In 1993, when Dr. Hude Quan came to Calgary from China, he knew nothing about the city. With the support of a scholarship, he joined the University of Calgary’s PhD program in epidemiology.
Dr. Quan recalled the struggles he overcame in his path to adaptation – from learning a new language, culture and way of thinking. “I typed every page of my thesis. One, two, three, four times, again, again, and again,” said Quan.
Quan shared his experience while receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Immigrant Services Calgary’s 20th annual Immigrants of Distinction Awards gala, at the Westin Hotel in downtown Calgary on Mar. 11.
He said the award doesn’t just recognize his work, but that of all the individuals who helped him in his adaptation in Calgary. “They made me who I am,” said Quan. “Thank you for believing in us immigrants.”
“Thank you for believing in us immigrants.”
Today, Quan is one of the most globally cited researchers, according to Thompson Reuters. He is an associate professor at the University of Calgary and the director of the Calgary World Health Organization Collaboration Centre.
Everyone’s duty to help newcomers
Quan isn’t the only example of how newcomers’ success relies on support from the community, social agencies and governments.
— Linda Olsen (@Linda_Olsen) March 12, 2016
At the awards ceremony, Immigrant Services Calgary (ISC) celebrated other distinguished immigrants who excel in business, community involvement, arts and culture, and academia, as well as organizations that support diversity.
Under the message of “fostering a legacy of excellence,” Josephine Pon, chair of ISC’s board of directors, said the awards celebrate Calgary’s most committed and community-minded individuals in the city.
“You’re the true superstars and you’re an inspiration to all of us,” Pon said.
“Our neighbour’s pain is our pain, our neighbour’s success is our success, our neighbour’s failure is our failure.”
Senator Victor Oh said at the event that Canada is a country blessed by immigration. However, this intake of immigrants “represents a great challenge,” added the senator who emigrated to Canada from Singapore in 1978.
“It is everyone’s duty to help newcomers feel at home,” Oh told the audience of over 500 people, which included provincial ministers, members of Parliament and diplomatic representatives.
Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s words resonated with Oh’s. He said that the secret of successful newcomers and communities is mutual support and understanding.
“We’re all in it together. Our neighbour’s pain is our pain, our neighbour’s success is our success, our neighbour’s failure is our failure,” said Nenshi.
The mayor said those nominated for the award “ask (themselves) the most Canadian and Calgarian of questions: ‘how can I help?’”
“We celebrate 20 years of people who not only ask that question, but answer it every day,” said Nenshi.
— Anila (Umar)Lee Yuen (@anilainyyc) March 12, 2016
Multiculturalism goes two ways
The Immigrants of Distinction Awards are the first commemoration of its kind in Canada according to Peter Wong, former chair of the board of directors at ISC.
Wong envisioned the award in 1997 to highlight the contributions of immigrants in the community. He said that celebrating diversity in the workplace and government recognition of immigrants wasn’t popular at that time. “It wasn’t seen as a critical aspect of society.”
However, Wong says this has changed. “What I see today is multiculturalism has become part of mainstream.”
Honorary chair of this year’s awards, Wayne Chiu, said immigrants have to play their part in the Canadian mosaic. Newcomers have to choose how to adapt in Canada.
They might decide to surround themselves with only people from their own ethnic culture, explained Chiu, who is the founder and CEO of Trico Home and who was recently appointed to the Order of Canada for his philanthropic and business leadership.
“We are hindering ourselves from merging into the mainstream culture of Canada.”
“This might bring us great – but temporary – comfort and security,” said Chiu. However, he added, “We are hindering ourselves from merging into the mainstream culture of Canada.”
Chiu added that when any immigrants feel they aren’t being accepted, not being listened to, not being understood, or not given the opportunity to excel like others, they have to ask if they have opened themselves up to the larger community.
“One of the hardest things is to move outside from our comfort zone,” said Chiu, who moved from Hong Kong in 1976 to study engineering in Winnipeg.
He said that connecting with people outside of the Chinese community helped him to excel. The experience taught him that effective communication, mutual respect and understanding of other people’s ideas are an “essential part of adopting into a new country.”
A quick look at the award recipients
Achievement Under 35 Award // Dr. Irehobhude O. Iyioha is an independent policy consultant in the field of health law and policy. She has advocated at several conferences and presentations worldwide about women health’s issues.
Arts and Culture Award // Jose Duque through his passion for classical music empowers children. His goal is to give youth, of low income families, the opportunity to learn music through a multicultural orchestra.
Community Service Award // Bojan Tosic has been involved in community development for years creating innovative and well-evaluated programs, enhancing cross-sector relationships and increasing access to support and services.
Entrepreneurship and Innovation Award // With little financial backing Bob Dhillon formed one of the largest publicly held real state companies in Canada, Mainstreet Equity Corporation, of which he is CEO and president.
Hadassah Ksienski Lifetime Achievement Award // Dr. Hude Quan is internationally known for his accomplishment and contributions in the field of health services and for his efforts to improve the health of ethno-cultural communities. // Dr. Serdar Yilmaz is the head of the transplant section of the University of Calgary’s faculty of medicine, and the leader in transplant surgery in Alberta.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Award // Janaka Ruwanpura is the Vice-Provost (International) at University of Calgary and the Canada Research Chair in Project Management Systems. His work improved the culture of the Canadian construction industry.
Organizational Diversity Award // Calgary United Soccer Association (CUSA) gives adults an opportunity to learn and enjoy soccer in a social and recreational environment. CUSA is a founding partner of Calgary Street Soccer and KidSport Calgary.
As a Grade 12 student Andrew Min co-founded the EquaLearn Foundation. He is also a member of the mayor’s youth council and is politically involved with the Community Outreach Committee.
Dan Yang (Lucy Ni) is a third-year biological sciences student at University of Calgary. She is a director and founding member of Outrun the Stigma and the president of the Hearth and Stroke Foundation Student’s Association.
Moiz Hafeez is in his final year of his bachelor in biological sciences at the University of Calgary. He has held executive positions at the Genetic Jungle run, Muslim Student’s Association, and the Red Cross Club.
Grade 12 student, Sophie Zhao, is founder of both the French and poetry clubs and leader of the Verbattle debate club at her school. Zhao is founder and public relations director of Wishful Thinking.
Varun Kundra is in Grade 10 where he excels in the sciences and volunteering. He scored in the 94th percentile in The College Board’s Preliminary Scholastic Aptitude Test (PSAT) of the juniors while still in Grade 9. The University of Calgary approved his lab-assistant appointment to Dr. Minh Dang Nguyen and his team, who specialize in the discipline of transactional neuroscience.