U of A International Week brings human migration into focus

(Edmonton) Social, political and environmental issues, thought to be responsible for human migration, are the focus of International Week at the University of Alberta, beginning today and running to Feb. 4.

The theme for this year’s annual I-Week event is “World on the Move: Unpacking Migration,” and Britta Baron, vice-provost and associate vice-president (international), says the series of presentations, films, discussions and exhibitions gives the U of A an opportunity to discuss issues that affect societies worldwide.

“Whether it’s the displacement of people in Pakistan from flooding or the flow of Canada’s rural communities to urban centres, the movement of people has implications for us all,” said Baron. “This university feels very strongly about sustainability and responsibility, not only in our own environment but also globally, so it’s imperative that we examine and understand what factors are contributing to the movement of populations around the world and how to best deal with the effects of these movements.”

The week-long program is packed with events including the presentation, “The Journey towards Multiculturalism in Canada: The Real Debate” which will address the claim that, by describing a society as “multicultural,” the definition encourages immigrants and their children to preserve their cultures of origin at the expense of national identity, and thus impedes their integration into their newly adopted mainstream culture.

Some of the exhibitions include an interactive wall-sized map of the globe intended to show the diversity at the U of A, and a photo exhibit.

Sticking to I-Week’s theme, members from the Edmonton community, including U of A students, staff and alumni, have brought the world—from the Panama Canal to Tanzania—to Edmonton with their cameras.

Diana Keto, communications co-ordinator with U of A’s International Global Education Program, says a common thread runs through the images selected for the exhibition.

“All together, the pictures, all of which are really great pieces of art, tell stories about movement and migration happening around the world. Just from viewing the 20 photos that were selected for this exhibition, participants of the exhibit can take a virtual journey around the world. The photos are great pieces of art and they also show the good and bad sides to migration in an artistic way,” she said.

Keto says more than 200 pictures were submitted for the exhibition, which is in its fourth year, and submissions were entered into a competition. U of A alum Neeraj Prakash’sphoto of a young girl in a small village in northern India peering over a barbed-wire fence at tourists’ sightseeing tour her village, titled Beyond the Wire, is the overall winner. Keto says the image illustrates one of the issues around migration.

“It’s a metaphor for some people’s inability to migrate. You could tell from looking at the picture that the girl in it would have a hard time leaving where she is. The picture shows the physical barrier between east and the west, and you could tell that the girl is one side and we’re on the other,” said Keto.

The exhibition expands on issues of migration to include movement by animals. For example, Left Behind, by Benjamin Fowler, shows a lone seal clinging to a slab of ice in the Gulf of Alaska. “It seems like it was left behind by poor environmental regulation,” said Keto.

Other images in the exhibition include Forgotten Hometown, taken in China’s Guangdong district in the city of Chaozhou by third-year medicine student Timothy Chan. He says the picture discusses one of the main reasons behind migration.

“Walking through the empty streets and abandoned homes of my ancestral hometown, I couldn’t help but feel blessed,” said Chan. “My grandfather left this rural village in China 50 years ago in order to make a living for his family. Similarly, my parents immigrated to Canada 20 years ago in search for a better life. Each left their home, familiar and dear to them, in hopes that their children would have a brighter future.”

The exhibition runs at Enterprise Square Extension Gallery until Feb. 7. The show is one of more than 60 events observing I-Week at the U of A.