The Shan E Punjab dancers will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday

The Shan E Punjab dancers will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday

Celebrate diversity at Culture Fest

Inaugural event in Maple Ridge takes place Friday, March 14 at the ACT

The face of Maple Ridge is slowly changing, ebbing and flowing just like the Fraser River which courses past it shores.

The very first people to call this place home were First Nation, known collectively as “Halkomelem” from their shared language. They were expert boatmen who travelled the rivers, creeks and sloughs, well before the area would become the District of Maple Ridge.

Two men — Samuel Robertson and John McIver — vie for the honour of being the first non-native settler in the district and since them more immigrants have followed.

The latest census data shows German, Spanish, Punjabi and Korean are most common mother tongue after English.

The immigrants that populate the ’burbs of Maple Ridge now hail from across the globe, each bringing with them a unique culture, language and food. It’s diversity one must celebrate and that’s just what the inaugural Culture Fest intends to do.

Culture Fest was created with the Welcoming Communities Project to bring people of different cultures together to share, connect, experience and learn about each other, says facilitator Kim Angel as she gets ready for Friday’s evening-long celebration.

“We were going to end the project with forum but our steering committee wanted to see something vibrant, entertaining and exciting, yet meaningful, as the culmination of our year if work on this project.”

Although funding for the Welcoming Communities Project ends this year, Angel hopes Culture Fest continues as a celebration next year.

“I am planning to do everything I can to keep this festival running,” she says.

• Anyone interested in supporting Culture Fest in 2015 can email Culture Fest takes place at the ACT in Maple Ridge from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday, March 14.

A challenge to celebrate yourself, then celebrate each other

Just Us puts the ideas and experiences of a diverse group of young people on stage as never before.

Created as part of Welcoming Communities Project, One Night Castle Projects spent two months building a team of actors and challenging them to share their experiences of multiculturalism, racism and the immigration experience.

The performers come from culturally and socially diverse backgrounds, ranging in age 10 to 15 years.

Some are immigrants; some are First Nation and some were born in Canada.

“Just having such a diverse group together in the same room and watching them work so well together is inspiring,” said instructor James Rowley.

The resulting play follows a young boy as he arrives in Canada and is thrown into a school culture where hurtful words are commonplace. If you date someone who is a different “race” you risk being attacked. Rowley says the actors bravely explore what is really going on in schools today and what they can do to help.

We watch as new immigrants pick up on the prejudices and cruelty they witness, but we also see demonstrations of basic kindness toward strangers and the celebration of differences. At the end of the play, these budding stars show us what they’re made of and there is not a dry eye in the house.

“During the workshops it became clear that in order to create a welcoming community, each person must first learn to welcome and celebrate every aspect of their diverse selves,” says Rowley, noting the addition of one performer  Tyson Aubin, who gets around in a wheelchair and communicates mostly by computer, want the group realize it was impossible to narrow discrimination down to just racism.

“I hope that the show demonstrates very clearly that all forms of discrimination have the same roots: ignorance and fear,” he says.

“Singing their own praises was a big challenge for these young performers. In fact, it is a big challenge for anyone, but that is the challenge Just Us and the Welcoming Communities Project puts out to the whole community. Celebrate yourselves, then celebrate each other.”

Cast of Just Us includes Skyler Florence, Tony Yang, Dylan Green, Tyson Aubin, Tessa Loman, Echo Wu, Natalie Lacasse, Sam Jeon, Raymond Todd, Jade Cutting and Tracy Yang.