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Ethno-Compassion


Cultural integration is like a passage of space in-between.

There are several terms used in Social Work to explain the importance of culture, tradition, history, folklore and language. As a child of parents who immigrated to Canada from Italy following World War II, I am very familiar with the struggles of new Canadians settling in a foreign country without one or both dominant languages. Of course, we learned English and some conversational French at school. Our parents also learned English to communicate with new neighbours and friends. Our cultural traditions and practices remained central to our new life in Toronto. These early experiences were foundational to my professional life as Social Worker and Academic. This highly personal experience as “others” is viscerally familiar. The expectation to appropriately translate words, read signs, and express ourselves with less passion, exuberance, and joy was an ongoing struggle for me. I worked to help bridge two worlds without ever compromising my parents, or my own, sense of respect, dignity, and intelligence. Sometimes, an accent, especially a heavy one elicits surprising responses. The view that people are rude if they raise their voice or speak in a demanding tone in an effort to be better understood is one such example. In the early 1990’s, popular social work theories included culturally and multiculturally sensitive social work practices. The view that people had implicit knowledge, rituals, traditions, and values related to their own cultural heritage was a starting place for clinical social workers. The view that people invited you to understand their cultural perspectives and practices was highly valued as both protective and progressive at that time. In my view, it is not possible to understand a person’s emotional sense of self without positive regard and affirmation for one’s culture, ethnicity, or race. Ethno-compassion seems to express these concepts best, especially when working with newcomers and second generation Canadians. Lisa Romano-Dwyer PhD, RSW