With hundreds of Francophones wanting to make Fredericton their home, organizers chose to discuss systemic racism at this year’s event to mark the National Week of Francophone Immigration.
This year, the National Week of Francophone Immigration’s guiding directive was for events to be “an opportunity to open a dialogue on the reality of systemic racism, which many immigrants suffer and to learn about other cultures.”
Organized by the Multicultural Association of Fredericton and the Saint-Anne Community Centre, the Fredericton event on Nov. 8, titled “Histoires d’immigration : un après-midi de témoignages” (Immigration Stories: An afternoon of testimonials), two speakers took the stage to share their experience of immigration with the public gathered in the Saint-Anne Community Centre auditorium.
Marc-Alexandre Lagacy, community liaison for newcomers at the Saint-Anne Community Centre, introduced the event and welcomed the public. He detailed the supporting partners of the event, including the Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.
David Gallant is the Francophone liaison for the Multicultural Association of Fredericton. Gallant confirmed that there are 350 newcomers who are looking to integrate the Francophone community in the area.
Originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Merveille Bahati arrived in Canada 15 years ago. At the age of five years old, Bahati “felt the coldest she had ever felt in her life” at the airport in Calgary.
In Calgary, she was “the only Black girl in the whole school” and she endured a lot of challenges and “felt that she was a stranger.” Since then she has become accustomed to the weather and made a life for herself in English Canada.
When she moved to Fredericton, Bahati was happy to “reconnect with this part of herself” in the Francophone community. Bahati now works for the Multicultural Association of Fredericton. For her, in the province, “diversity has changed very quickly in the last 15 years.”
Viviane Koudou is from the city of Abidjian, Cote d’Ivoire, and is the mother of two teenagers. She arrived in Toronto in February 2020 after finishing a Ph.D. in economics in her home country.
Koudou chose to move to Fredericton because, in Toronto, “the sacrifice for her children was enormous” in terms of the cost of living and the lifestyle. She affirmed “it’s for them that I am here (…) I am responsible for their future.” In Fredericton, Koudou has found a wonderful community already, including a “grandmother” for her children.
For Koudou, the “question of the language divide is a pseudo-barrier” for her teenagers who have chosen to study in English in order to perfect their language skills. She herself is continuing her studies in order to gain valuable experience towards finding employment.
Lagacy confirmed that this “new initiative” of sharing newcomer stories would hopefully become a series of events. Francophones make up 7.3 per cent of the population of Greater Fredericton, according to 2016 Statistics Canada data. According to a study by Saint-Anne Community Centre, the Francophone population in the area has grown by 91 per cent from 1976-2016.
Sophie M. Lavoie is NB Media Co-op editorial board member who writes on arts and culture for the NB Media Co-op.