The Audible Minorities

The ethnic press is coming through loud and clear-but the voices are changing

Martin Cash
Spring, 1984 | Comments (0) - Report an Error

The twenty-fifth anniversary convention of the Canadian Ethnic Press Federation in Ottawa last November ended amidst a heated argument between the editor of a Germanlanguage paper from Vancouver and the editor of a Yugoslavian paper from Toronto. Though the raised voices had strong European accents, the nature of the argument was unmistakably Canadian-a squabble between westerners and easterners. Baldwin Ackerman, editor of Pazijzsche Rundscau (Pacific Review), was taking exception to the election of yet another Torontonian, Vladmir Mauko, editor of Slovenska Drzava (Slovenian Country), to the presidency of the CEPF. That such an issue should turn this meeting of otherwise dignified and orderly people into a name-calling shouting match is a fitting indication of just how much a part of Canadian life the ethnic press has become.

Tempers had barely subsided when David Collenette, named Minister of State for Multiculturalism only 10 weeks earlier, addressed the closing luncheon. Perhaps more out of a desire to please and impress his audience than a deep understanding of the situation, Collenette suggested that a new era of multiculturalism was about to begin. He did not elaborate.

The majority of the 27 editors present at the convention were from eastern or central European countries. Over the past quarter century their commitment to their adopted country and their dedication to their respective heritages have added a rich dimension to Canadian cultural life. But the post-war immigration boom is over. The last 15 years have seen a 1arge increase in the number of Asian and black West Indian immigrants. If there is to be a new era in multiculturalism in Canada, the editors and publishers of these minority groups will be the key players, not the European editors.

With a bold black, yellow and red sign adorning the outside of its new storefront office on Bathurst Street north of Bloor, Contrast has the look of upward mobility. The 15-year-old weekly serving the black community of Canada now publishes 24-page issues compared to the 16-page ones of a few years ago, a direct result of increased advertising. Denham Jolly, the aggressive publisher who bought the paper in the spring of 1982, is confident it will get even bigger. There are an estimated 300,000 black people living in the Toronto area, 12,000 of whom buy Contrast. Another 18,000 read it.

Jolly feels the community will always have use for a paper like Contra.st. "The children of black immigrants will be Canadians but they'll still be black and there'll still be a need for a black perspective to the news. We're sort of glad that perspective isn't provided by the mainstream press because it allows us to continue publishing.

Last summer Jolly invested $50,000 in computerized typesetting equipment; last fall he hired Dudley Byfield, a prominent editor in Barbados, to take over Contrast's editorial policy. Once criticized for being too narrow in its focus, the paper now has a multicultural slant and deals with more Caribbean and African cultural and political issues. New staff has been added, including Norman "Otis" Richmond, an award-winning entertainment writer and CKLN disc jockey, bringing the number of full-time employees to 20. "Our situation in a predominantly white society does not really get any easier in successive generations, which is why Contrast will probably be around for a long time," says Jolly. He's willing to bet on it.

No one knows for sure just how many ethnic newspapers there are in the country. Frank Kowalski, president of Lingua Ad Service in Toronto, says he is the national advertising representative for 210. There are scores of others that suddenly spring up out of publishers' basements then die.

At any given time there are papers publishing in more than 50 languages. Dr. Joseph Kirschbaum, past-president of the CEPF, says their combined circulation is more than 500,000. But as Stan Zybala, a senior adviser in the Multiculturalism department in Ottawa, points out, "Ethnic publishers are notorious for keeping accurate circulation figures a secret." Zybala, former editor of a Polish-language paper in Toronto, now monitors the ethnic media for the federal government. He says the media's two main purposes are to provide immigrants with news about the old country and information about Canada. This formula seems to be handled differently from paper to paper, although it is characteristic for eastern European papers to include more stories about the old country and western European ones to write more about life in Canada.

The size and importance of a paper is usually determined by the size of its community. In larger ethnic communities there is even a selection of papers available, each aimed at a faction with distinctive regional or old country political biases. For instance, Toronto has Chinese-language papers for immigrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China.

There is also an important publishing motivation not nearly as tangible as the size of the market and the potential to make a buck. Many editors and publishers are social or political exiles in Canada, dedicated to the fight for freedom and justice in their homeland. Zybala says, "As long as there is a cause to fight for there will be ethnic papers in Canada." Sometimes it is a lonely fight. On the first floor of a triplex in a particularly seedy section of Toronto's west end, Martin Radovan toils by himself, seven days a week, to put out the Slovakian-language Kanadsky Slovak (The Canadian Slovak). The weekly, which has been publishing for 42 years, is devoted to the cause of Slovakian independence from Czechoslovakia and an end to communist rule.

Radovan, who writes, edits, typesets and lays out the paper, was involved in dissident activity in Czechoslovakia before he fled to Canada in 1981. His office is small and bare except for one corner where the wall is covered with snapshots and letters from people involved in the Slovakian independence movement allover the world. But he and the Kanadsky Slovak no longer get much support from the tiny Denham Jolly, publisher of Contrast, is confident that Toronto's black community readership will continue to grow

Slovakian community in Canada. Circulation is only about 1,200. With a note of resignation in his voice, Radovan says, "I think I'm going to have to start publishing more stories about Canada and more stories in English."

Other European papers that started up in the 1930s, '40s and '50s advocating an end to communist domination in Iron Curtain countries are a)so losing both their influence and their readership. Even their publishers and editors realize that Canada is a good place to raise their children, that the fight is an ocean away.

Dr. Kirschbaum, an active participant in the ethnic press since his arrival in Canada in 1949, is realistic about the future of many of these small papers. He says, "After a while it's hard to keep fighting. It's rare that second or third generations are interested enough in their forefathers' battles to keep writing about them."

Members of visible minorities do not have the Europeans' opportunity to blend into the mainstream of North American life, but they too are injecting religious diversity and cultural flair into Canada's Anglo-French heritage. Islam International is a monthly magazine devoted to encouraging Moslem traditions and values. In the eight years it has been publishing out of Willowdale, its circulation has soared l00 per cent to 6,000. Editor Mohammad Qaadri, who emigrated from Pakistan in 1965, is also president of the 140-memberOntario Multicultural Association. "Islam is a strong cause to fight for," he says. "It is more than a religion in the western sense, it is a way of life.. We want people to know that Islam is not for Moslems only. We want to put the whole world on fire."

Qaadri attended the CEPF convention, where the most striking feature apart from the advanced age of most of the European editors (including one who helped form the Ukrainian government-in-exile in 1923), was that he and the edititors of two Japanese papers were the only non-whites there.

The fact that only 27 of the CEPE's 120 members turned up for its silver anniversary indicates that many of its members' publications are so small they couldn't afford to travel to Ottawa. It also indicates that it is neither an effective nor a cohesive organization. Even so, its membership is fairly representative of the ethnic press in Canada as a whole. European-language papers form the largest group, which is still true for the sum of ethnic papers in the country. No communist or anarchist papers are allowed membership, and while Canada has few such papers, they do exist-for instance, the communist L 'udove Zvesti (People's News) competes with Kanadsky Slovak for the tiny Slovakian readership in Canada. As well, the majority of CEPE members come from Toronto and Vancouver-Winnipeg having far fewer than it once did-and that is also the case for non-members. Since the first foreign-language paper was published in Canada in 1787-the German-language Der Neuchottlaendische Calendar (Nova Scotia Almanac)-European-language papers have dominated the field. There are now a handful so popular1"that they will undoubtedly survive for some time. Such Toronto papers as the Italian Carriere Canadaese, the Spanish El Popular, the Portuguese Mundo, and the Ukrainian Homin Ukrainy, and in Winnipeg the German Kanada Kurier, have large circulations and sufficient financial resources to withstand changes in their readership.

However, the papers serving the non-European communities are growing in both size and number. In 1971, only 14 of the 116 foreign-language publications listed in Canadian Advertising Rates and Data were in non-European languages. By 1983 that 12 per cent had grownto50 of 165 listings or 30 per cent. For years Canada's only foreign-language dailies I were Carriere Canadaese and the Chinese Shing Wah Daily News published in Toronto. But just over a year ago Carriere Canadaese cut back to three days a week and there are now four other Chinese dailies, in Vancouver and Toronto, as well as a Korean daily in Toronto.

According to Statscan census figures, seven of the eight Asian languages spoken by more than 25,000 people increased in use by more than 100 per cent between 1971 and 1981. In comparison., only four of the 14 European languages spoken by more than 25,000 increased at all. And the growth in the use of one of them, Spanish, can be attributed to a large extent to immigration from Central and South America.

Though the decline in readership of European-language papers has not yet fallen drastically enough to cause general alarm, publishers with an eye to the future are already taking some action. The largest Polish-language paper in the country, Toronto's Zwiazkowiec (The Alliancer), is about to start its first English-language section since it began publishing 27 years ago. Established Italian, German and Ukrainian papers are planning to do the same.

Many of the publications serving the new minority groups, Contrast and Islam International among them, already publish in English. This gives them an advantage in typesetting, advertising, circulation and administration.

Along with these noticeable shifts in Canada's ethnic publishing scene, there seems to be another transition shaping up.. Last summer's announcement by the federal government that advertising expenditures in the ethnic media would quadruple to $2 million seemed to be just one more case of the Liberals trying to endear themselves to new Canadians- DrKirschbaum says of federal government support, "Generally, if we are serious, we can't complain- There has been much goodwill on the side of the government, and more goodwill if there's an election coming up."

However, this latest scheme to revive that old adage that the "Liberals always get the ethnic vote" may have backfired.

It was primarily due to James Fleming's efforts as multiculturalism minister that the extra $1.5 million was found. He spent two years persuading the departments of Employment and Immigration, Health and Welfare, and National Defence to divert some of their advertising budgets from other media. Spokesmen for the CEPF expressed positive feelings about the work Fleming was doing for them. Then, one month after his August 1 announcement, Fleming was unexpectedly removed from the cabinet. His replacement, David Collenette, has had very little contact with ethnic communities. And the initial excitement among ethnic editors about the new money has disappeared because of delays in implementing Fleming's policy as Collenette gets settled into his portfolio.

His luncheon address at the CEPF convention in mid-November was one of Collenette's first public appearances as multiculturalism minister. Though it was a low-key affair with fewer than 50 people in attendance, those 50 had the potential to reach thousands of voters. But not only did Collenette have little to say, his aide had to remind him to announce that the ministry had approved a grant for the CEPF to write a history of the organization.

Six days later, Progressive Conservative leader Brian Mulroney and his Yugoslavian-born wife, Mila, were hosts to a huge reception for the ethnic media at the Royal York Hotel in Toronto. The 300 guests responded enthusiastically to Mulroney's promise to include ethnic people in important decision-making bodies when the Tories get into office.

The contrast between the two gatherings may be a sign of things to come. Collenlette's appearance at the CEPFc onvention was stiff and uninspired. Mulroney's party, better attended than a similar one thrown by Trudeau a year before, was just that-a party. The response from editors who attended both functions ought to be enough to send the Liberals back to the drawing board. Jacek Brozecki, editor of the Polish Zwiazkowiec, a staunchly pro-Liberal paper in the past, was impressed by Mulroney. "He sounded veryoptimistic about involving ethnic representatives in the go'-ernment. Sure he was politicking, but he did it well." Borzecki wrote an editorial for Zu'iazkou'icc that amounted to nothing less than an endorsement of the Tories.

Fleming, who seems genuinely concerned about preserving a vibrant ethnic press, is still hopeful that the European papers will survive. But, he says, "We're at a crunch period. If heritage languages fade, and to get into Canadian society you set that behind you, then in time those older papers will fold because there'll be no one there."

So no matter how much money the Liberals hand out or how many promises the Conservatives live up to, the survival of the old papers and the success of the new will ultimately be decided by the immigrants of the next few decades.

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