Creating community for Two Spirit/ LGBTQIA+ newcomers through food

Quick escape link leading to Weather Network websiteQuick Escape woman cooking at the kitchen

Imagine being a queer newcomer to Canada with no connections, no family support, and no sense of belonging.

Now, imagine trying to overcome those barriers during a pandemic.

Noura Afify, Two Spirit/LGBTQIA+ Newcomer Youth Support Worker at speqtrum Hamilton and the YWCA Hamilton, calls the isolation and frustration “a recipe for disaster” for queer newcomers – but a new program is helping to create connections through food.

The Mother Tongue program is a virtual cooking class offered each month through YWCA Hamilton’s Join program – the only program in Hamilton that specifically caters to Two Spirit/ LGBTQIA+ newcomers. The goal of Mother Tongue is to provide newcomers with connection, education, and the experience of making a delicious meal with others.

Noura says that Mother Tongue provides not only an opportunity to meet new people, including other queer newcomers and affirming community members, but it also offers valuable life skills.

“Some of us in the queer community have had many interruptions in our lives, and barriers that have prevented us from forming relationships with family members that would have taught us how to cook,” Noura said.

“A few folks know how to cook, others don’t feel comfortable in the kitchen and hate cooking, so they’re trying to have a better relationship with food.”

 noura at mother tongue program

Noura has taught several delicious dishes through Mother Tongue, including shawarma poutine, ghee, and an Egyptian street food called Koshari for a special Iftar edition. While the class is currently offered through Zoom, the classes will move in-person once it’s safe to do so – something Noura says she can’t wait to do.

Noura says that the majority of participants she has supported through the Join program have been queer refugees, most of whom arrived in Hamilton on their own and are without any family support. Mother Tongue offers not only community connection, but also a chance to make the food that connects them to their countries of origin.

“We try our best to make culturally appropriate food for folks and offer foods that our clients have grown up eating,” she said.

“I only know about Middle-Eastern cooking – I’m trying my best to learn how to make Caribbean food, or food east or central Africa, but there’s still so much for me to learn. The bonus is that we can invite community members to the kitchen to show us how to make food from their culture.”

As well as the Mother Tongue program, participants in the Join program are also able to access weekly workshops covering topics such as settlement, life skills or queer culture, as well as a one-on-one check-in program available in various languages.

For more information about Mother Tongue, or any of the programs for Two-Spirit/ LGBTQIA+ newcomers available through Join, reach out to newcomer@speqtrum.ca, call/text 289- 439-6154, or click on the link below.

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