Vancouver Asian Heritage Month Society recognizes the potential of a diverse Vancouver and advocates for equity, inclusion, collaboration and the social integration of Asian-Canadian communities. VAHMS appreciates the social benefits of multiculturalism and believes in the peaceful and respectful coexistence of not only Pan-Asian communities but of all ethnocultural groups in Canada. As these values ground the work that we do, these days we find inspiration in the legacy of the late Alireza Ahmadian, an enthusiastic supporter and friend of VAHMS, a consummate socio-political analyst, and an opinion leader on foreign policy who nurtured the virtues of diplomatic dialogue.
In June 2019, Ali, as we used to call him, was invited to be the honoured guest at VAHMS Volunteer Appreciation Dinner. However, shortly before the event, VAHMS president Leticia Sanchez received the unfortunate news of his passing. Ali was on an overseas trip when he suddenly succumbed to a fatal brain aneurysm. The unexpected end to Alireza’s life and to the multiple opportunities that were being developed by such a bridge-builder were felt not only within VAHMS but also across the many communities in which he served.
Alireza was equally proud to be both Iranian and Canadian. Having two different heritages, one by birth and the other by immigration, gave him the ability to contrast philosophies and policies from different vantage points and ultimately find a point of convergence. As a result, he often penned opinion pieces on the topics of immigration and Iranian-Canadian relations. His approach to tensions regarding racial relations was to confront them but to do so with the goal of unification as opposed to division. In Immigration Is a Scary Topic: We Should Talk About It, he called out the increasingly partisan rhetoric around immigrant-non-immigrant relations. “The lack of supply is changing. As more politicians adopt a divisive language and resort to “us” vs. “them” rhetoric with regard to immigration and immigrants, it becomes more important to openly talk about these issues.” and encouraged a rather diplomatic approach to confronting opposing beliefs “If we expand our identity and invite “them” to become part of “us,” and if we respect the integrity of our opponents and engage the content of their arguments, we can create an environment in which we can talk about uncomfortable topics comfortably.” Alireza also expanded the understanding of Iranian culture through education. He was instrumental in the institution of UBC’s Iranian studies and Persian language courses. In the non-profit sector, Ali served as a volunteer at VAHMS for 4 years. His amiable and respectful demeanour toward everyone made him a natural community gatherer. VAHMS Advisor Kelly Ip said of Ali, “He believed in multicultural harmony and strived to promote cross-cultural understanding and mutual respect among all people.”. His co-emcee, Margareth Gallagher said, “I had the great pleasure of working with Alireza…as a co-host at the annual Asian Heritage Month Awards Gala. I was struck by his kindness, his enthusiasm and by how much he truly cared about the community…I remember leaving that night thinking how lucky I was to have spent the evening working alongside such a genuinely compassionate and gracious person…”
At this time, we are witnessing a very different summer from last year when Alireza Ahmadian left us. Now, with increasing anxiety and division exacerbated by disease and injustice, we find ourselves remembering Alireza’s strong commitment to raising his voice in support of diversity, and we wish that our valiant and eloquent friend was still here standing along with us, calling for respect and unity and holding up the banner of true inclusivity.