear from Yoshika Campbell about going back to school, affordable housing, and being a “bystander of discrimination.” And Ana Cervantes and Yuki Yamazaki discuss being independent in a new country and understanding the different systems in Canada.
“At the basis of what we were trying to do with education was we wanted to focus on uncovering newcomers’ approaches to responding to certain challenges that they may experience when migrating to Canada,” said Adam.
Sumaiyyah Adam, participant Celine Ahodekon, and Darien Johnsen. Credit: Sumaiyyah Adam
A unique perspective
Adam doesn’t only lend an ear to the storytellers but she also lends a unique perspective as an interviewer. During her conversation with newcomer Jessie Wang, Adam shares insight on how life in Canada is more fast-paced than her family’s home of East Africa.
“Sometimes people lose that in this side of the world because they’re just getting to their next step and you’re not considering how they may affect people when you’re in a hurry.”
Adam’s family immigrated from East Africa. She was born and raised in Toronto’s Etobicoke neighbourhood and later moved to Brampton.
“I really believe in activism in my core because I grew up watching my mom do that… we grew up in a very low-income neighbourhood in Toronto, and my mom was one of the first Black women to sit on the board of directors of Toronto Community Housing.
“She was a big advocate in our community. I always knew that I wanted to be in this space for change.”
Despite being born in Canada, Adam grew up facing her own hardships.
“Growing up I was also labeled. There was this really offensive term growing up that people would say: ‘You’re a FOB,’ which means, fresh off the boat.”
“And there was an underlying stigma that I would face and experience just being a coloured woman.”
It wasn’t until she started educating herself and finding a community of racialized friends that she started to recognize the value of her lived experience as a second generation Canadian.
“It just makes me really proud of where I come from. And having this label as maybe a ‘FOB’ or a second-gen, or a child of an immigrant, I’m really empowered by that.”
The podcast is a first-of-its-kind for Archway. All eight episodes can be found on Spotify. The first season of stories has concluded and Adam hopes they help to identify gaps in how communities can better welcome newcomers.
“We believe that stories can be used as evidence. Stories can be a source of identifying what the needs are of a community and I think just knowing that in itself we can’t close this chapter off.”
Adam emphasized the podcast is not meant to speak for all newcomers, rather it reveals that each individual has their own unique story.
“It’s not all the experiences of newcomers,” she said, “but these are their stories and their experiences, and it’s just a baseline, just like a gateway into really trying to understand others. But you only can do that through asking more questions.”