Indo-Canadian business group celebrates 25 years

Indo-Canadian business group celebrates 25 years of reaching out to the community and strengthening cross-cultural engagement.

  • Mar. 22, 2012 8:00 p.m.
Members of the Fraser Valley Indo-Canadian Business Association celebrate Vaisakhi last year at the association’s annual luncheon. From left

Members of the Fraser Valley Indo-Canadian Business Association celebrate Vaisakhi last year at the association’s annual luncheon. From left

Tyler ORTON

Contributor

Nash Gill never heard of festivals like Vaisakhi or Diwali when he was growing up in B.C. decades ago.

“In those days, we didn’t even know what butter chicken was,” the lawyer of South Asian descent said.

His family was determined to assimilate throughout the 1950s and 1960s. They’d eat western food and dress in western clothing.

It wasn’t until Indian immigration increased in the 1970s that Gill eventually began embracing his background, eating South Asian cuisine and celebrating cultural festivals.

“Now things are becoming more international. I think (Indian culture is) just becoming another segment or another part of Canada.”

Gill said this is partly due to organizations like the Fraser Valley Indo-Canadian Business Association (FVICBA), which has been using its resources to reach out to the broader community and strengthen cross-cultural engagement.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of the association’s founding. Gill said the amount of cross-cultural development in that period of time has been significant.

“The goals of the association at that time were to promote business, promote multiculturalism and … to promote harmony, friendship and understanding in the community,” he said, referring to when he and eight other Abbotsford businessmen established the organization in 1987.

“(Cultural harmony) might have been a goal that we were seeking at that time, but obviously we were not able to attain that instantaneously. It’s taken many, many years. I’d say we’re there now after 25 years.”

The association’s efforts to promote cultural engagement will continue throughout 2012, starting with a free Vaisakhi luncheon at the Abbotsford Banquet Hall (33738 Laurel St.) April 12 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Hundreds are expected to attend the 2012 celebration featuring special guest speaker Dr. Gurinder Singh Mann, a religious studies professor from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

The FVICBA’s annual scholarship night takes place June 12, followed by a Sept. 7 golf tournament, and a dinner and dance on Oct. 19.

Rupinder Chahal, branch manager of Mission’s Royal Bank, knows first-hand the significant role the association can play when it comes to cultivating business and community leaders.

The University of British Columbia alumnus received a scholarship from the FVICBA in 2001 before setting off for post-secondary.

Rupinder said she was determined to settle in Abbotsford and give back to the community as a member of the association. She’s co-organizing the annual scholarship night for the second year in a row.

“(FVICBA) connects the community. It really makes us able to build a strong network and really enhance a cross-cultural understanding,” Rupinder said.

Despite the fact she’s lived in Abbotsford for about 20 years, probation officer Kelly Chahal – no relation to Rupinder – only discovered the association five years ago.

“I looked at it and I was in awe,” she said, adding the FVICBA has become a vital group involved in nearly every aspect of the community, whether it’s education, criminal justice or community services.

Although people outside of the South Asian community told her the FVICBA was a “boy’s club,” Kelly disproved those notions by becoming the first person to hold the presidency for two consecutive terms from 2009 to 2011.

She said one of the ways the association reaches out to the larger community is by ensuring its events are open to the public.

She points to the production of a Jodhaa-Akbar skit from two years ago as an example of the association’s efforts to promote integration. The 16th century story followed a Muslim emperor and a Hindu princess who married out of convenience before falling in love. The FVICBA managed to recruit former Abbotsford Mayor George Peary and Police Chief Bob Rich to appear in the production.

“It showed everybody that we’re sharing our culture, but we’re also sharing with all of you,” Kelly said.

Gill agreed, noting one of the reasons the association has thrived for so long is by being as inclusive as possible.

“I think over the years we’ve been non-political and non-religious,” he said. “Our business now is not just Indo-Canadian business, it’s just business overall.”