Growing up in Richmond was, on occasion, a confusing experience for Shiraine Haas.
Being of mixed ethnicity — her mother is from Trinidad and her father from Germany — Haas was used to hearing jokes at school about skin colour, without really knowing they were directed at her.
Upon hearing about the inappropriate jibes, Haas’ mom would point out to her daughter the likely intention of the attempt at comedy.
But it was only several years later that Haas realized the “comedians” at Whiteside elementary and McRoberts and McNair secondaries probably mistook her partial black ethnicity as being something different altogether.
“I never understood what these (jokes) meant; I knew it wasn’t a kind joke, but I never took it as being for me,” Haas told the Richmond News, ahead of her emceeing the opening ceremony on Friday to kick off Black History Month in Richmond.
“The way I saw it, children, when they see someone they weren’t used to seeing, they react.
“The strange thing was, I think many people mistook me for being East Indian, because there were much more East Indian people around at the time in Richmond.”
Haas, who was born and raised in Richmond, is in the film industry and is a part-time actor, as well as being a trained clinical hypnotherapist, who happens to currently work in an acupuncture clinic.
She was surprised to learn that, according to the 2016 Census, there were 870 people of Caribbean origin and 2,010 of African origin living in Richmond. This compares to the non-mandatory, 2011 National Household Survey, which indicated just 1,250 of black ethnicity were living in Richmond.
Haas recalled the early days of living in Richmond in the ‘70s and ‘80s, where there was “just a handful” of ethnic black people.
“(The community) was very small. That’s why I went to my mother’s dance group,” said Haas, referring to the Caribbean dance group her mother ran for 20 years on Saturdays at South Arm Community Centre.
“She wanted us to be enriched with the culture and she loved to dance and it was an opportunity for other people of Caribbean descent to get together.
“We basically knew all the black families in Richmond and the Lower Mainland. They came from all over to dance in Richmond.”
And it was that Caribbean dancing connection that brought Haas to front the opening of Richmond’s Black History Month events, which are organized by Mary Wilson.
“That’s where I met Mary’s daughter. Recently, Mary contacted my family and asked me to do this,” explained Haas.
In her 20s, Haas, who’s now in her late 40s, started travelling and, after spending time in Europe and the Middle East, came back to the Vancouver area in 1999.
“The demographics have completely changed here and I think society, as a whole, has changed and is more enlightened,” said Haas of her ethnicity still being a minority.
“I always saw myself as Canadian first and always have. But people do see your colour first, whereas I always try to see someone’s personality first.”
Black artist exhibition
Rhoda Obineche had no idea Richmond celebrated Black History Month (BHM), she just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Leadership student Obineche, 23, was in the first week of her three-month internship from Langara College at the Richmond Cultural Centre when she heard about the facility hosting BHM events.
“It was just pure luck and I jumped on it straight away; it’s tailor-made for me,” said Nigerian-born Obineche, who will be curating an exhibition of local, black artists at the centre during BHM.
“The culture in Richmond is more Asian, but I think it’ll be pretty cool for people to experience the exhibition.”
Obineche — who has lived in Vancouver for three years after her family immigrated to Winnipeg in 2008, when she was 12 — said her contribution to the exhibition will focus on colours, identity and African hairstyles.
“I think, for us, hair is a big deal,” smiled Obineche. “The hair (in Richmond) is very Western and everyone seems to be the same. Our hair is actually one of the things that sets black people apart, because of its texture.”
Being the only black girl in her class at high school in Winnipeg, Obineche said she got used to being in the minority, but wasn’t aware of any racism.
However, she does have a giggle when she makes eye contact with another person of black ethnicity in the Lower Mainland.
“There’s a thing in Vancouver and Richmond, when black people see each other, they kind of smile and nod, because it’s so rare,” she said.
“It’s totally natural. You make eye contact and your face lights up.”
As for BHM Richmond organizer Mary Wilson, she’s delighted to have younger people of black ethnicity immersed in the event.
“That was my original goal,” said Wilson, referring to getting the Richmond celebration of BHM off the ground two years ago.
“I want people to share ideas; it’s about making connections and bringing more awareness and I think we will achieve that with the likes of Shiraine and Rhoda.”
Friday, Feb. 2 at Richmond City Hall from 4:30 p.m. to 6:15 p.m.:
Shiraine Haas will emcee the opening ceremony this event featuring Never Less Than: Perseverance, Family and Society, a presentation by Warren Williams that traces his family’s relocation from the United States to Canada.
The ceremony will also profile Jean Augustine, the first Black woman elected to parliament and the initiator of Black History Month in Canada.
The contribution of black Canadian veterans will also be acknowledged.
Entertainment will include Mitchell elementary students choir performance, unveiling of the 2018 Black History Month Stamp, as well as Checo and his gospel choir performing throughout.
Feb 10- 18: Programs about Black History at, Richmond Library, Brighouse Branch, main branch
Feb,10, 10;30 - 12, Afro-Canadians and their contributions to the Canadian War Effort
Feb 10: 2-4 p.m. Children's Program:African Stages, dance, and storytelling
Feb 17, 11-1 p.m.: Hogan's Alley, Vancouver Black Community, 1900-1970
Feb 17, 2-3 p.m., Children's Program: learn 3D modeling, receive a 3D print
Feb 18, 2-3 p.m. Dawn Pemberton: Duality Growing up Black in Vancouver
Feb 16-28: Exhibition of Art work by Black Artists: Richmond Cultural Center, Upper Rotunda, 7700Minoru Gate, ( same Bldg as Brighouse Library):
You can meet the artists on Feb, 21. For more information, email ArtsCentre@Richmond.ca or call 604-247-8300
For a full list of of BHM events in Richmond, go online to RPL.YourLibrary.ca/events_calendar.