A Question of Tolerance

Heritage Day is a day to recognize and celebrate our province’s diverse cultural heritage and was declared a civic holiday in 1974 by the Government of Alberta.  One of the ways we celebrate this day in Edmonton is through the three day long Heritage Festival in Hawrelak Park.  Growing up in Edmonton, attending this festival meant marveling at the sights, sounds, and smells of the festival while enjoying all the gelato and shish-kebabs I could afford with my allowance.  

Did you know that currently, one in five Albertans is an immigrant? This gap is only going to continue to close as time passes.  That means the percentage of people with diverse cultural backgrounds, whose native language may not be English, living and working to support their families in the Edmonton Metro area is only going to continue to grow. Successful immigrants help create a thriving economy, but they can only be successful if they can overcome the language, cultural nuance, and qualification barriers that they come up against.

This week on facebook I read a statement from a frustrated native Canadian who had an encounter with an employee at a restaurant with poor English comprehension. This person suggested that the employee should not have been hired to work a job around people until they had a better handle on the English language.  This spurred on the question: Is it intolerant to expect workers to have the language skills required to do their job in manner that does not inconvenience patrons? Or, do we need to recognize that the benefit of having a diverse society and the continued increase in the immigrant population, means native speakers must be patient when having to spend a couple extra minutes out of their busy lives to ensure that we are understood when communicating with employees whose first language is not English?

The latest issue of We Magazine contains an article, “Welcome Upon Arrival” which explores the challenges and successes of Yvonne Chiu, Shiva Chapagai, Niga Jalal, and Arnaldo Perez, four immigrants who came to Canada to start a new life. I was lucky enough to have a chance to speak with Yvonne and Shiva who have since dedicated their lives to helping immigrants navigate the new systems they come up against when arriving in the country and supporting them however possible.  Their stories serve to reinforce the need for all of us to adapt to the reality of immigration, instead of simply expecting immigrants to adapt to life in Canada. It is an article I believe everyone should read before answering the above questions and one I will be sending to my friend on facebook.

But this is just one opinion. Leave us a comment and let us know yours.