Culture  Culture shock returns

QPIRG and SSMU team up for 12 day event on the dynamics of multiculturalism

QPIRG and SSMU are bringing Culture Shock back to McGill and the Montreal community between October 3 and 15. Now in its fifth year, Culture Shock is an event series that aims at deconstructing myths surrounding immigrants, refugees, and communities of colour through workshops, film screenings, and panel discussions.

What started back in 2006 as a “radical” offshoot of SSMU’s Culture Fest has grown into a 12-day forum for critical analysis and discussion on issues of ethnicity and race.

Don’t be mistaken though – Culture Shock is far from being an invite-only, elitist affair. Forget abstracting narratives into intellectualized discourse. And forget all the policy-centered brouhaha. Culture Shock is about the people, the problems they’ve had to face, and their solutions to them. Anna Malla, one of the event organizers at QPIRG, said, “We want to bring out the voices that normally aren’t heard, and we welcome the grassroots community and resistance.”

There’s a renewed sense of spirit to this year’s event, as Malla and her co-organizer Andrea Figueroa remain committed to the principles that inspired the series from the get-go.

“Where there was a food fair and cultural performances, we didn’t find an analysis behind questions, like ‘Why are there migrant communities in Canada?’ We wanted to do both,” said Malla. And while in previous years the focus of Culture Shock has been steered mostly toward the analysis side, the organizers want to bring culture back into the picture. “We’re here to celebrate cultures but recognize realities,” said Malla.

With a full line-up of speakers and panel discussions this year, they’re tackling issues that speak to the community within Montreal and beyond.

Take the incident in late August, when 492 Tamil refugees showed up off the BC coast, welcomed by angry Canadians accusing them of links with terrorism on one end, and support rallies mobilizing across the country on the other. The discussion panel on October 4, titled “From Arizona to Montreal: Migrants Fight Back!” may have a lot to offer with respect to the incident. “The panel will have someone from the Tamil support community who’s working on creating awareness outside of media influences. If we look at the history of racist immigration, or race riots at the turn of the century, we know that this is not the first time this has happened,” said Figueroa.

The keynote panel takes on another international context, inviting Ponni Arasu to talk about her work towards decriminalizing gay sex in India through organizing within queer collectives in Delhi.

“What we’ve wanted to do is look at how people’s movements and struggles bring success stories, and bring those legal challenges that should say gay sex should be legal to the forefront,” said Figueroa.

The issues that are presented at Culture Shock are important for both students and Montrealers. Immigrants make up 31 per cent of Montreal’s population, and 26 per cent of our population is composed of visible minorities. For these communities, experiences of marginalization take place at the workplace, in immigration services, and in their neighbourhoods – which are often racialized and segregated.

Racial profiling, immigration laws, and state security laws are just some of the institutional mechanisms that put these communities under increased pressure, said Figueroa. These problems occur on an everyday basis, but media coverage for their cause is infrequent.

The Canadian government championed itself as a multicultural society in 1971, now we ought to ask: for whom? We need to look around and observe how Canada measures up. “The state tries to sell the idea that we integrate communities from all sorts of places and it happens flawlessly,” Malla said. “What the government does in reality is that they’re happy to bring migrants to be temporary workers but won’t want to give them status. There’s constant deportation.”

But the event sings a hopeful tune. “In spite of all of this, Culture Shock takes a positive outlook,” Malla mused, “because in this place of adversity, these people continue to live their lives.”