More than a decade ago, UBC planning professor Leonie Sandercock wrote a book with the provocative title Cosmopolis II: Mongrel Cities of the 21st Century. In it, she argued that metropolitan regions that embrace diversity have distinct advantages over those that veer toward fundamentalism and creating ethnic silos. And she hoped that her book would educate city planners on how to “advance the project of multiculturalism”.
“A more robust sense of identity…must be able to embrace cultural autonomy and, at the same time, work to strengthen intercultural solidarity,” she wrote.
The word mongrel in her title referred to how hybrids are often less susceptible to disease than purebreds in the animal world. And there’s little doubt that diversity can enhance economic resiliency in an increasingly interconnected world. Many of the world’s most dynamic cities—including Paris, Taipei, New York, London, Istanbul, and Hong Kong—have traditionally been havens for migrants.
In comparison to many other regions in recent years, Metro Vancouver has been remarkably successful in bringing together people from a multitude of cultural backgrounds. One reason is our collective curiosity. Many of us want to learn more about our neighbours. Another factor is our school system, which integrates kids from all over the world. Workplaces are also increasingly diverse. Intercultural solidarity is strong, in part because a significant number of residents have witnessed the horrors of communal violence in their countries of origin.
At last year’s Korean Cultural Heritage Festival at Swangard Stadium, Burnaby mayor Derek Corrigan said that there are more than 100 languages spoken in his city. In Richmond, residents communicate in 77 nonofficial languages, according to UBC researchers Daniel Hiebert and Elanna Nolan. It’s a myth that Richmond comprises only English and Mandarin speakers.
Summer is often when different communities hold their biggest celebrations. These events offer tremendous opportunities for all of us to indulge in other cultures, sample new types of cuisine, and experience art forms that may have originated halfway around the world.
Here’s a list of 13 events creating a more robust sense of identity in our region and promoting intercultural understanding. (Two others are covered elsewhere in the paper. The Powell Street Festival is included in a list of summer arts events; Festival d’Été is in the roundup of summer concerts.)
Italian Day on the Drive
Sunday, June 14
For the sixth consecutive year, motor vehicles will be banned from several blocks of Commercial Drive to make room for a massive Italian street party. This year’s festival of food, music, and fashion is sure to attract more than 300,000 people to Little Italy. This year, the festival’s theme is art, including painting, sculpture, music, and architecture. That’s why the Italian Day Festival Society is highlighting an exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Of Heaven and Earth: 500 Years of Italian Painting From Glasgow Museums features the works of Sandro Botticelli, Giovanni Bellini, and Salvator Rosa, among others.
Who will be there: Local folks who enjoy strolling along a piazza and being reminded of the important role Italians played in developing western civilization.
National Aboriginal Day at Trout Lake
Celebrate First Nations in Canada with a 9 a.m. pancake breakfast at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre (1607 East Hastings Street) followed by an 11 a.m. friendship walk to Trout Lake. There, Takaya Tours will perform canoe demonstrations and kids can experience a tepee village.
Who will be there: Anyone interested in promoting reconciliation between aboriginal and nonaboriginal people.
Greek Day on Broadway
This family-friendly event attracts nearly 100,000 people every year to West Broadway for Hellenic dance, music, plenty of souvlaki, and even some Greek history and beauty treatments. A Mediterranean diet is reputed to be one of the healthiest in the world. Greek Day offers an opportunity to find out why herbs from this part of the world promote longevity.
Who will be there: Anyone who wants to check out what traditional furniture looks like in a Greek island home.
Canada Day at Granville Island
Canada Place often attracts the huge crowds on our national birthday, but Granville Island is where you’ll find greater cultural diversity. Latincouver presents Samba Fusion from noon to 1 p.m., followed by Chinese lion dancers from 2:15 p.m. to 3 p.m. Three-time world champion hoop dancer Alex Wells of the Lil’wat Nation and his daughters will also be on the island from 4 p.m. to 4:45 p.m. That’s not all. The MELA! Festivals offer an assortment of treats from around the world, including an Indian buffet, Jamaican iced coffee, and bubble tea. One of the biggest draws, however, is the buffet of TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival performances at four locations: Performance Works, stages at the public market, the Railspur District, and Ron Basford Park. Remarkably, all of this entertainment is free.
Who will be there: Patriots, jazz fans, and parents. Lots of them. (Fans of the War of 1812 might be more interested in what’s happening at Canada Place, where there’s always a huge military display.)
Indian Summer Festival
July 9 to 19
This has become one of the city’s most ambitious cultural festivals, bringing in literary stars and intellectuals from around the world, as well as some stunning musical events. Artistic director Sirish Rao consistently surprises audiences with a smorgasbord of delights. One of this year’s highlights is called Genes & Jazz: Dr. Varmus & Jacob Varmus Quintet. It features a Nobel Prize–winning geneticist, Harold Varmus, giving a July 17 talk at the Vancouver Playhouse as he’s accompanied by a musical group led by his son, jazz trumpeter Jacob Varmus. Meanwhile, sarod master Maestro Amjad Ali Khan & Sons will perform at the Orpheum on July 15. The Guardian described this trio as “an Indian classical answer to Eric Clapton and Ginger Baker crashing through their favourite Robert Johnson covers”. Best-selling U.S. author and religious scholar Reza Aslan—who famously rebutted Bill Maher’s simplistic views on Islam last year—will return for a discussion about religion and violence. There will also be a gathering of writers who used to or still drive cabs, an exploration of the impact of American jazz artists on Bollywood, the unveiling of an epic mural by Delhi artist Orijit Sen at the Surrey Art Gallery, and much more.
Who will be there: People who prefer a Deepa Mehta movie or Indian director Vishal Bhardwaj’s Haider over U.S. reality TV shows.
Carnaval del Sol
July 11 and 12
This celebration of Latin American food, entertainment, games, and music moves to Concord Pacific Place, northwest of Science World. It’s a lively fiesta that includes outdoor salsa and Zumba lessons, a street soccer tournament (billed as Vancouver’s mini World Cup), a ton of children’s activities, Latin dance and music, and more Mexican, Central American, and South American food than you can imagine. Taste the brigadeiro, a Brazilian delicacy created from milk, butter, powdered chocolate, and chocolate sprinkles. You can also sample canapés de cheese or a purée called salmorejo, which combines tomatoes, bread, garlic, and vinegar. It goes down well with chicken or vegetarian dishes. Here’s another thing to think about: Carnaval del Sol, like TaiwanFest (see below), has embraced environmentalism and makes great efforts to divert recyclable content from the waste stream.
Who will be there: People who never tire of hearing Mercedes Sosa sing “Gracias a la Vida”.
For those who like a little samba on a hot sunny day, head on down to the 800 block of Granville Street and check out the action. Axé Capoeira Academy will launch the carnival with a maracatu dance that’s common in northeastern Brazil. That will be followed by acrobatic displays, culminating in a traditional samba parade.
Who will be there: Capoeira aficionados and those who wish they were in Rio this summer but can’t get away from work.
Caribbean Days Festival
July 25 and 26
Waterfront Park near the SeaBus terminal in North Vancouver is where you’ll find jerk chicken, roti, and other Caribbean delights, not to mention enough reggae to bring back memories of Peter Tosh and Bob Marley. The annual event kicks off with a parade on Lonsdale Avenue.
Who will be there: Anyone who enjoys dining at the Reef or the Calabash Bistro.
Vancouver Pride Parade
This is when all of those straights, including politicians and first responders, get to show their love for the LGBPTTQQIIAA+ community. Yes, that’s a lot of letters, encompassing everything from pansexual to intersex to asexual. The second A, by the way, refers to straight allies who support their queer friends and family members. The annual parade has come a long way since the early 1980s, when the first marchers were pelted with tomatoes. Some argue that human-rights advances have made Pride parades passé, but anyone who witnesses the joy felt along Robson and Denman streets during the B.C. Day weekend would likely disagree.
Who will be there: Probably the same folks who were there last year and who will be there again next year.
Korean Cultural Heritage Festival
This year’s lineup hasn’t been announced, but if it’s anything like last year’s event, it will bring out a huge crowd. That’s because South Korea is on the cutting edge of pop culture, exporting entertainment around the world. In 2014, this celebration of Korean culture held its first daylong event at Swangard Stadium. It attracted a diverse audience to a demonstration of tae kwon do and a whole lot of Korean drumming. Last year’s fest also reenacted a traditional Korean wedding and featured tightrope-walking, otherwise known as jultagi.
Who will be there: Lots of Burnaby politicians, including Burnaby-Lougheed NDP MLA Jane Shin, who was the first person of Korean descent elected to the B.C. legislature.
September 4 to 7
This year’s lineup hasn’t been revealed yet, but we’ve been told there will be a “Friendship Bento”, where 100 Canadians of Taiwanese descent will invite 100 non-Taiwanese folks out for lunch on Granville Street. In past years, impresario Charlie Wu has featured a bevy of popular bands from Taiwan, and this year is no different, with the Asian EDM supergroup Magic Power scheduled to appear. In recent years, Vancouver Metropolitan Orchestra principal conductor Ken Hsieh has added a cultural flourish to the festival, most recently by showcasing music from films by Taiwanese directors, including Ang Lee. The Tzu Chi Foundation has also been a cornerstone of past TaiwanFests, offering free traditional Chinese medicine consultations and providing volunteers who keep the streets spotless.
Who will be there: Those who cherish how Taiwanese people have retained a vibrant democracy and effervescent culture while living across a strait from a ruthless dictatorship.
Richmond World Festival
This free festival at Minoru Park is expected to attract 40,000 people. Two music stages will be on-site, including one dedicated to performers of different cultural backgrounds. There will also be a global sports zone, a fusion culinary stage, a soccer tournament, and plenty of indie, roots, and world music. Richmond city officials hope that it will match the energy of the O Zone, which attracted huge crowds during the 2010 Olympics.
Who will be there: People who recognize that Richmond is undergoing a metamorphosis from traditional suburb to lively urban metropolis.
September 16 to 20
Entering its fifth year, this festival celebrates the contributions of people of mixed heritage. Like Sandercock’s book, it promotes the notion that hybridity enriches and strengthens our community. One of the highlights will be an evening with The Book of Negroes author Lawrence Hill on September 17. Hapa-palooza culminates with a hapa family day on September 20.
Who will be there: Some of the most culturally astute people living in the Lower Mainland.