October 1, 2012 at 5:38 pm

by Terumi Kuwada

The National Association of Japanese Canadians was invited three years ago by the Islamic Social Services Association (ISSA) to participate in an innovative program entitled the Canadian Muslim Leadership Institute (CMLI). The primary aim of this program is to nurture future leaders within the Muslim communities. It was recognized that an important aspect in developing leadership in the Muslim communities was a commitment to engage other communities that held similar values of diversity, social harmony and human rights.

Initially four communities participated in the CMLI program—Mennonite, Caribbean, Aboriginal, Japanese—together with the Muslim community to comprise, “The Five communities in Diversity Initiative.” Our common objective was to strive for a more unified and strong Canada, by listening and seeking greater awareness of one another. This was done through “Conversational Cafe’s,” which provided the milieu for dialogue and acceptance.

Many of the participants in the Japanese Canadian community who attended the Conversational Cafes were interested in not only sharing their stories, but to hear stories from participants that they had never met and likely would not have, if this opportunity were not made available to them. The value of these Conversational Cafes for on-going dialogue amongst diverse communities is critical to the vision of an inclusive Canada.

It has been a privilege and an honour to be a part of this CMLI program. The Muslim community has been the target of much fear, suspicion, hate and violence for many years, and especially since 9/11. Many misconceptions and myths surround this community, resulting in racial discrimination and racial profiling, not unlike what the Japanese Canadians experienced before and during World War II. Racial tensions towards the various Asian communities on the West Coast of BC, were evident in the early 1900s and exploded at one point, in the Anti-Asian Riot of 1907. “Keep Canada White,” was a common motto.

Early this year, the participants in the CMLI program, together with the staff from ISSA and volunteer mentors —myself and another individual—planned an Interfaith Youth Conference, which invited youth from different religious/secular/ethnic groups to come together “to build bridges, break barriers, facilitate understanding and educate interfaith youth in interfaith competency with the main focus being the similarities rather than the differences.” One of the offshoots of this conference has been a creation of an Interfaith Youth Council.

I am part of an Ad Hoc group of ISSA, that meets together to brainstorm issues facing the Muslim community. We stand together on issues that impact all of us as Canadians and together we can make a difference.
Terumi Kuwada iives in Winnipeg, Manitoba and is the Past President of the NAJC.