by Giovanni Attili and Leonie Sandercock
for more information see: mongrel-stories.com
What you see here is the opening sequence of a 50 minutes documentary which received an Honorable Mention at the Berkeley Video and Film Festival (Oct 2006) and a Special Mention at the International Federation of Housing and Planning film competition (Geneva Sept 2006)
SYNOPSIS: Collingwood, a Vancouver neighborhood that, just 20 years ago was living important inter-ethnic conflicts, is now a welcoming place for everyone. How did this happen? How do strangers become neighbours?
Migration has always been an important feature of human history, but never more so than the past two decades. But what happens when increasing numbers of strangers move into a neighbourhood, bringing with them different histories and cultures, religions and social practices, and often, urgent needs for housing, language training, schools and jobs? How do newcomers, as well as members of the 'host' society, develop an everyday capacity to live alongside those perceived as different, strange?
Our story explores this contemporary global social issue by looking at one neighbourhood -- Collingwood -- in the City of Vancouver. 38% of metropolitan Vancouver, and 51% of the City's residents are foreign born. Collingwood, a predominantly Anglo-European community until the 1980s, has been transformed since then by the arrival of large numbers of East, South, and South East Asians, Africans, and Latin Americans. A neighborhood that, just 20 years ago was locking its doors, afraid of change, and telling immigrants to go back where they came from, is now a welcoming place for everyone.
How did this happen? How do strangers become neighbours?
This is the story of the transformation of one neighbourhood, over a twenty year period, from fear and hostility towards immigrants to a remarkably integrated and welcoming community. It is the story of how an integrated community was created, through the work of the Collingwood Neighbourhood House (CNH). The story is told primarily through the voices, and lives, of immigrant women (from Nigeria, Chile, Colombia, Taiwan, and India), who describe their feelings of isolation and invisibility on arriving in Canada and not being able to speak the language. 'You feel invisible. You are nobody.' These women first came to the CNH to use its language or childcare programs, and then became involved as volunteers, received training, and went on to find jobs in the city. Now their teenage children, who were once in the childcare programs, are volunteers at CNH in the Youth Buddy Program, for example, or youth counseling other youth about drugs, bullying, and so on.
The film begins with a portrait of this low income neighbourhood twenty years ago, a neighbourhood fearful of and antagonistic towards the newcomers. We then tell the story of the birth of the CNH in 1985, with its mission of diversity, of creating a place for everyone, and we follow the development of the CNH and of the community through a series of innovative social and community development programs such as the Arts Pow WoW (a community cultural development program in which thousands of local residents participated), MultiWeek, and the Community Leadership Institute.
This is now a very respectful community, but it wasn't always like that. A longtime Collingwood resident tells the story of the effort to build a Native housing coop in the neighbourhood, and the initial resistance to that, the stereotypes about 'Indians' and reservations, that had to be dispelled before the community could see that the Native population brought real assets to this neighbourhood, as well as needs. Various residents, newcomers as well as oldtimers, discuss the various forms of racism that have existed, and how the CNH works to combat this.
One of the most remarkable stories involves the reclamation of a local park that had been taken over by gang members and drug dealers. Through the local leadership of an environmental artist and a native elder, thousands of residents worked together to come up with a plan for making the park more attractive and hospitable to people from all cultures. Chinese seniors from a tai chi group worked side by side with African drummers and Native carvers to create, with their own sweat and artistic abilities, a place that everyone is proud of. During this lengthy participatory process, people worked together, had fun together, celebrated together, and got to know each other. Strangers became neighbours.
Our immigrant women interviewees describe the CNH as a 'blessed place' a place where everyone feels 'at home' and learns about other cultures. We explore what is so special about this place, how 'the Collingwood spirit' emerged, and what struggles it still faces.