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Immigrants ‘are just people’


Albertans must help temporary foreign workers integrate into Canadian society was the message Edmonton-based filmmaker Brandy Yanchyk shared after her documentary Brooks; The City of 100 Hellos screened Saturday.

“More immigrants will keep coming and they’ll move out West because that’s where the opportunities are,” she told an audience of about 150 at Red Deer College.

The film details the challenges of immigrants from many countries hired to work at XL Foods/Lakeside Packers, the small city’s sprawling meatpacking plant, and those of longtime Brooks residents to accept the nearly 2,000 workers and their families.

It was one of 10 films shown over four days as part of the fifth annual Red Deer Justice Film Festival.

The 47-minute film is enlightening, humorous and provocative as it deals with racism, language barriers, cultural isolation and economic necessity.

“Some of the locals are very vocal about not wanting immigrants there,” said Yanchyk, who’s worked for the BBC and CBC.

“They’re worried about crime, disease and integration. Others think they bring flavour and culture to the city.”

Yanchyk’s three previous films were also about immigration, as is another now in production about Middle Eastern immigrants moving to an all-white Finnish town.

“It’s not just a Canadian thing.

“It‘s happening everywhere because it’s global.

“A lot of people have nothing to do with the immigrants. They’re just there, but they don’t integrate with them. Integration starts with young people. They don’t see a black guy or an Asian guy, they just see a guy as a friend.”

The situation isn’t helped by immigrants seeking security within their own cultures in new communities.

“I did the same thing when I first moved to London.”

In answering audience question, Yanchyk said though the film was about the community, not the meat plant, grueling work conditions must be recognized.

“A lot of them have repetitive strain injuries and are exhausted after working there.”

The plant’s tainted meat troubles last year hurt more than just the employees left temporarily out of work.

“If someone gets laid off, that money stops going to Africa or the Philippines or wherever.”

Jan Underwood of Central Alberta Refugee Effort told the audience about the many services and support CARE provides locally.

“We have a lot of temporary foreign workers in Red Deer and we have our own packing plant at Olymel.”

Yanchyk said despite the challenges, many immigrants found success and happiness in Brooks.

“I hope this film and other films like it help people to learn more about the folks moving next door to them.”

Brooks: The City of 100 Hellos is being broadcast on Omni-TV, Christian TV and CBC documentary channel and will air on numerous PBS stations this year. It has won awards at international festivals and is used as a study tool by numerous Canadian university sociology and geography programs.

rfiedler@reddeeradvocate.com

 
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