In partnership with Apathy is Boring, New Canadian Media will be posting first-person accounts from the 150 Years Young Project, a campaign that highlights the positive impact youth are making throughout their communities.
Aanjalie Collure, Scary Immigrants
“Why should pictures of normal people doing normal things attract any news? The fact that something like #ScaryImmigrants did, reminds us that we have a long way to go to break the stigma with new immigrants and refugees.”
Aanjalie is a global health and human rights advocate, both inside and outside the office. She currently works as a Senior Associate at Global Health Strategies in supporting their projects that raise awareness of global health concerns like HIV/AIDS and neglected tropical diseases. Aanjalie is also the founder of Autobiography Magazine, an online multimedia platform dedicated to raising awareness of untold stories and silenced voices around the world. As an immigrant herself from Sri Lanka when she was three years old, Aanjalie noticed, even as a child, the severe lack of attention given by mainstream media to the civil war happening in Sri Lanka. This experience sparked a passion in Aanjalie for bringing under represented stories to the forefront. To this effect, in December 2016, Aanjalie organized Toronto’s Untold Stories – a photography exhibit featuring members of marginalized and underrepresented communities in Toronto. Featured stories included those of a wounded veteran, transgender activist, elderly homeless man, and a victim of the Rwandan genocide. More recently, Aanjalie launched the #ScaryImmigrants campaign as an immediate response to the announcement of the immigration ban in the United States. She heard the announcement while waiting for her flight from Toronto to New York and was confounded by the absurdity of sentiments towards refugees and immigrants. Through this campaign, Aanjalie hopes to make use of satire by presenting immigrant families participating in ordinary day-to-day activities with absurd commentary suggesting that they are plotting against their new communities. In addition to all of this, Aanjalie is also in the process of producing a documentary discussing the challenges lower-income women face around the world with menstruation. For this project, she is planning visits to Kenya and Nepal as well as conducting interviews in the USA to discuss stigma associated with it, taxation of hygiene products, and other challenges. In the final product, Aanjalie hopes to present the amazing work being done towards menstrual equity.
Kennes Lin, Youth Reconciliation Initiative advocate
“I feel strongly, as a Chinese-Canadian woman, that we need to understand what the last 150 years have actually meant, and make sure that we have learned what is necessary for the next 150 years.”
Kennes was born in Hong Kong and lived in Shanghai, China until she moved to Mississauga, Ontario when she was thirteen years old. She became involved in Canada Roots Exchange through an exchange opportunity in Rankin Inlet for a week, where she was welcome to live with an indigenous community. Since then, she has become more involved with programs offered through Canada Roots Exchange, especially the Youth Reconciliation Initiative (YRI).
As a proud immigrant to Canada, Kennes has had the opportunity to understand the label of “settler” much better than most. After going to school in Canada, she realized how little is discussed about the history and circumstances of the country’s indigenous communities. While she did not feel personal ties to the country and its history, Kennes found it problematic that the indigenous population of Canada were not given the opportunity to feel that personal tie. At YRI, Kennes and the team across the country work to host events, activities, and an overall safe space that facilitates dialogue and understanding between indigenous and non-indigenous youth.
Through her experience, and the general narrative of Canada’s history, Kennes works on addressing the necessity to “unlearn” many considerations that are believed to be what the country was built on. She has been able to use her experience of having a Cantonese background while living in mainland China and understanding the interaction of the two cultures towards recognizing and appreciating the label she has as a settler. Through YRI, Kennes hopes that reconciliation can be achieved with harmony, and a universal understanding of Canada’s history and the missing parts that make up who the indigenous population are, what they have gone through, and where they are now.
The 150 Years Young Project: In celebration of Canada's 150th birthday, Apathy is Boring is teaming up with community organizers and city ambassadors to recognize positive contributions by youth. Follow the hashtag #150yy for more!
by Tanya Mok in Toronto
OVER 300 movie-goers attended the recent world premiere of ‘My First 150 Days in Canada’, a documentary that strikes to the core of the Canadian immigrant experience.
The film screened at the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema as part of TVO’s year-long programming dedicated to Canada’s 150th anniversary. It follows single mother Melona Banico and her family during their first 150 days together in Canada, after immigrating from the Philippines. It offers an emotional glimpse into the life of a matriarch struggling to provide for her family in a new country while coping with her own disappointments and expectations.
“All immigrants can relate to the story of the family one way or another,” says the documentary director and writer, Diana Dai. “We all experience loneliness, language problems, difficulty finding jobs.”
Coming to terms
‘My First 150 Days in Canada’ is particularly touching because it focuses on the spectrum of hardships new immigrants must face, from the external struggles like unemployment and cold climates to the emotional, more complex impacts of realigning with a new society under less than favourable circumstances.
The documentary begins nearly a year ago with a tearful reunion at Pearson Airport as the Banico family is reunited for the first time, but it’s bittersweet: Melona has toiled for nearly 10 years, sometimes working three jobs simultaneously, in order to sponsor her son Jade, 24, her daughters, Judelyn, 26, and Jeah, 14, and her grandson, Clyde, 10, to come to Canada.
The separation, though, has been too long. She’s become a stranger to her children, having missed out on their most formative years. Suddenly, the family of five is thrust together into a single apartment with one goal: to save enough money for a better future.
Dai, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, says she could relate to the Banico family as an immigrant herself. As a Chinese-born immigrant who first moved to England and then Canada, Dai has spent years documenting issues facing Chinese people and their diaspora community in Toronto.
“You have to work harder than local people, that’s a fact,” she says. “It’s important for local Canadians to know how we live, what we’ve been through ... I want them to understand their hopes and expectations.”
The first few months
But Dai says the documentary also has a message for new immigrants as well. “I want them to know the first few months is hard.”
Capturing the Banico family’s ups and downs was a tough process. The family was cooperative at first but, overtime, became less and less willing to share their vulnerable moments. Financial expectations had caused a rift between Melona and her children, especially with Jade and Judelyn, who were too old to go to school but lacked the experience for non-minimum wage jobs.
They also had mouths to feed back home: Jade’s one-year-old daughter and Clyde’s father still lived in the Philippines, and Jeah was facing health problems. Melona was fired from her job and the bills were ever-looming.
Sometimes, the family would ignore Dai’s calls and scheduling shoots became difficult. It was only when Dai shared her own experiences as a new immigrant from China that the Banico family became less resistant to sharing their own.
“That’s the one reason why we trust each other, because I can feel that frustration. I understand their difficulties,” the director says. “Very few [documentaries] touch the conflicts among [new immigrant] family members because people don’t want to talk about it ... I’m very lucky that they allowed me to enter their world.”
For many in Canada, that world is a reality not so different from their own. From first snowfalls to being made fun of in school or for eating too much rice for lunch, ‘My First 150 Days in Canada’ is not just a story of Filipino immigrants, but the story of families across the world trying to make a better life for themselves in a new country.
Ending in optimism
Though the Banico family seemed to face a seemingly endless list of obstacles in Canada, an undercurrent of love and Melona’s determination for a better future for her family carried them through the first five months towards an optimistic ending in the film.
After the screening, the Banico family and Dai were invited onstage to a question and answer session with TVO’s Nam Kiwanuka, host of The Agenda In The Summer, where audience members had more words of support and gratitude for the family than questions.
Though the Banico family’s journey has just begun, Melona had words to impart to the many immigrants who have recently arrived in Canada, just as her family did nearly a year ago.
“My advice is try to be strong and put your family first,” she says. “Fight for the challenges that might be encountered in life. Later on, once everything’s settles down, they’re going to get better.”
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org
by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga
Sports has the ability to unite Canada, show the recently released findings of an Association for Canadian Studies survey.
“A majority of Canadians agree that sports break down linguistic and cultural barriers to unite people,” the report states.
In Canada, immigrants from different countries and origins also bring with them some of their own favourite sports.
Dr. John Shields, interim academic director at Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement (RCIS), highlights the growing popularity of cricket in Canada as an example.
“[There are a] lot of people coming from South Africa, Pakistan and India who are avid fans of cricket,” says Shields.
Sports history important to know
University of Toronto vice-president Bruce Kidd says including sports history in the country’s narrative is an important step in telling a complete story.
“If you don’t understand the role of sports in Canadian history, you missed an important part and your sense of Canadian history will be incomplete.”
For instance, Canadian national sports like lacrosse and hockey were part of the nation’s culture even before confederation. They were the outdoor games played by First Nations. Curling and golf arrived with Scottish immigrants in the 1600s.
Canadians also played important roles in the early beginnings of popular sports like football and basketball.
Kidd explains that when sports are adopted in Canada they are infused with Canadian values, skills and narratives.
“I would say that Canadians have put their own stamp on the games that we play.”
Sports as a unifying force
Today, hockey alone can ignite patriotism throughout the country.
Jennifer Anderson, historian at the Canadian Museum of History, says hockey is often reflected in Canadian popular culture. Even those who are not enormous hockey fans come across cultural references to the game in everyday life through TV shows, books and children stories.
“Somewhere there is a link between the game and our culture, and I think it demonstrates the relationship that Canadians have to the game,” she explains.
While sports can be a unifying force, like other aspects of Canadian culture, it can also be divisive, says Kidd.
“During those times when Canadian teams made up of Anglophone and Francophone athletes lead internationally, it forges bilingualism and commonality,” he says.
However, he adds, “When you have the Canada games, which put efforts from each of the different provinces against each other, it may create rivalries on linguistic ground.”
Exclusion also part of sports history
While Shields says that sport “tends to bring people together in terms of common cause,” he points out there certainly has been a history of exclusion and racism in Canadian sports, too.
“Historically it was very hard for Aboriginal people to get into the professional hockey leagues, as was for Black people,” Shields says.
Anderson explains that it’s not that First Nations people are dissatisfied with the way games like hockey and lacrosse have evolved; it’s more about the acknowledgement of their participation.
“They would like to be acknowledged as having participated in the game over an extended period of time,” she states. “Not just the beginning perhaps, not just the origin, but they continued to participate in the sport.”
Similarly, women have always been engaged in Canadian sports, but pre-Confederation, they were often barred from sports and had to participate informally.
Kidd says that women have gradually succeeded in winning opportunities for themselves in this area.
“I would say since the First World War, they played every sport that men played and today are an important, proud part of Canadian sports,” he adds.
Anderson emphasizes that “this hasn’t always been acknowledged in the same way as men sports has.”
Increasing the media’s coverage of women’s sports has been a long-fought battle, and there have been movements and conversations about ensuring equality.
“Currently [women’s sport is] still underperforming in the kind of media coverage it gets,” Anderson says. “But I think social media has changed this to some degree and to some extent has shifted the way women sports is being covered.”
Sports have long been an important part of the Canadian economy, culture and education system, but experts like Anderson suggest that more efforts are required to promote equality in Canadian sports.
Specifically, they suggest we need to counter the growing cost of playing sports, ensure greater exposure of women’s sports and include more First Nations people in the national sports arena.
This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to email@example.com
by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga
Although a mass expulsion in 1755 resulted in their dispersal, the Acadians of present day New Brunswick and Nova Scotia remained undaunted and, upon their return, revived their cultural roots.
The Acadians are the descendants of 17th century French immigrants. For 100 years, they lived as a French colony called “Acadie.”
Under British rule since the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, they did not want to bear arms in the event of war and were recognized as neutral subjects within the colony from 1730.
During the War of the Austrian Succession, Governor Charles Lawrence of Nova Scotia refused to trust them because of their religious and linguistic affiliation — Catholic and French. In 1755, the Acadians were deported in small groups to British and French colonies around the Atlantic.
“They (the British) saw them as an obstacle to the larger empire that they wanted to build in North America,” says Maurice Basque, a scientific advisor at the University of Moncton.
Several thousand Acadians died during deportation of illness, drowning and starvation.
Today, as a global strategy, Acadians are working to revitalize their traditions and bring back Acadians from around the world to their origin in Canada.
The return of the Acadians
The Acadians were allowed to return after 1764 on humanitarian grounds. They rebuilt their villages in eastern Canada and began rebuilding their culture.
“[The] 300,000 Acadians that you find today in Atlantic Canada speak French on a daily basis and [call] themselves Acadians,” says Basque.
The Musée des Acadiens des Pubnicos et Centre de recherché in Pubnico-Ouest has preserved Acadian history and culture since 1653. It prominently features the Acadian craft of quilting.
“We have workshops and classes that we give to people who are interested in keeping the traditions alive,” says Bernice d’Entremont, museum coordinator.
With new techniques and sewing machines, quilting is not usually done the way it was 350 years ago. But at “Quilting Bees”, d’Entremont and others enthusiastically teach the art of hand quilting to a new generation.
“There is a pride in doing the quilting and having it displayed,” she explains.
With time, Acadians have become “open-minded.” Basque says that they have proudly adopted Canadian identity. In eastern Canada, the Acadian flag proudly flies next to the Canadian flag.
Basque adds, “Canadian identity is very elastic.”
Now many Acadians work at the international level with Francophone organizations that focus on the youth. Association acadienne des artistes professionnel.le.s du Nouveau-Brunswick supports individual, French-speaking artistes and collectives.
The association, through its immigration initiatives, invites people to delve into Acadian artisan and take missions to other countries.
René Cormier, president of the Société nationale de l’Acadie says, “We go to promote this region as the real region; we bring with us artists so the people of other countries can see, hear and feel what we are.”
They organize the World Acadian Congress every five years, which invites people from all over the world. The objective is to promote Acadian culture as an active and present part of the Canadian community.
“Our objective is to contribute to the development of Canada — what Acadian people can bring through the development of our culture,” says Cormier.
The group has members in almost all the provinces of Canada. They work for Francophones’ immigration that includes post-graduate students, young entrepreneurs and artisans.
Cormier adds, “We [are] really an organization that brings people together, not only to talk, but to work together.”
Among the challenges facing Acadians today is creating a closer relationship with the First Nations people of New Brunswick and helping them preserve their language.
“Acadians are Francophone and should understand, in my opinion, the wish of the First Nations to keep their languages, so the first languages of this continent won’t disappear,” says Marque.
Historically, the Acadians were allies of the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet First Nations who taught them how to survive extreme cold, dyke marshland, fish, farm, and locate spices and medicines.
“I must say as a historian that there is lots of goodwill, but concrete actions may be missing,” suggests Marque.
Acadians also need to build bridges with new groups that are arriving in Canada. New Brunswick is one of the least multicultural provinces in the country. “It’s still mostly what we could call traditional white,” Marque explains.
Marque concludes, “But the city I live [in], Moncton, is changing. More people that are arriving and settling here with different cultures, Acadians are now opting to the cultures of the world that are becoming part of their culture now.”
by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City
Racial profiling by police is not a new phenomenon. The ability to now document aggression by law enforcement against African Americans and other racialized people and broadcast the footage around the world makes this long-standing injustice hard to ignore.
Along with meaningful discussions though, these images are also sparking retaliation by some members of the targeted communities.
These acts of aggression, the feelings they create, and the history they are grounded in, are hard for adults to understand, let alone explain to a young person.
Thanks to the Internet and technology, children and youth today have the world at their fingertips. Yet defining how prejudice and racism continue to have implications in different realms of society are ongoing topics of research, policy discussions and public debate.
Making children aware
Books like The Stone Thrower by Canadian author Jael Richardson are one way to start a conversation with children about the historical roots of some of the prejudice we continue to see today against African Americans.
The illustrated book tells the real-life story of Chuck Ealey, starting from when he was born in Portsmouth, Ohio, in 1950. He grows up in the city’s North End neighbourhood without most of the opportunities that many other children in America enjoy.
Because of racism against Black people in America — which often revolves around the idea that all Black people have characteristics that make them inferior to Caucasian Americans — Chuck and other people who have black skin must live, learn and play separately from those with white skin.
Chuck’s mother works long hours for little money, yet still has time and energy to instill in her son the drive to get educated and follow the train tracks that go beyond the North End.
“How could he get out of the North End if they didn’t even have enough money for food?” Chuck wonders.
He begins visiting the train tracks regularly to practise throwing stones at the passing freight cars. It helps him on the football field, and eventually his high school coach asks him to play quarterback during a game.
On the field, he is taunted by the rival team, but maintains his focus and determination to win.
The team’s victory is the start of Chuck Ealey’s long and successful career in high school and college football. After that, though, his time as a football player in the United States is over.
“The National Football League didn’t believe that he could be a great quarterback because of the color of his skin,” writes Richardson.
So instead, Ealey moved to Canada to play in the Canadian Football League (CFL). In his first year as a quarterback for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, he led the team to the Grey Cup championship and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player and the CFL’s Rookie of the Year.
Colourful pages tell ugly history
“It’s an unbeatable story that amazes me, even though I’ve heard it all before, because Chuck Ealey happens to be my father,” Richardson explains at the end of the book. She has also written about her father’s story in a 2012 memoir called The Stone Thrower: A Daughter’s Lesson, a Father’s Life, which was the subject of a TSN (The Sports Network) documentary.
Chuck’s story is remarkable, yet his experience with racism is not unique. Racial segregation was a reality for a huge segment of the population only about 50 years ago — in both the United States and Canada.
Children can relate to parts of the book about playing outdoors, practising sports and being part of a team. What might come as a surprise is that there was once a time when not all children could enjoy these things equally.
The Stone Thrower’s colourful and animated pages tell of a history that was much uglier, hateful and violent.
The difficult legacy of race
While segregation was not enshrined in Canadian law, it still existed in all facets of social life. The story of Viola Desmond being arrested for sitting in the whites-only section of a New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, movie theatre is just one example.
These injustices continue to have repercussions that are felt today. While the days of slavery are over, poverty in Black communities and videos of police brutality against Black people are remnants of what U.S. President Barack Obama termed “the difficult legacy of race.”
The NFL can no longer bar Black athletes from playing football, but law enforcement, employers and the justice system are still realms in which race matters. The Stone Thrower is a reminder of how far we have come, and how far we have yet to go.
However, Ealey’s story is also a much-needed reminder for children and adults alike of what is possible when we work against division and towards inclusion. Through a basic retelling of how one man overcame injustice to be treated fairly, we see how difficult it is to explain and justify segregation and inequality.
On the other hand, we see how easy it is to defend everyone’s basic right to work, play and live without discrimination.
Rosanna Haroutounian is a freelance writer and the assignment editor at New Canadian Media. She studied journalism and political science at Carleton University and now splits her time between Quebec City and Peterborough, Ont.
by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City
The recent death of Abdirahman Abdi after his violent arrest in Ottawa and the 2015 police shooting of Andrew Loku in Toronto challenge the “meanwhile in Canada” dichotomy that says racial profiling only happens in America.
Racial profiling by police is not a new phenomenon. The ability to now document aggression by law enforcement against Black Canadians and Americans and other visible minorities and broadcast the footage around the world makes this long-standing injustice hard to ignore.
At the same time, we meet a younger cohort that is forcing down those walls in order to be heard.
More story needed
Short stories go well with short attention spans, delivering the main elements of a good story in one quick dose.
At the same time, they can leave many questions unanswered. To sum them all into one: “What happens next?”
Most of the stories in All My Fallen Angelas fall into the latter category.
Just as we are on the cusp of getting to know the characters, and finding our way around the intricacies of their lives, we are abruptly halted and told to move on.
This is a sign of Patriarca’s ability as an engaging storyteller, but also begs whether some endings could be more convincing.
After much pondering, it is hard to determine whether it’s better for the author to provide more finality to her stories, or to allow readers to explore the possibilities on their own.
Alice Munro, arguably Canada’s most well-known short story writer, also gives readers much to think about through her writing.
On writing short stories, Munro told The New York Times 30 years ago, “I don't really understand a novel. I don't understand where the excitement is supposed to come in a novel, and I do in a story . . . I kind of want a moment that's explosive, and I want everything gathered into that.”
Historical roots to popular images
Like Patriarca, Munro also writes about women; she has been called a feminist writer. While her stories focus mostly on women in Southwestern Ontario, Patriarca’s reside in Toronto, from the 1960s onward.
We are introduced to characters that bear resemblance to the stereotypical Italian nonna — the grandmother who is the family’s cook, religious authority and resident matchmaker. The classic image of the Italian male with slicked back hair and leather shoes also makes an appearance.
Though these characters seem caricatured in most other settings, Patriarca’s stories provide a glimpse into their historical roots.
We learn about some of the traditions that Italian immigrants brought with them to Canada and their cultural importance.
While traditional interests, such as prayer and homemaking, persuade many older characters, the younger ones express the desire to break away from old customs by becoming entrepreneurs, refusing arranged marriages and deciding not to have families.
“Do I tell her that a man is not what I want?” ponders the narrator in “My Grandmother is Normal.”
“Rather, marriage to a man is not what I want. My time, this place, allows me that choice. How do I make her understand that the world has changed?”
What was vs. what is
The stories also show us how some predominantly Italian neighbourhoods in Toronto have evolved as immigration to Canada has expanded.
“The new residents in the neighbourhood, whose long braids are often covered by lovely scarves, seem reluctant to come into her shop although on occasion Vicky is challenged by the requests of a new customer who will bare her head to reveal black torrents of lustrous hair,” writes Patriarca about Vicky’s salon in the story “Blonde Forever.”
The older characters also note the way they see their neighbourhood changing as a result of gentrification, technology and new social norms.
In “Anna at the Window,” Anna laments the declining attendance at her church, the long distances she must travel for her groceries, and the fact that young gentlemen no longer tip their hats and open doors for her.
“The area now catered to a different crowd, a different way of life, and although she understood that time had moved and that was the natural way of the world, it did not make her feel any better. Time is about loss, she thought, and loss is never a good thing.”
The contrast between young and old, between what was and what is now, is explored throughout All My Fallen Angelas and asks the reader to reflect on whether all change is really for the better, or whether as Anna suggests, it represents some loss.
These contrasts also suggest that while men have historically done most of the decision making in politics and business, it is women who witness and bear the brunt of how these choices affect society at large.
While women today may be better positioned to have an impact on the world around us, Patriarca’s stories are a reminder to never dismiss the sacrifices of our nonnas and other women that brought us here.
Rosanna Haroutounian is a freelance writer and the assignment editor at New Canadian Media. She studied journalism and political science at Carleton University and now splits her time between Quebec City and Peterborough, ON.
by Elvira Truglia in Montreal
The stories in the Best of All Worlds represent seven of the most commonly spoken immigrant languages in Canada’s largest cities.
“When children see their heritage languages in books, they instinctively understand that their languages are valued and their cultures are important in Canada,” says Gina Valle about a collection of multilingual children’s stories which she brought together in The Best of All Worlds.
Published in 2015, the illustrated book features seven stories in their original languages — Arabic, Farsi, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish — as well as in English and French translations.
The stories were selected from the winning and finalist submissions from the Multilingual Kid Lit Award competition organized by Toronto bookstore Rainbow Caterpillar. Valle initiated the project to mark 15 years since the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) established International Mother Tongue Day “to promote diversity and international understanding through multilingualism and multiculturalism.”
Multilingual stories, multicultural perspectives
Questions are to children what texting is to smartphone touting teenagers – second nature. The Best of All Worlds provides many opportunities to tap into children’s inquisitive nature as it exposes them to culturally-specific symbolism, such as the Japanese kappa, and various writing systems including the Latin alphabet, Arabic script and Chinese characters.
New myths grounded in Canadian history, such as the ‘Tulip Fairy’ who helps keep the Tulip Festival alive in Ottawa, and original stories about what it means to be human and Canadian in today’s world, can spur a flurry of questions as young children read along with a parent, grandparent or teacher in their language of choice or ability.
And if the stories don’t pique a child’s interest, the vivid illustrations will stand in, each with a unique style.
Kings, giants, fairies and fables
The Best of All Worlds has something for all tastes. From fables to fairy tales of kings, giants and other fantastical characters, each story has elements that make children’s books fun to read for children and adults alike.
My 11-year-old daughter Sabina’s favourite story was “The Happy King,” originally written in Portuguese, because it was “weird, in a good way.” Cursed with being sad by a wizard who wasn’t invited to the royal party, love is what broke the curse and made the King happy again, explains Sabina.
But her interpretation of the “message of the story” was an afterthought. What kept Sabina’s attention was the quirky King who reminded her of the curses, wizards and witches she read in tales as a younger child.
“The Happy King” and other stories are filled with familiar tropes and original twists. The internal struggles and choices of the characters mirror lifelong and universal quests.
Sabina is an avid reader in English and French and is starting to read in Italian and Spanish – her first languages. When reading The Best of All Worlds on her own, she zig-zagged between all four languages and eventually stuck to one of Canada’s official languages.
Reading a book in multiple languages is tricky. Like many children growing up in Canada, she needs some priming to continue speaking and reading her heritage languages.
Keep talking your mother tongue
Krista Byers-Heinlein, an associate professor of psychology at Concordia University, specializes in language acquisition and early bilingualism. She spoke to Panoram Italia Magazine about the three-generation rule: “In the first generation, the language is strong – it’s how people communicate. In the second generation, there is a solid understanding of the language, but the writing or reading is weak. By the third generation, the language is at risk."
When it comes to language, you either use it or lose it. Passively watching TV won’t do the trick, but reading together and having conversations about what you’re reading is a great way to interact in your mother tongue.
Schools are an important audience for The Best of All Worlds and a great context for validating first languages. According to Valle, some 20 library systems across the country have ordered the book and a curriculum guide for Ontario teachers is currently in the works.
Making multilingualism a new norm
Valle says the book reflects who we are as Canadians.
“We can speak many languages and live with many cultures and be at ease with each,” she says. “We can speak Mandarin at home, French at school, English on the soccer field and feel that no matter what we speak or where we come from, we can be full citizens in this country.”
The Best of All Worlds was put together over 18 months with a team of writers, illustrators and translators who originate from some two dozen countries.
“There are bilingual books but there are no multilingual children’s books in Canada,” says Valle.
For that, The Best of All Worlds, is an important and new contribution to Canada’s literary scene.
Elvira Truglia is a Montreal-based journalist who writes about the intersections of culture, politics and social issues. She has recently written for New Canadian Media, The Huffington Post, and the social justice radio program, Making Contact. She is also an emerging photographer whose documentary photos have recently been published in New Canadian Media’s online library. Elvira has worked in the non-profit sector for more than 20 years, focusing on communications, education and human rights.
by Vincent Simboli in Montreal
“The library is a mirror of the universe,” writes Argentinian-Canadian author Alberto Manguel in his 2006 book The Library at Night. As print loses traction in our increasingly digitized world, are we in jeopardy of losing access to these sacred mirrors?
The Grande Bibliothèque in Montreal challenges this notion by using cutting-edge virtual-reality technology to connect contemporary audiences with the magic of libraries across space and time.
The Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ) opened its virtual reality exhibit The Library at Night (based on Manguel’s book of the same name) at the Grande Bibliothèque in October 2015. The exhibit explores 10 of the world’s “most fascinating libraries,” exposing their “philosophical, architectural and social foundations.”
Exploring an author’s library
Guests begin by entering a replica of Manguel’s personal library while they hear his voice explain the important role that books have had throughout his life. In the recorded introduction, he also muses about the importance of collecting knowledge and stories in a physical location, giving the poignant example of the clandestine library kept by children in the Auschwitz-Birkenau Nazi concentration camp.
After Manguel’s voice fades from the speakers, exhibition co-ordinator Alexis Benoit enters and tells guests to put on their Virtual Reality (VR) headsets. We walk past a revolving bookshelf and into an underground forest filled with books, desks and synthetic trees.
Manguel grew up in Tel-Aviv during his father’s tenure as the Argentinian ambassador to Israel. He returned to Buenos Aires in 1955, when he was seven.
In June 1968, when the Argentine military junta began its “Dirty War” on its own civilians and literati, Manguel took cues from Julio Cortázar and other Argentine intellectuals and left the country for Europe to live and write without fear of being oppressed by the paramilitary forces running the country.
By 1982, he had emigrated to Canada and settled there to raise his family, eventually obtaining citizenship in 2000. He identifies primarily as Canadian, although his transnational experiences have had major influences on his career as an essayist, anthologist and author.
Witnessing culture being destroyed
Though the exhibit uses impressive VR technology, such as footage of life-sized birds flying about the Library of Parliament in Ottawa, by far the most emotional moment of the exhibit for me was the subtle and brilliant use of music and sound effects in the segment about the Vijećnica library of Sarajevo.
Vijećnica was built as the library and city hall of Sarajevo, Bosnia, in the late 19th century, and served as an architectural reminder of the city’s multicultural heritage. The library was also a cross-cultural meeting place for the exchange of ideas among Sarajevo’s Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Muslim populations.
The viewer is invited to look up at the ceiling while Manguel explains the significance of the architecture and the hundreds of thousands of priceless Bosnian, Croatian and Serbian manuscripts, marking Sarajevo as the “Jerusalem of Europe.”
Meanwhile, the distant sound of gunfire can be heard.
“During the Siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1996, Vijećnica was targeted by the Republika Srpska army in an attempt of ‘historicide,’ the erasure of a people’s cultural patrimony and identity,” Manguel explains.
As the gunfire gets louder, a man in a tuxedo walks down the stairs of the virtual library. We are introduced to Vedran Smailović, a cellist in the Sarajevo Philharmonic Orchestra.
His cello begins to drown out the gunfire, and though flames consume the regal library and destroy most of its collection, Smailović doesn’t stop. The incredible true story of the cellist of Sarajevo, playing his mournful eulogy for the lost heritage of Bosnia, is an emotional one, but to experience it in virtual reality with enhanced sight and sound is indescribable.
As the cello music fades from the headphones and Smailović walks away, the viewer is left with the sound of gunfire and the quiet roar of flames, pondering what can and must be done in the face of historical and literary destruction.
Libraries as personal histories
Benoit says that one of the goals of the exhibition is to make clear the importance books have in a person’s life story.
“During his introduction, we learn about what Manguel explored, where he went, and what accompanied him throughout his life,” he says. “Those things were his books. They define what a personal library is – a library is the story of oneself. [Our exhibit] is about a transfer from a personal library to a public library, where the goal is to accumulate all the knowledge we all have."
Benoit says the isolation of the VR headsets allows guests to experience the exhibition free of self-consciousness inside a “bubble” that nobody can burst.
“You see books you had when you were a kid, books you have now, and they remind you of what happened in your past when you were reading them,” he says. “When you collect all these in the same space, you have this history about yourself.”
Vincent Simboli is an American journalist based in Montréal. He is a recent graduate of McGill University where he studied international development and Hispanic literature. Simboli primarily covers issues of human migration and immigration reform for the McGill Daily, Forget the Box, Graphite Publications, and New Canadian Media. His portfolio is available at https://www.clippings.me/vincentsimboli.
by Shan Qiao in Toronto
Queer activist Arsham Parsi took a risk when he left Iran and began to help other Iranians escape persecution for being lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender (LGBT).
At a reading for his book Exiled for Love at the Toronto Public Library’s St. James Town branch, Parsi recalls the first time he attended Toronto’s Pride Parade 10 years ago, where he met an Iranian woman enjoying the parade.
He gave her his business card, hoping to get support from his own community.
“‘This is not us, this is them!’ she said and turned her face and walked away,” Parsi recalls. “I think I must have ruined her day because she couldn’t believe that Iranian LGBT exist.”
In search of a community
Instead of clustering in Iranian-populated communities, Parsi says he chooses to reside in Toronto’s LGBT-oriented enclave in the Church and Wellesley area. While Canada is embracing his sexuality, he says his own countrymen still deny him and other Iranian queers.
“[Former Iranian] President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was not the first one to say that we don't have homosexuals [in Iran],” says Parsi. “I clearly remember that lady saying, ‘We don’t have it.’”
Parsi was already active during his early 20s in providing support to gay men in Iran through an online community. Still in Iran, he planned his 22-year-old birthday party at home and invited all his gay friends, only to be warned by a relative that there would be a police raid.
He says he called off the party at the last minute and learned that the police were using the Internet to entrap gay men.
While he was never arrested, he knows other homosexuals in Iran who were. Of his gay friends who were taken into custody, some received 175 lashes on their backs, while others were tortured during interrogations.
Parsi says the immanent danger he felt every day was intolerant, forcing him to escape Iran. He told his family that he was going to study at a university in Cypress, but instead took a train to Turkey and sought asylum through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ankara.
From exile to acceptance
Parsi writes about being attacked with another gay Iranian refugee in Turkey while onlookers stood by. It took him a little over one year to finally receive refugee status and be accepted to Canada.
“Since arriving at the Canadian Embassy in Ankara, I had been treated with genuine openness and warmth,” Parsi writes in Exiled for Love. “The man smiled. I hoped that everyone in Canada would be like him.”
Upon arrival in Toronto in May 2006, Parsi says he, “inhaled deeply and felt the tears create wet paths across my cheeks . . . I felt as if I could breathe without pain.”
Parsi was 25 when he came to Canada as a government-sponsored refugee in the Refugee Assistance Program. During his first 12 months in Canada, he received financial assistance to cover basic needs – $604 a month to be exact.
“Not much, but it helped,” he says.
Parsi still receives threats from the Iranian community – something he says he deals with, but tries to ignore.
“I have professional relationships with the Iranian community, but I don't participate in their events because sometimes they make me very upset,” he explains. He says there are members of the Iranian-Canadian community who are intolerant and don’t support each other.
“I don’t care what they say,” says Parsi. “I continue with my work. It’s still risky, but I don’t like to admit it.”
Railroad of support
In 2008, Parsi founded the Iranian Railroad for Queer Refugees (IRQR). As of December 2015, the IRQR has helped more than 1,200 Iranians who identify as LGBT claim refugee status.
According to the UNHCR in Ankara, more than 26,500 Iranian refugees were registered as of May 2016. UNHCR has registered 1,177 refugees who identify as LGBT as of June 2016 – 1,046 being from Iran, representing gay, lesbian and transgender individuals.
Parsi and the IRQR are following 820 of the 1,046 LGBT refugee applications to help them go through UNHCR processes and eventually lead them to gain refugee status in Western countries. During the process, IRQR provides support and counselling to members of Iran’s LGBT community.
“I would accept the generosity and security Canada offered me. I would use it to continue my work for others back in Iran,” writes Parsi in Exiled for Love. “This wonderful country would be where I would live, but one day I would go home. Until that day came, I would be in exile.”
by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga
Many leaders of the East who fought to decolonize their countries from Western authoritarian rule were also educated in the West. Upon returning home, they became trapped in a mental rift – they owed their education to the Western system, which also worked to colonize and ruin their countries and people.
It was usually lawyers or social scientists who became leaders and policy-makers to fight rigid authoritarian powers. However, in Thanh’s story, a group of Vietnamese nationalists enlist their friend – the refined, educated Vietnamese physician Dr. Georges-Minh Nguyen – to poison the French general and his garrison.
Dr. Nguyen has a medical degree from Lycée Condorcet in Paris. What he owes to the French and how they’ve taken over Vietnam clash to carve rifts in his psyche and cause him to slowly go insane.
The close-knit group of friends makes up a revolutionary cell called the Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains. They plot revenge on the French for the oppression they forced upon the Vietnamese – an act they hope will send a message to the colonizers that revolution has begun in Vietnam.
The book is based on the true story of the Hanoi Poison Plot of 1908, which took place in Saigon.
Dr. Nguyen is overcome by the guilt of the prospect of killing someone, until his pregnant wife escapes a rape attempt by a French soldier.
“Though he hadn’t told [his friend] Khieu about the rape his anger about it had made him steely. Most of the doubt was gone from his mind now. He was quite certain he could kill a man. Part of him was looking forward to trying.”
Khieu, a determined member of the revolutionary group, has his mind set on plotting revenge. His commitment is what allows the plan to continue.
However, the plot is foiled when cooks at the garrison confess to it, providing the names, places and dates of the plan to a priest. This forces the Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains members to flee to other provinces.
Dr. Nguyen avoids capture, but must leave his wife and his newborn son behind after they are caught by French soldiers.
“He’d never imagined kissing her for the last time. Not once. He’d never imagined last times for anything. He simply ran.”
The book depicts the era of the French colonial period in Indochina, during which people were suffering from social deprivation and using drugs to quell their anguish. It sheds light on how discrimination by French imperials aimed to make the Vietnamese feel shame and responsibility for their plight.
Dr. Nguyen encounters a French doctor at the Centre for Infectious Disease Control to discuss the “Paddy Fever,” or yellow fever. He is taken aback when Dr. Michaut calls the Vietnamese “teachers of moral vice” because he believes they have “corrupted” the French soldiers.
“What was this man on about?” thinks Dr. Nguyen. “If only he didn’t need his help, his lab, his equipment, he’d pop him in the jaw.”
Instead, Dr. Nguyen suggests Vietnamese boys engage in prostitution in opium dens to pay for their own opium habits, or to acquire goods they can’t afford.
From the French doctor Michaut’s perspective, the offence is less evident: “I don’t include you in these comparisons. You studied in Paris, like me,” he says to Dr. Nguyen.
Suffering under colonialism
Thanh tells us stories of capricious characters that go to great lengths to overthrow their colonial oppressors. Her characters survive living amongst imaginary, yet dangerous, ghosts.
She takes us to a savaged, but vivid, colonial Vietnam, where streets are filled with fierce threats in the form of killing, rape and rebels’ chopped heads mounted on bamboo poles as warnings.
After his marriage with Dong, Dr. Nguyen lacked solace and drifted away from his wife. Once, in conversation with her, he justifies his absence by explaining the historical colonization of Vietnam by one power or another, resulting in turmoil and agony for the country’s women.
“Our country is in crisis," he said. "Men abandon their families and leave their wives in charge of feeding the children. The women have no money and they do what they must to survive. This country was the possession of the Chinese, and now is the mistress of the French. For a thousand years we’ve lived under the dominion of others. It’s why everyone’s going mad.”
Vietnam’s colonial history reflects some of today’s challenges of occupation and abuse of people’s land. In war zones like Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and many others, colonialism results in the total disarray of a country’s inhabitants, and leaves their attempts at survival and revolution against past oppressors unfulfilled as they are quickly taken over by new ones.
Thanh’s novel shows that the lust for power results in horror and misfortune for the colonized and is ultimately reflected in the truest form of human tragedy – the loss of innocence.
Tazeen Inam is passionate about both print and electronic media. She has a master's degree in mass communications, has worked as a senior producer and editorial head at Pakistani news channels and has contributed to BBC Radio Urdu in London, England. Inam is presently pursuing a course in digital media studies at Sheridan College.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit