Dream, Girl celebrates diversity in self-employment

Sunday morning is for documentaries, in my point of view. It’s a perfect time to recharge my commitment to the week ahead. The goal is always to find a film that will teach, inspire and entertain.

Success this Sunday with Dream, Girl, which you can watch here.

Lots of important lessons and encouragement in this work, mostly that entrepreneurs learn pivotal knowledge by doing. It’s impossible to know everything in advance so for we need to give up perfectionistic ideas and make the path by walking (to paraphrase education writer Myles Horton).

Women, and particularly women of colour, are under-represented in founding businesses. We have the ideas and the capability to claim those spaces. Documentaries like Dream, Girl remind and encourage us.

Chilling story of immigration + abuse

We hear the words “undocumented” or “illegal” immigrants tossed around a lot these days in the media. A recent story from Pacific Standard shares the chilling reality of one immigrated European woman who suffered years of domestic abuse while an American spouse’s threats hung over her.

You can read the disturbing story here. It’s striking how easily this could happen. The ending comments remind us of the utter vulnerability of women in this situation.

How we’re doing at belonging: meh

It seems surprising — and yet it doesn’t — that BC’s Lower Mainland residents are meh at belonging. Given the warm climate and Lotus Land rep, you’d think we’d be nothing but kind and inclusive to each other, scoring high at creating a sense of belonging. Unfortunately, we aren’t there yet and have some work to do.

A March 2018 report from My Health My Community shows the results of a 2013-2014 survey of more than 33,000 of us about our sense of belonging. The research focused on 1) a perception of community belonging, and 2) how many of us have a reasonable number of people to confide in. In this study, four or more people to tell your problems to or call when you really need help is a primary indicator of belonging.

Surprise 1: newcomers with five years or less in Canada were as likely as Canadian-born to report a strong sense of belonging and 4+ people to confide in. This is truly impressive. Newcomers arrive in the Lower Mainland facing multiple barriers and obstacles, often with only a limited number of contacts. Yet they report belonging and friendship. (Maybe newcomers should be teaching the rest of us about networking.)

Surprise 2: Sense of belonging among seniors also shows the highest numbers and seems to increase incrementally with age. Close to 80% of 70-year-old respondents reported a sense of belonging. Compare that with 44% of 19 to 29 year-olds. Age matters.

And, less of a surprise, but still: People who’ve lived in their homes for 13 or more years also experience a strong sense of belonging and they are 2.5 times more likely than those who’ve lived in the community 2 years or less.

The bad news: 43% of us throughout the Lower Mainland report low or very low sense of belonging. Almost half have 1 – 3 people to confide in; a quarter of us have 4 – 6 people to confide in and one in five has 7 people to confide in.

Over the past two decades, the price of real estate and the job market have driven Lower Mainland residents to move away; the belonging survey shows the implications. When friends move to the Okanagan or to Toronto or elsewhere, that easy confiding ability undergoes strain.  Sure, you can Skype or visit, but gradually the bonds break apart and new friendships have to be made.

Each time a friend moves away, you feel the loss and wonder about making a new investment in someone new. Will he/she soon be off to more affordable locales? We know we have to be positive but the situation does wear on folks and you can see it in the results of the survey.

Recent immigrants model the resilience the rest of us need. They experience belonging and friendship in ways that keep them healthy and optimistic.

Similarly, Stanley Q. Woodvine models compassionate concern for homeless Vancouverites who appear to be sleeping but may be in medical distress. You can read his respectful approach to waking people here.

How we experience belonging is more than a state of mind. It incorporates our access to friendships and how safe we feel in our neighborhoods.





Refugee scientist belongs in his lab

Amir Toma has lived in Canada for more than 2 years but didn’t get a strong sense of belonging until he got settled into work that used his professional skills.

Toma (not his real name) works in a commercial lab in the Metro Vancouver area in an alternative career related to his pre-arrival profession. He was hired into his current organization about a year ago.

Amir naturally misses his family, friends and culture tremendously; his immediate family remains in the Middle East until he is able to sponsor their immigration. At the same time, he has other relatives in the Lower Mainland with whom he can socialize and speak in his first language.

Even so, he feels more comfortable and a stronger sense of belonging at his highly-multicultural workplace. Working with other science professionals from around the world, including Asia, Europe and North America, gave him a surge of belonging. The job that began several months ago gave him a boost of confidence that is helping him to integrate.

“I feel like I am useful in this country so my belonging sense increases,” Amir said in a recent interview.

The sense of camaraderie at work in Metro Vancouver is not identical to his pre-arrival experience, however. When male co-workers in his Middle Eastern workplace greet each other in the morning, there’s always a warm handshake involved, Amir explains. That’s not the every-day case in typical Canadian labs. Cultural differences prevail.

Still, Amir manages to keep a sense of humour about it all. When a European colleague resigned and was saying goodbyes on his last day, Amir teased him. “C’mon, buddy, gimme a hug.”

The departing lab worker declined, likely with a look of discomfort that helped to make the moment more comedic. There was a shared laugh cementing the sense of belonging that colleagues with shared professions experience.

The belonging morale of this tiny tale? Working in an an organization, particularly one that recognizes and uses the skills we most value, is one of the strongest and simplest ways to belong.




Social, professional groups add to belonging

Eleven years ago, Mary Tecson left her auditing career, family, friends and home in the Philippines to immigrate to Canada. But in all that time, she has not fallen into a trough of culture shock or homesickness because her social and professional groups have kept her “sane.”

Since immigrating, she has continued to rely on her home-country relationships developed through her work, school and church while she develops new friendships in Canada. Even though she has successfully integrated into the larger society where she works as an Assistant Manager at a non-profit agency, she still keeps in close contact with friends and colleagues from her home country. She says they have helped to keep homesickness at bay.

One important group to which she belongs is that of her former employer, the Land Bank. The organization employs 8,000 workers in the Philippines, some of whom have emigrated to Vancouver, where they formed a social and support group for each other and for newbie arrivals like Mary when she arrived more than a decade ago.

“I kinda like to get the learnings from them,” Mary says, “As if I have a big book, I just open it and see all the learnings they have: hurdles, success stories.”

“Whenever I asked, they had something to tell me.”

The group holds meetings a couple of times a year for its members to connect and socialize. “There’s a summer party and a Christmas party, ” Mary explains. “We love parties. Every time we meet there’s always food and jokes.”

“You kinda feel you belong already. It’s like you’re at home.”

Mary did not limit her group participation to just one association. She also attends events organized by groups related to her university alumni, her province, her profession (auditors and accountants), a parenting group, a group of settlement workers (with 100+ members) and her church. Mary estimates there are more than 100 groups of these types in BC that provide similar support to members.

There are more than 850,000 people of Filipino descent living in Canada, according to Wikipedia. One-third of these live in the Toronto area while close to 100,000 call Vancouver home.

Many Filipino Canadians work in the health and finance industries. Several others are business owners. Qoola, a frozen yogurt provider, is one you may have seen. Goldilocks Bakery in Vancouver is another well-known Filipino franchise.

Belonging to a name; name belonging

Learning to spell well came to me out of necessity: my family name (Pawlikowski) has 11 letters and four syllables. I’ve been spelling it out loud for people for a very long time and expect to keep doing so until someone is checking it for my death certificate. My name, like my recently passed-away and much-loved pet, has been a handful.

The lengthy surname has caused ample raised eyebrows, wry smiles, sympathetic chuckles and outright scorn for me. (Here imagine, “What kind of name is that?)

Thus, it was a momentous experience when a colleague complimented me on it. “That’s a nice name,” Liza Bautista, an ISSofBC colleague, offered sometime around the turn of the century.

“You should pronounce it the Polish way: [pahv lee KAHV ski],” she continued. Liza had developed friendships with Polish immigrants who retained the authentic pronunciation of their names and knew the right formula for the phonics. I didn’t. My dad (who immigrated as a kid) had always used the anglicized version; my mom (a WASP who married into what was a very cumbersome name) shortened our family handle by guillotining the two final syllables as often as possible.

As Liza spoke my name with those altered v’s, the syllables gained a melodious quality. The sound immediately evoked a European feel, something glamorous, or maybe bohemian. My name sounded like that of an artist or a composer; not the linguistic menace that it has been throughout my Canadian life that (according to multiple research projects) has probably kept my resume from countless “yes” piles, for instance.

At that moment, I experienced a surge of inclusion and belonging, a spike of joy. To have your name liked, accepted and understood is intoxicating. I could get addicted to it!

The risk of that is slight, though. Foreign monikers in our anglo culture don’t get a huge amount of positive recognition. They are mostly tolerated and all of us with long or hard-to-pronounce just move on because in the grand scheme of life and the many bigger problems out there, it’s not one of the worst obstacles.

Still, even to have had that little experience is powerful. It feels uproariously good when someone likes your name after decades of more negative or neutral response. Such a glorious and memorable feeling of belonging…