From Senegal to Rimouski, from one river to another

The emotion of the adopted Rimouskois Lenine Nankassa Boucal was palpable in his voice when he answered our call. The 2020 winner in the regional section of the Charles-Biddle Prize shares with us the journey that led him to adopt the Bas-Saint-Laurent as his part of the country for six years.

Pants rolled up at the calves, feet in the water, the social entrepreneur of Senegalese origin loves to walk by the river to find beautiful rocks in the company of his daughter. On October 21, his walk was sunnier after he was named the 2020 laureate of the prestigious Charles-Biddle Prize, awarded ten years ago by the Ministry of Immigration, Francization and Integration (MIFI) in collaboration with the organization Culture for all in order to reward the contribution, involvement, commitment and influence of immigrants in their community.

Instigator of the Black History Month in Bas-Saint-Laurent and founder of the Cabaret de la Diversity in Rimouski, Mr. Boucal is at the heart of many projects aimed at fostering cultural effervescence and promoting immigration to the region. , living together and intercultural connections. “Beyond our differences, the Diversity Cabaret is an invitation to open up to others and to return to the essence of our beings,” he underlines.

Having grown up in military camps in Senegal, he says he has been a unifier from a young age. “I knocked on all the doors in the camps to collect money, because we liked to make parties between children and I wanted to be able to buy juice and sweets for everyone. “

Choose to stay there

At the age of 26, he arrived in Quebec in the middle of a snowstorm. “I will never forget December 17, 2007, because I experienced a big thermal shock! »Says Mr. Boucal, who made several stops across the province before falling in love with the city of Rimouski and dropping his bags there in 2014 thanks to the Place aux jeunes en région network.

“I was born near the Casamance river, in the south of Senegal, so the Saint-Laurent river awakens in me childhood memories; there are things that are hard to forget in life. The river is part of my identity; so for me, arriving here was like coming home, ”he tells us.

Michel Lagacé, president of the Regional Table of Municipal Elected Officials of Bas-Saint-Laurent and Prefect of the MRC de Rivière-du-Loup, salutes Mr. Boucal’s involvement in the influence of the Rimouski-Neigette territory since his arrival. “His optimistic nature, his intense taste for living together and his concern for better defining the society we want for the coming decades make it his trademark. “

Mr. Lagacé underlined the willingness of the Immigration Department to support the MRCs in the regions in order to achieve their immigration objectives. “The contribution of cultural communities is essential for the development of our territories,” he says.

Each year, the Diversity Cabaret appoints a young ambassador for living together. “It is important to leave behind children sufficiently sensitized to a world of love and tolerance. When they ask us what our generation has done to iron out the weeds of theirs, either we will bow our heads or we will proudly tell them that, even if we did not succeed everything, we tried ”, affirms Mr. Boucal.

The tree that unites

The Cabaret oversees a series of activities that promote the inclusiveness and full participation of newcomers and ethnocultural minorities in the Rimouski-Neigette region, including l’Arbre à palabres, an event that promotes Francophone literature from here and there. ‘elsewhere, including the 4e edition will be presented from November 2 to 8 at the Rimouski Book Fair. “We cannot ask Quebecers to open up to other cultures without asking immigrants to take an interest in Quebec culture. The boots must follow the lips! He says.

Robin Doucet, General Manager of the Rimouski Book Fair for 25 years and co-organizer of the Palabres Tree, vividly remembers his first meeting with the young Senegalese. “It was a happy coincidence that Nankassa and I were associated together with the twinning dinner organized by the Place aux jeunes network in the Rimouski-Neigette region in order to interest immigrants in settling there. “

An exchange that would lead to a collaboration for four years. Mr. Doucet also points out that it was from the arrival of the University of Quebec, the Institut maritime du Québec and later the Maurice-Lamontagne Institute that the city of Rimouski began to welcome people from other horizons. “It was a pleasure for me to see them arrive to enrich our region and our culture. Until the early 1970s, we did not ask people in Rimouski where they came from, because everyone came from here! “

Mr. Boucal wanted to extend his speech on immigration and integration in the region through his first documentary film Otherwise from here, produced in 2019. “We talk more often about immigration failures in the regions, while there are some great success stories that deserve to be told to inspire newcomers and institutions. “

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