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Pekarsky & Co. Proudly Sponsors Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association Gala

October 17, 2022

By: Ranju Shergill


Our firm was pleased to sponsor and attend the Calgary Immigrant Women’s Association Gala on September 29th celebrating their 40th Anniversary. In addition to that, I had the privilege of hosting this event as the Board Chair, and the pleasure of working with an amazing team of Board and Committee members, and CIWA staff on the planning and delivery of this top tier event.


During the last year of planning and organizing this gala, we brainstormed on the speakers we wanted to have for this event themed as Global Women, Local Changemakers. We explored professional keynote speakers both locally and across North America. Many of these speakers would have been amazing to have. I have been to some great fundraisers in Calgary where the organizers have brought in famous celebrities and political figures, but being a not for profit, we simply didn’t have the funds to pay huge fees, and more importantly, our thoughts were that it would be the wrong message to spend thousands on a speaker that could go towards the services that CIWA offers. To our delight and relief, we were able to secure a high calibre of local talent at no cost. These women offered their time and contributions to our gala because they care and value the services of CIWA for immigrant women.


Linda Olsen didn’t hesitate to offer to emcee our event at no cost because as she put it, CIWA is an organization she has supported in the past, and as a daughter of immigrants, she was happy to provide her services to this cause, a generosity that reflects her values and empathy for immigrant women.


Dr. Verna Yiu, Interim Provost and VP Academic at the University of Alberta, and former President and CEO of Alberta Health Services, led healthcare in our Province through a global health crisis. She dealt with a provincial government that little or no direction at all for a situation where it was literally life or death around all of us. She was a leader for ensuring healthcare was there for all of us when we needed it. She was working and thinking about our care 24/7 and what did she get in the end? We all know her move from AHS was largely political and we know when we asked her to be our keynote speaker for the gala, she had just announced her departure from AHS and people were asking ‘do you still want her as our keynote speaker considering she just got fired?’


The answer was a resounding yes.


Dr. Yiu has nothing to hide, and she carries her respected legacy with her. She could have taken the stage at our gala and talked about her Covid stories in healthcare, her leadership skills as the top doctor of healthcare delivery in a province with the worst covid rates in Canada. But she didn’t. Instead, she talked about her journey from China to Canada, and her life as a young Asian girl getting a Canadian education, where despite having the credentials, she didn’t get into her area of medical speciality right away because of a bias against her, or more specifically, against the colour of her skin.


The Lieutenant Governor of Alberta, Salma Lakhani, likewise took the stage and didn’t talk about her career as an entrepreneur in early childhood education or her role in politics and having just the week before, had to deal with the death of the Queen of England, who she represented as the viceregal for our Province. Instead, she spoke about her immigration with her family from Uganda to Canada after the expropriation of properties owned by Asian and European Ugandans in 1972, and being unable to pay her tuition and living expenses when she started university in the United Kingdom. It was only because the British government waived these fees for many Ugandans that Her Honour was able to complete her education, and how her husband finished his education and became a cardiologist in Edmonton. Without the support for immigrants, we wouldn’t have such accomplished citizens in our society.


Mayor Jyoti Gondek took the stage and just the day before, I heard her speak at a Chamber event on her administration’s net-zero climate strategy and her declaration of a climate emergency. She could have defended her position with this opportunity given the ongoing pushback from a fair population in our city. But here she put aside her political messages, her Mayoral agendas, and corporate speak and instead spoke of her experiences as a daughter of Indian Punjabi parents who immigrated to Canada from England. She acquired her education and built a career in Calgary becoming the first female mayor in the city’s history, but more importantly she spoke of being a brown woman in the public forefront and her appreciation of support from organizations like CIWA for other women of colour. She talked about being called a coconut just as Dr. Yiu spoke of being called a banana. We know and hear of Mayor Gondek and other women in the political eye being called much worse, and there were a lot of heads nodding around the room just hearing of these stories.


This gala wasn’t just a fun party. It wasn’t just another rubber chicken event where you could zone out and scan the room. It’s not just because I had the privilege of hosting this gala, but it was different because speaker after speaker, it was captivating and personal. Each speech was not what we expected, and each speaker was truly inspiring and spoke to our hearts.


No matter who we are today, we come from the same place as many immigrants do – no matter the gender. We didn’t come to this country with much. We didn’t have the nice bedrooms like our friends did, we didn’t have mothers or nannies who were always home, and we don’t have the family history as those around us. I work with a wonderful Partner, Adam, whose story is that he is a lawyer, in part because his father was a lawyer, and his father’s father was a lawyer. His grandfather on his mother’s side was Henry Singer, whose men’s clothing stores still exist today. His grandparents were close supporters of the Edmonton Eskimos (now Elks) and other local causes and their family history goes back far and deep, to not long after Alberta became a province, in fact. I don’t have that.


My Indian parents came from England with no work and two daughters. Still my family came to Canada with more than other families and immigrants who often come as refugees fleeing from their homes, or unskilled individuals without the means to support themselves. In our case, we brought our belongings and our resolve to make a better life than where we came from. Mom took a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant and dad was a machinist working in machine shops. Neither one of them had the time or energy to take much notice of their kids who took care of themselves. They worked swing shifts meaning mom was gone in the evenings, and dad was gone during the day and in between they took care of the household duties.


We didn’t have nice dinners out, family vacations to Disneyland, Christmas dinners with multi-generational families, or any sense of cultural or materiality remotely like what our non-immigrant friends had. I remember my dad being called to the school to be told that I wasn’t participating in my Grade six activities, but what really happened is that a) we couldn’t afford the camping field trip fee, and b) my parents would never allow their adolescent daughter to go sleep in the woods with random people. Like a lot of immigrants, all our parents could give us was an opportunity to get educated and grow up to be independent women, and that’s exactly what we did. Today my sister and I are professional independent women, mothers, volunteers in our community, serving organizations as Board members, and most importantly, empowering girls and women around us.


For all the brown, black, yellow girls, we see you. You stand next to us, you can wear whatever you want, you can give us your thoughts, speak up, and think what you want.


We’re more than bananas and coconuts.