Folk Tales

Ethnic newspapers, both the old-fashioned kind and online editions, are alive and well and thriving across Manitoba

Sunday, August 14th, 2005

By Carol Sanders

THERE is no word for "sexuality" in Chinese, but that doesn't stop ethnic press sex-health columnist Anna Ling from writing about it.

"It's a way to reach out to people on sensitive topics that people feel uncomfortable talking about in person," said Ling. She and her colleague, Linda Plenert, work for the Sexuality Education Resource Centre and write Ask Auntie Anna in the Philippine Press and Sex Information Zone in the Manitoba China Times.

Sex is such a taboo topic that sometimes the words to describe it don't exist in Chinese, said Ling. And if they do, they aren't uttered in public -- especially not by a woman, said Ling, who came to Winnipeg from Hong Kong in 1987.

"In some communities, women don't know how their own bodies work," said Plenert.

Ling's and Plenert's columns have set out to inform newcomers about health issues such as menopause and the fact that pap tests are free in Canada, said Ling.

The columns are breaking ground in the two ethnic newspapers in Winnipeg -- part of a thriving stack of 17 publications in Manitoba.

"In Manitoba you have more publications than any other western province (except B.C.)," said Thomas Saras, president of the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada.

Folklorama ended last night, but the glue that keeps the province's multicultural mosaic intact from year to year keeps plugging along. Most publications are run by volunteers trying to keep their cultural groups alive and together.

Alberta has nearly three times Manitoba's population, but Manitoba has nearly three times as many ethnic newspapers, Saras said from Toronto.

"I do believe there is a stronger feeling of community down there with Manitoba than in Alberta," said the publisher of Canada's Greek newspaper, Patrides. "I believe in Alberta integration is faster. Down there in Manitoba you have a government that's much more friendly to ethnic communities than in Alberta."

And Friendly Manitoba has a long tradition of ethnic newspapers.

"Some die and some are coming out," said Saras, who says immigration and integration patterns have a lot to do with the lifespan of an ethnic newspaper.

The older, established German community's Kanada Kurier went bankrupt last year. This year, the Philippine Press and the online newsmagazines and were born thanks to an influx of Filipino and African immigrants.

Economist Chrispin Ntungo, who came to Winnipeg as an international student in 1988 from Zambia, has launched two online newsmagazines here -- one for Africans living in Manitoba and another for Africans who have migrated to Canada, Australia, Europe and the U.S.

"It's just a way of keeping the community together," said Ntungo. When he first arrived in Winnipeg 17 years ago, Manitoba had a tiny African community, Ntungo said, but since then it has ballooned to 15,000.

Two months ago, he set up for Manitoban Africans. It lists coming events and attractions like the African pavilion at Folklorama and fundraisers for the African-Canadian Cultural Heritage Centre, which the community is planning to build. Companies that sponsor the African pavilion are advertised on the website, he said.

"It's to unite the African community here in Manitoba," said Ntungo, who is secretary-general of the Manitoba African Community Secretariat, the umbrella group for African organizations in the province. "And it's a marketing tool."

Since started in January, it has received up to 10,000 hits a month, said Ntungo. It provides a forum for immigrants and refugees to talk about everyday life in their new countries and current events like the G8 Summit and its impact on Africa, said Ntungo.

The economist said the electronic format of the ethnic newspapers makes them affordable to produce and accessible to readers and contributors.

Like the African e-zines, the Manitoba Chinese Tribune highlights the highs and lows of life in a new country, said editor-in-chief Helen Wong.

"A lot of people write and say they can relate," said Wong, a social worker who works with international students at the University of Manitoba. About 2,000 copies of the glossy-covered Manitoba Chinese Tribune are published every two months, she said.

Their readership keeps growing thanks to immigration from China. Of the 2,500 international students at the U of M, 1,400 are from China, she said.

Without a steady stream of new immigrants to bolster readership, the ethnic newspapers that survive are the ones that can adapt, said Saras.

The Icelandic community hasn't seen a wave of immigration in decades, but its newspaper, Lögberg-Heimskringla, has kept plugging along for 119 years. North America's oldest continuously published ethnic newspaper announced in June it is setting up a $1.5-million foundation to make sure it keeps going.

It began publishing in Manitoba in the late 1800s as two separate papers, Heimskringla, beginning in 1886, and Lögberg in 1888. In 1959, the two newspapers merged as Lögberg-Heimskringla.

It published in Icelandic until the 1980s, when it became half English. Now it's published entirely in English, with an "Icelandic for beginners" column being one of its most popular features, said assistant editor David Jon Fuller. He takes over as managing editor Aug. 24 from Steinthor Gudbjartsson, who is moving back home to Iceland.

For the past year, Gudbjartsson has travelled to Icelandic communities throughout Canada and the U.S. looking for stories from the people. That boosted circulation figures, said Fuller, who wouldn't divulge them.

His mission as the new editor will be to attract more young readers.

"I want there to be something for people under 50," he said. "I'm 32. People of my generation are interested in their heritage but they don't know about their heritage," said Fuller. "I'd like to see more material on popular movies, literature and music from Iceland," he said.

Fuller wants to profile Icelandic personalities like filmmaker Guy Maddin and John K. Samson of The Weakerthans.

It's not celebrity or youth that's keeping CZAS, the 91-year-old Polish Times, alive.

"There's a spirit of pride of heritage that you want to preserve and share," said Krystyna Gajda, president of the Polish Press (which owns the Times) and a contributor to the paper. "Financially, it's always a struggle," she said.

"I vacuum. I clean toilets. I do everything," laughed the woman, who works full time and spends her evenings putting out Manitoba's only Polish-language newspaper.

"I'm doing it because I see the need in the community," said Gajda. CZAS has been a part of her family since her parents came to Canada from Poland in 1948, she said. Today, most of the newspaper's readers are "older to middle age." Some never learned English, she said.

"In 1914, people who came with nothing started it," she said. It shouldn't be left to die, especially in these more affluent times, she said. The Polish paper has survived by merging with a Polish publication in Toronto, she said.

"Sometimes ethnic papers have a narrow profile," she said. "You need to have a broad spectrum and give readers a broad scope of material."

The 80-year-old Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada's newspaper Visnyk is broadening to add a third language to its publication in September -- French.

The Ukrainian Herald, as it is called in English, is reaching out to Ukrainian Orthodox people around the world, in out of the way places like Madagascar, said editor Fr. Andrew Jarmus. Now it's connecting with new Ukrainian immigrants who have settled in Montreal.

"Those who stay there learn French before English," he said. "Their kids speak French and Ukrainian. Their working language is French. We want to be able to address that."

But Ukrainian is still vital to the church paper and the next generation, Jarmus said.

"We do have a younger readership and many immigrants from Ukraine. The use of Ukrainian is important -- there's an actual need for it."


 Ethnic press by the numbers:

536 -- The number of ethnic publications (excluding online publications) in Canada; Manitoba has 17, Alberta seven, Saskatchewan six and British Columbia 29.

10,000 -- Number of hits a month received by the locally based online newspaper, which serves an estimated three million Africans living abroad.

2,000 -- Circulation of the Manitoba Chinese Tribune, which publishes every two months and caters to newcomers from Asia, including the 1,400 University of Manitoba students from China.

119 -- Age of North America's oldest continuously published ethnic newspaper, the locally produced Icelandic journal, Lögberg-Heimskringla.

3 -- The number of languages in which the Ukrainian Herald, as it is known in English, is published. The Herald is also published in Ukrainian, of course, and in French.

-- Sources: National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada and various ethnic press publications

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