East Belfast Celebrates its Growing Diversity, With Series of Intercultural Evenings

By Zoe McGivern

Lagan Village Community Centre, off the Lower Ravenhill Road, will be hosting a Peruvian Culture Evening on the 6th March, as part of ongoing Intercultural events in the community.

“The growing cultural and ethnic diversity in East Belfast is very evident. There are now a number of restaurants and shops selling foods from different countries within walking distance,” said Rachel, Woodstock resident and community advocate. “This just highlights the change in population in the East. But there is enough of a community to support all of these businesses”

While the majority of Belfast Migrants live in the south of Belfast, about 53 percent, census numbers reveal the East has continued to diversify and grow over the past decade, with some 21% of the total population of the non-UK and Ireland born population of Northern Ireland living in East Belfast.

Diversity Boom

Over the past couple of years, Lagan Village Community Centre has established Cultural Outreach Programmes to help foster connections with residents of varied and diverse cultural backgrounds in the area. Current programmes focus on the city’s Roma and Hungarian populations and each has a chairperson to serve as an ambassador for the community.

According to Rachel, this new social structure and bridge to the community developed, as the area’s local schools called out for extra English classes for their growing number of students, of which English is not their first language.

Lagan Village has provided daily English classes to these students, helping to break down social and educational barriers.

Expanding Cultural Boundaries

Poster for Integrate NI article East Belfast Celebrates Grpwing Diversity. Image: © RiTalSa Dance. Peruvian Culture Evening Lagan Village 6th March 2015
Image: © RiTalSa Dance. Peruvian Culture Evening Lagan Village Community Centre, 6th March 2015

While Lagan Village Community Centre encourages its members to celebrate their own heritage, it also aims to broaden its member’s cultural perspective beyond their own culture. Over the months of February and March, it will play host to Latino, Indian, Chinese, Scottish, African and Hungarian intercultural events.

George Newell, Community Development Worker for Lagan Village is helping organise these celebrations, which will bring together attendees, dancers, musicians, games and raffles.

“It’s an opportunity for local residents to experience some of the diverse cultures which make up our area,” George said. “It is an opportunity to bring us all together and learn from each other. It is also an opportunity for a wider audience to see and experience what we do at Lagan Village Community Centre.”

Educational Opportunities

“This is an opportunity for our local community to expand their opportunities, to celebrate cultural diversity.” George said he works to promote and celebrate various identities through programming and training in the Centre. “We are focused on raising awareness of the culture and heritage of our society.”

“Since moving to East Belfast I have noticed that, for the most part, it is very open to exploring cultural diversity,” said dancer teacher Ricardo Santa Cruz. “I think that young people often have not been encouraged to discuss difficult topics, especially race and ethnicity. These topics can be difficult or awkward to discuss, but are very important. As a choreographer and dance teacher, I encourage my students to explore diversity through the art of dance, assisting them to be global citizens and to be able to work with individuals of diverse backgrounds.

Image for Integrate NI article East Belfast Celebrates Diversity.  Image: © RiTalSa Dance.  Ricardo Santa Cruz teaching traditional Peruvian dance in AHRA.
Image: © RiTalSa Dance. Ricardo Santa Cruz teaching traditional Peruvian dance in AHRA Community.

“These intercultural evenings are another step forward for the area; I encourage as many people as possible to come along.”

In addition to providing public health, language classes, and senior services, Lagan Village Community Centre works closely with the local Roma Community and provides the Roma and non-Roma community an opportunity to participate in Northern Irish culture, outings, art programs and events together.

Sharing Cultural Diversity Through Food

“In Peru, our most successful cultural events involve food,” said Ricardo Santa Cruz, organiser of Lagan Village’s Peruvian Culture Evening. “We have hundreds of traditional meals, you have to remember Peru is huge and each region, Jungle, Coast and Mountains, has a very different taste. Food a very important part of our Cultural Heritage”

The Peruvian Cultural Evening, which will take place on the 6th March from 7-10pm, will have food, live music, from Los Dramáticos, and traditional dance, with participation from members of the local community and performances from children from neighbouring communities.

Image for Integrate NI East Belfast Celebrates Griwing Diversity. Image: © Los Dramáticos, Victor Henriquez and Paddy Anderson. Latin Fusion
Image: © Los Dramáticos, Victor Henriquez and Paddy Anderson. Latin Fusion

“I am very excited to share some of my culture. There is not a huge amount of Latinos in Northern Ireland, as it is very far, but there are definitely more than I imaged there would be. Latin American culture is very fun; we have a lot of dancing, colour, food and music.

“I hope this event will reach out to the Latinos in Northern Ireland, and to everyone who is interested in the Peruvian culture.

“This opportunity is important to me and my family, as I have two children. It is important that they celebrate and understand their Northern Irish Culture and their Peruvian Culture.”

Creating a Global Community

“East Belfast is becoming a global community,” Rachel said. “We can all start by teaching our children to be curious about other cultures. We should teach them to respect other cultures, and encourage them to learn about them too.”

As East Belfast’s diversity continues to grow, the support from the community translates into a desire by many non Northern Irish groups to give back to the community.

“I am very happy with the support my community has shown me, since moving here. This Peruvian Culture Evening allows me to give a little back.

“I hope to see the community out,” said Ricardo. “I hope to see plenty of support from all of Belfast and our MLAs, and that everybody just comes together and has a good time.”

(You have permission to re-publish THIS article in full, on-line or in print form, stating the author and following at the end) ©This article was originally published by Integrate NI, to see the original go to www.integrateni.com(Please include direct link).


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