Working voices towards progressive nation-building

(L-R) Neethan Shan, Executive Director, CASSA; Sandy Hudson, Chair, Canadian Federation of Students (Community Organization awardee); Krisna Saravanamuttu, National Executive Representative, Canadian Federation of Students  (Youth Activist awardee); Karl Flecker, National Director, Anti-Racism and Human Rights Department, Canadian Labour Congress; Marie Clarke Walker, Executive Vice-President, Canadian LabourCongress; Joyne Lavides, UFCW Canada National Office

(L-R) Joyne Lavides, National Office; with Punam Khosla, Community Activist awardee

On May 3rd, 2011, the Council of Agencies Serving South Asians (CASSA) marked its 4th May Day and South Asian Heritage Celebration as part of the Asian Heritage Month. Co-sponsored by UFCW Canada and other labour allies and federations, the event honoured South Asian activists and community organizations serving South Asians.

The six individual and organizational recipients of this year's May Day Award were cited for their remarkable advocacy and activism on behalf of the  South Asian community. This year's recipients included Krisna Saravanamuttu (youth activist); Pamela Dogra (trade union activist); Professor Ali Khazimi (academic activist); Punam Khosla (community activist); the Canadian Federation of Students (community organization); and the Mennonite New Life Centre (community organization).

Karl Flecker, National Director, Anti-Racism and Human Rights Department of the Canadian Labour Congress, was the keynote speaker. Brother Flecker underscored the need for community partnerships and the quest for multicultural changes as the fight continues with the "aberrations of old attitudes."

Utilizing the rich labour backdrop of Asian immigration history in Canada , Brother Flecker juxtaposed that with the current oppressive Canadian immigration system, and urged the gathering to build a more just political future together armed with passion, humour and solidarity.

Each recipient delivered a strong message after accepting their award. Youth activist Krisna,a criminology student and the National Executive Representative-elect for the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario,stated how the outcome of the May 2nd federal election posed more challenges to the opposition, but are opportunities to keep the activism alive. 

Trade union activist Pamela, an elementary school teacher and a union representative for the Elementary Teachers of Toronto,highlighted the importance of understanding the context of colonialism and imperialism in order to wage a good battle against oppression.

Professor Kazimi, an Associate Professor at York University and a documentary filmmaker, stressed the power that people have to effect change and to defy how others have defined them.

Canadian Federation of Students chairperson Sandy Hudson said that education has become inaccessible to people of colouras they have now become economically disenfranchised.  

Executive Director Tanya Chute Molina of the Mennonite New Life Centre urged everyone to support emerging newcomer activists in order to mobilize their strengths and voices.

Joyne Lavides, UFCW Canada Human Rights, Equity and Diversity representative, presented the plaque award to community activist Punam Khosla. In her acceptance speech, Khosla stressed the narrative of the working class people of colour and emphatically stated that "we are not the margin; we are the centre.”

CASSA is a social justice umbrella organization composed of 100 member agencies that work with Ontario's diverse South Asian communities.