The public spaces in our city play an important role in determining how inclusive and welcoming Hamilton is. Community spaces can be both inclusive and exclusive to different people for different reasons.
To determine in which public spaces newcomer women feel most safe and welcome in Hamilton, the Volunteer Working Group at the Immigrant Women’s Centre conducted a study. Twenty-eight women who have been in Canada for less than five years were surveyed. The participants of the study were drawn from different cultural backgrounds, countries, and social statuses. Countries of origin included: Ethiopia, Philippines, Colombia, Eritrea, Iraq, Kenya, China, Russia, Chile, Sudan, Lebanon and Nigeria.
All participants mentioned that the primary determinant of feeling welcome or included in a public space is being in the company of friends and family. However, a sense of place plays an important role in feeling at home in a new country. Here are the top five locations our participants selected.
Parks provide an atmosphere that encourages reflection and relaxation, where people can meet to enjoy nature and escape from busy urban life. Tigist Mammo has been in Hamilton for the last two-and-a-half months. She said, “the fresh air and quiet natural feel is enjoyable.” She enjoys visiting the splash pads, running around the grassy areas and taking lengthy walks on trails through the shade of the trees. Alexandra, another participant, is a mother of two young boys. For her, parks are perfect places to refresh her mind and spend time with her family. The playgrounds in the parks provide excellent opportunity for her boys to be active. Alexandra explained, “I am passionate about flowers and plants. Recreational parks provide me with physical and psychological pleasure.”
The library offers free, accessible services and provides newspapers and books in a variety of languages. It also has many programs available that are geared toward a diverse audience. Those surveyed mentioned they frequently use Hamilton libraries to access internet services and borrow books and CDs. For those without Internet access at home, having the library available means being able to keep updated with their family members in their home country. The library is also a place where they can search and apply for jobs online, as well as receive friendly assistance regarding their questions or concerns.
3. SHOPPING CENTRES
The busy and diverse atmosphere of shopping centres enabled participants to feel welcome and comfortable. Taymaa Mustafa said, “I usually feel comfortable when I am with my friends; we always go shopping together.” Tosin from Nigeria said she often goes to chat with people and doesn’t let language become a barrier. Madiha from Iraq mentioned that when she goes to the mall, it is easy to meet new people and the atmosphere allows her to be open.
4. EDUCATION & AGENCIES
Some participants mentioned that they feel most comfortable at their language classes and social service agencies, surrounded with warm and welcoming staff and community members. There, there are likely to be others who speak their language, which eliminates barriers that many face in the community. People at these centres may be are used to communicating in simple English and therefore those with less developed English skills can feel at home. When Gloria came to Hamilton from Montreal one month ago, she was seeking information about her new city. The “warm, welcoming smile” she found at the IWC made her feel at home. For May Shi, despite living in Hamilton for five years now, English classes are where she continues to feel most comfortable.
5. COMMUNITIES OF FAITH
Newcomers from strong religious backgrounds found churches and mosques to be spiritually uplifting and peaceful places in their new city. One newcomer who wanted to remain anonymous found that “the church bridges the homesickness I suffer.” Faith communities can offer a familiar sense of belonging for those who were part of a religious group in their home country. It can be an easy place to make friends and have practical needs addressed.
Some particpants insisted that despite our criteria of discussing locations outside the home, home is still the most comfortable and welcoming place to be. Surrounded by children, family and friends, home is the space one can tailor to her individual needs and welcome friends into. Participants who have very young or special needs children especially chose their home, since going out into the community can present more challenges. One of our participants said she feels her house is her “safe zone” has a strong sense of security.
Article by Tiruwork Almaw and Lamyaa Al-Qadhi