By Margaret-Anne Enders –
These days I count myself lucky. My family and I just returned from a backpacking trip in Nicaragua. Part of our adventures there included a home stay with a rural Nicaraguan family. Miriam, Samir, and Alina were warm and welcoming and graciously shared their culture, their food, and their small home with us. Their house was simple and rustic, with cinderblock and brick walls, only beds, a table, and chairs for furniture, and no indoor plumbing. Pigs, chickens, roosters, and dogs roamed the dusty yard. Once we got to know them, they told us they were worried we would not want to stay with them when we saw their small and simple house. On the contrary: for me, being with them and sharing their space was the highlight of our trip. Despite my sketchy Spanish, we stayed up late every night talking about life and politics, hopes, and dreams.
The day after I returned home, my children and I attended an evening of dancing, drumming, and singing hosted by the Sugarcane community. The evening started with a prayer and an honour song, followed by a round dance, open to everyone to join. Then there were Secwepemc drummers, hoop dancers, and singers. Finally, the visiting Nuxalk people from Bella Coola shared some of their sacred dances. We journeyed with them by canoe and experienced legends through various mask dances. My heart felt full and it felt so important to share in this cultural exchange with my children.
En route from Nicaragua, we had a stopover in Los Angeles, just as Donald Trump was, once again, renewing his pledge to build a wall to seal off the Mexican border. It was, and is, distressing to see such fear and how it manifests in anger and hatred. These divergent experiences remind me how important it is to meet people on a personal level. Personal encounters break down walls, challenge assumptions, and change hearts and minds.
In the Multiculturalism Program at the Canadian Mental Health Association, in co-operation with our partners in the Racism Awareness Network, we are a month into our Dirty Laundry Campaign. This is a movement designed to challenge people to move beyond some of their assumptions by introducing them to various members of minority communities who have had painful experiences of racism. In the lead-up to this campaign, we heard countless stories of people who have been affected by racist words, actions, or systems, not just the odd time, but over and over again. Racism lives in our community and it hurts people.
However, these are not just hard-luck victim stories. The people who have volunteered to tell their stories in this campaign are strong and resilient. They have succeeded in many ways, despite the obstacles they have faced. The campaign also presents white people who share some of their learnings about ways in which they experience privileges because of being part of the dominant culture or how they have grown in their understanding of racism.
The Dirty Laundry Campaign uses stories to invite people to look deeper than the stereotypes and move into curiosity about their neighbours and also about their own histories. For many this will inevitably mean a step outside their comfort zone. It may mean a trip out to the Father’s Day powwow at Sugarcane, going to an event at the Xat’sull Heritage Village (everyone is welcome to community events and powwows!), or attending the Multicultural Festival at Chief Will-Yum on June 12 – 13. It may mean offering to billet an Elder from a different community for the BC Elders’ Gathering occurring here in Williams Lake this July (Google this – it is a huge event and honour for our community). It may mean speaking out when someone utters a racist comment. New things are difficult and scary, but opening up in this way unveils a rich sense of depth and appreciation about the cultures in our midst. We want all people in our community to feel lucky to live here.
Yes, back to being lucky. When I think more deeply, my recent experiences are more complex than just luck. On one hand, I have the privilege of being able to afford to travel. Not everyone has that luxury and I know the colour of my skin has, at least in part, given me a leg up for such experiences. But I have also the desire to learn about, experience, and share with people of other cultures. I have the will and determination to make the world a fairer, kinder, and safer world for all. This intention is so much more powerful than luck. And when my strong intention joins with other like-minded hearts, we will and do have the power to change our society—to clean up our dirty laundry. Let’s get scrubbing!
Watch for our campaign biweekly in The Tribune, on The Goat and Shaw Cable, on FB (Dirty Laundry Campaign and Cariboo-Chilcotin Racism Awareness Network), Twitter, and posters around town. If you would like to receive updates or are willing to display posters in your workplace, please call me at (250) 305-4426.
In her work with the Multicultural Program at Cariboo Mental Health Association, and in her life as a parent, partner, faithful seeker, left-leaning Christian, paddler, and gardener, Margaret-Anne Enders is thrilled to catch glimpses of the Divine in the ordinary and the extraordinary. Visit www.womenspiritualitycircle.wordpress.com or on Facebook at Women’s Spirituality Circle in Williams Lake to find out more.