In the Right Place with Y4Y
Published on October 14, 2022
In the Right Place is a blog series of the COM-Unity project featuring conversations with our partner organizations. In each conversation, we try to get a sense for how belonging takes shape in their specific communities, and how the places we inhabit shape us—and how we, in turn, shape them.
Part 4: The Intersections of Belonging
with Chloe Rodriguez, Project Coordinator of «You are Here: The Belonging Project» with Youth 4 Youth Quebec
Image source: Y4Y website.
Today’s conversation is with Chloe Rodriguez, the coordinator of Youth 4 Youth Quebec’s COM-Unity partnered project, “You Are Here: The Belonging Project”. At the heart of the project (now into its third year) is a cohort of Youth Cultural Ambassadors (YCAs) who work out of their home communities all around Quebec to host cultural activities and events for other English-speaking youth. The program is designed to foster youth leadership, and through it, a deeper sense of community, belonging, and home in the province.
In discussing these matters, Chloe emphasized how, for the YCAs, identity goes so much deeper than simply being English-speaking people—and that to really foster a sense of belonging, youth must feel that wherever they are, their intersectional identities are seen and welcomed.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
COM-Unity: We always like to start our conversation about “place” by asking our partners to describe the concrete details of where they’re located. Your project is called “You Are Here”: where is the “here” for you, and for Y4Y?
Chloe Rodriguez: The Y4Y office is just at the border between Westmount and NDG, on Sherbrooke Street [Notre-Dame-de-Grace neighbourhood, in Montreal] And it's a very new space. We moved in about a year or two ago, and because it hasn't been used that much because of the pandemic, it's very shiny and new… the walls are very bare, and the office furniture is very pristine.
C-U: It sounds like there’s something that’s not quite right about that...
CR: Yeah, I mean, back in June [for the 2022 Annual General Meeting], we decorated the space and it looked really nice. We are an organization composed of young people for young people, so we're thinking it would be cool if it had a more “community space” energy—you know, putting up some art from the youth artists that have come through. We definitely have a ways to go with that.
C-U: I get that—spaces should reflect and make comfortable whomever is supposed to be using them! It sounds like the “You are Here” project also reflects that ethos—centering the youths’ experience wherever they happen to be. How did you choose the other locations where the project takes place in across the province?
CR: This year, we have Montreal, Gatineau, Quebec City, Montérégie, and the Eastern Townships. One of the larger, overarching goals of this project is to create a deeper sense of attachment and community within English-speaking communities. And while definitely there's a need for it here in Montreal, I would say that there's an even greater need outside of this metropolis, and where the English communities are perhaps less represented or more prone to isolation.
And that's why we have the [You Are Here] Belonging Project: English-speaking youth bring their community together in a more cohesive way through hosting meetups. And while we're doing this at the regional level with each Youth Cultural Ambassador (YCA) working in their specific region, we're also creating a network, because all of these YCAs know about each other and are under the same banner so there's a sense of solidarity amongst different regions. And a deeper sense of attachment between them and the places that they call home.
C-U: So, the project is calling on these YCAs to become community organizers, essentially! What is it about those kinds of leadership roles that strengthens the sense of belonging for English-speaking Quebec youth?
CR: When we talk about community building for English-speaking youth, it's not necessarily just under those parameters of, “this is just an English-speaking event, that's all it is”. What really drew me to this project, and what I'm hoping to do with it, is looking at this group of English-speaking youth in a very intersectional way—where it's not like their only identity is that they speak English. We have folks who want to do things that highlight the immigrant communities they come from, we have folks who want to speak about queerness. It's all very much under the banner of what it is to be an English-speaking youth in Quebec, but I want to allow for all the different facets of identity that our YCAs have. I feel like that's a big part of creating belonging because being a linguistic minority is one thing, and then there are other sorts of spaces I'm sure the YCAs can create for themselves and for their communities.
C-U: So, expanding the concept of belonging to reflect who the person is as a whole, not just one facet of identity-- which maybe it is easy to reduce to in Quebec due to the history. But we miss a lot when we do that.
CR: When people talk about English speakers in Quebec, we're speaking about all these different demographics. So there's a wide range when it comes to the kinds of conversations we are trying to foster. Are we respecting the heritage and the culture of historic Quebecers? And importantly - how welcoming are we to those who are settling in from other places within Canada, or from outside of Canada? That's what belonging is also about - “Are we a welcoming society? Are we a welcoming community?” We need to ask ourselves how we can do better.
I feel like one of the goals of this project, but also Y4Y as a whole organization, is that we're trying to retain English-speaking youth in Quebec because so many of them are leaving for different socio-economic reasons. And our goal is to create communities where English speakers do have the confidence and the support that they need to become bilingual—to feel like they are a part of Quebec society and feel like they can stay here. Especially if they consider Quebec their home, whether they're from here or whether they're just moving here. We want to give these people the opportunity to claim Quebec and feel like they can stay here. Like they can exist here.
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