Sharing our Shared Journey: Youth Programming – why the newcomer context expands to second generation kids

hani ali youth worker Hani Ali is a Youth Worker at Access Alliance. She received her BA in Literature and Comparative Religions from the University of Toronto, and has a post-graduate degree in Public Administration. She used to teach as a high school teacher. Hani grew up in different parts of the world, and still considers her passport to be her best friend!

At both the Access Alliance sites on the Danforth (APOD) and at Jane (APOJ), the numerous programs and services hosted for newcomer youth keep the hubs charged with upbeat energy. It is within these familial spaces that girls and boys learn lifelong cooking skills, enjoy games and sports, and receive peer mentoring from less recent newcomers who have been there, done that, and can share their experiences. But the second gen youth are newcomers all the same, according to Hani, Youth Worker at APOJ, who says that they face the exact same struggles as their first gen counterparts, albeit in a different capacity.

“It’s harder for second gen kids because they actually have less to work with.

“When first generation kids arrive [in Canada], they are in the process of negotiating two identities – they come and try to make it here,” says Hani.

“I came from somewhere else at a very young age, but now I’m trying to figure out both those worlds without being strictly in one at the same time. Second gen youth have to navigate the worlds they’re in and the losses of not having these worlds fully present makes them less equipped than newcomer youth.”

Cultural barriers get in the way of assimilation too.

“Cultural and family expectations are always going to be present in the second gen youth’s life. You would assume that with time and experience, certain things should fall into place, but this isn’t so,” claims Hani.

“Our second gen clients, as with most youths, go through the coming of age process as a series of negotiating, learning and relearning who they are. In most cases their parents are still unpacking what it means to live here and adjusting to their new environment, which means 2nd generation youths often have to create their own identity road maps and integrate accordingly. Coupled with their societal and parental expectations—most parents having a one foot in, one out, diaspora outlook—they try to do the things that will make their family proud but also find out where they fit in, and a lot of this happens when they enter university. But up to that point, who they mix with and the world they know, is largely determined by their parents, geography and their community.

“Striking a balance between the worlds is key, but it’s a process that takes more than a couple of generations.

“The parents’ main aim is to provide their kids with guidance and stability, in the way that they know how, in accordance with their cultural norms,” Hani explains. “It’s a slow process, of mimicking and protecting, but there’s no way around it… There are nuances and small barriers in it, and even the best intentioned things come with some negativity.”

Despite the challenges, second gen youth more readily accept Toronto as home, at the same time reaching out to newcomers with an understanding of their situation.

“Most of the kids will say ‘yes, I’m from Toronto.’ but in practice it’s stuff they’re figuring out. They’ll use the hyphen Somali-Canadian, and they’ll connect with newcomers, because they’re figuring out how to do that too.”

In fact, Accesspoint on Jane sees roughly about 60 percent of its youth clients identified as second gen, a fact that is largely dependent on the demographics of the neighborhood. The mixing of the two newcomer groups provides the foil for enriched conversations.

“You have kids who don’t understand what school credits are, and then you have someone who’s grown up here who looks like you but can explain to you” states Hani. 

“Less daunting than an adult explaining to you, it builds a sense of confidence and allows them to develop those skills without it being overbearing… Less teaching and more co-learning.”

Apart from program evaluations and the bi-annual feedback on sessions, the best indicators of Access Alliance’s positive impact upon the youth are the youth’s confidence in themselves and their abilities.

“To me, the best indicator of success is when kids start off unsure and a few months into it are running sessions or events.

One example was of a youth who overcame his initial shyness and ran his own cricket program last summer. Another instance was the girls’ art gallery hosted at Daniels Spectrum, where several pieces were sold to Access Alliance. Hani emphasizes the significance of having a supportive place that youth, both first and second gen, can belong to.

“And it’s the little things; where they’re all hanging out and they call each other ‘Family.’

“When they hold things in for so long and then everything starts to get better when they can come out and start talking. That’s how I would assess our success.”


By Yohani Mendis

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