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2015 Will Be Remembered As A Great Year For Punjabi-Canadians

By Balwant Sanghera

The year 2015 has been great for our community. The election of twenty Punjabis and two non-Punjabi South Asians to the House of Commons on October 19was a great achievement for Punjabis and South Asians in particular and Canadians in general.  The federal election was historic in many ways. In a sense, Canadians are entering a new era. The elevation of four prominent members of our community to major cabinet posts and two parliamentary secretary positions is a great accomplishment and a credit to Canada of 2015. Certainly, these persons have been elected on their own merit by Canadians to represent their ridings in Ottawa. However, their election and promotion to cabinet also makes our community equally proud. It goes to show that Canada is a country of opportunity and inclusion and that a person can achieve anything provided he/she is willing to work for it.

Other than politics, 2015 has also been a great year for our community in many ways.  The way our community has come to-gather to help the Syrian refugees is commendable. Our Gurdwaras, Mosques, Churches and Hindu Temples have done an amazing job in mobilizing resources to help the needy. These efforts by the Canadian government as well as the religious and private organizations, individuals and businesses have been applauded around the globe.  As a matter of fact, every Canadian should be proud of our generosity, inclusiveness and offering a helping hand to those who need it the most.

2015 has also been a great year for Punjabi language in Canada and elsewhere.  A lot of progress has been made on this front. The 2011 Statistics Canada Census had placed Punjabi as the third most spoken language in Canada behind English and French. Since then, it has attained a fairly high profile, locally, provincially and nationally. We see a lot of signs in Punjabi at prominent government and private institutions, businesses and public places. Organizations like ICBC are now offering their claim services in Punjabi as well. Signs like: We Speak Punjabi- are prominently displayed in banks, hospitals, city halls ,credit unions and various other   locations. Punjabi is now fast becoming the language of employment. Punjabi Language Education Association (PLEA) continues to work hard in promoting Punjabi at all levels. However, it can do only so much. PLEA needs your help in becoming goodwill ambassadors for our mother tongue.

It is true that we have come a long way since Punjabi was officially recognized as one of six second languages taught in BC’s public schools in 1994. With PLEA’s efforts and community and Indo-Canadian media support Punjabi classes have been under way at various elementary and secondary schools, colleges and universities around Mero Vancouver. Also, it is encouraging to note that well-wishers of Punjabi in other parts of Canada are making efforts in promoting Punjabi wherever they can. On top of that, it is very gratifying to note that a lot of other institutions like Khalsa Schools, Sikh Academies as well as Gurdwaras are doing an excellent job in this regard. On behalf of PLEA I would like to commend them all.

For 2016, PLEA would like to concentrate its efforts in couple of areas.  First, we need to encourage parents and students to take more pride in their mother tongue Punjabi. They must make a strong commitment. This is more so in case of enrolling students for Punjabi classes.  For example, in a recent meeting PLEA had with Surrey School officials, we (PLEA reps) were told that nearly 30 parents of grade four students at T.E. Scott Elementary School in Surrey had expressed interest in enrolling their children in grade five for Punjabi in June. So the district had everything ready, including a classroom, resources and teacher to begin Punjabi class in September 2015. However, when it came time to make a definite commitment only eight parents did so. Consequently, the Punjabi class for grade five did not go ahead in September 2015. Incidents like these are a big disappointment for the school district and PLEA. I urge our parents to make a strong commitment and follow through with it. Only then we can promote Punjabi. Currently, Punjabi classes are available in three elementary schools in Surrey-Strawberry Hill, Newton and Beaver Creek in addition to six high schools. For 2016, PLEA would like to have Punjabi classes offered in a number of elementary schools like T.E.Scott, Chimney Hill, Cindrich, Cougar Creek etc.in addition to the high schools in Surrey. However, it all depends upon the parents and students to make it go.

Second, Statistics Canada will be conducting its five yearly Census again later this year, in May. On behalf of PLEA I would like to urge our community and media to make sure that we take active part in the Census 2016 and mark Punjabi as our language at the appropriate place. It is very important for us to participate in this process.

Third, PLEA would like to see Punjabi classes under way at Simon Fraser University Surrey Campus as soon as possible. We will need community support in order to make it happen. Also, it would be great to have more Punjabi signage and services in Punjabi especially in areas where there is a need for it. This includes major airlines and airports etc.

Finally, like previous years, PLEA will be celebrating the International Mother Language Day in the third or fourth week in February. We will let you know as soon as the date, time and location are finalized. On behalf of PLEA and my family I wish you and your loved ones a Happy and Healthy New Year.

Balwant Sanghera is the President, Punjabi Language Education Association.

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