I often find myself reminiscing about my life. The long and gruelling journeys across the seas, the many close encounters with death and the countless trips away from my family not knowing when and if I would see them again. This is a familiar narrative for many immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.
I am one of the lucky ones, because I’ve had a strong support system.
Sometimes, when my husband and I debate about our life in Canada, our future and the role we play in our communities, we can’t help but feel as though we are othered, or so he says, “In-Betweeners’.” Although it took me some time to truly grapple with this statement, I’ve begun to understand this now. We are a generation of Skilled Class refugees who have immigrated to Canada and yet, we live a life in a constant vacillating reality, between two cultures and two realities. And though this may sound like a persevering and scrupulous journey, it continues to be the most worthwhile experience of my life.
My name is Marufa Shinwari. I am the Executive Director at the Immigrant Culture and Art Association (ICAA) in Hamilton. I completed my undergraduate and graduate studies in Jurisprudence and began teaching International Law at Kabul University. My professional career was interrupted by the civil war and I was forced to leave the country. I lived in Uzbekistan for over six years as a refu-gee. In 1998, my family and I immigrated to Canada. This was a challenging, experiential, and rewarding experience. Fast forward 10 years. I’ve assisted in the re-settlement and integration process of over 4000 refugees in Canada. My husband works as a Senior Professional Civil Engineer. We’ve redesigned our lives as a fam-ily and live to give back to our communities as professionals.
My current role at ICAA has allowed me uphold our commitment to the community. I have participated in, organized and facilitated cultural and artistic events with my clients. These ventures have allowed me to witness many fruitful trends within the Hamilton community. But, it has also shown me the kindness, compassion and warmth one can experience when living in Canada.
ICAA was established in 2001. The organization’s mandate is to preserve and cultivate the cultural and artistic diversity that the Hamilton community has to offer. We have mentored over 200 musicians, artists and cultural workers. Additionally, we’ve also provided art classes for over 1000 children and youth through over 40 musical events, 100 art exhibitions, and 100 weeks of art classes. The outcomes of these endeavours have promoted those in the ICAA community to pursue art and music professionally within the entertainment, music and professional performance industry. The organization has played a major role in strengthening the Hamilton community through initiatives and programs which promote opportunities such as knowledge exchange events for open discourse.
During my tenure as the ICAA Executive Director, I have encountered issues surrounding gender equality among immigrant families. These encounters coupled with my experiences in Afghanistan in working as a professor at the university have been the driving force in my current academic endeavours. I began my graduate studies degree focusing on gender studies and feminist research ideologies in 2013. In doing so, I have integrated my studies to implement strategies and programs to better meet the needs of Hamiltonians. My family and I have invested in these commitments through our continued efforts in building ICAA’s mandate and vision. In 2015, we purchased ICAA’s current property and rebuilt the space to suit the needs of the programs and the students. Additionally, I’ve worked towards mobilizing local stakeholders within the community as well as the residents to provide greater long-term access to resources. These lived experiences have reinforced the importance of cultural integrity and the preservation and promotion of the arts. In doing so, I have witnessed the effects of artistic expression and the way in which it can influence, energize and unite communities and people together.