New Canadian Media

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. 

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.  

“I continue with my work. It’s still risky, but I don’t like to admit it.”

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. 

“This wonderful country would be where I would live, but one day I would go home."

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.”


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Books

Guest Commentary by Pouyan Tabasinejad, Bijan Ahmadi, Mehdi Samadian

The nuclear agreement reached between Iran and the P5+1 countries on July 14, 2015, marked a milestone in the history of world diplomacy.

The final agreement, which was a result of 20 months of arduous negotiations, was implemented beginning January 16, 2016, with a formal easing of sanctions in exchange for limits on the country’s nuclear program. However, while many of Canada’s allies have already begun to reap the rewards of the deal by reengaging with Iran economically and diplomatically, Canada has not re-engaged as quickly.

Canada is lagging behind her allies. A recent report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirms that Iran has complied with the terms of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, JCPOA. This means that Iran’s reintegration into the international community and economy will likely continue to accelerate.

Since implementation of the nuclear deal several international companies have been able to conclude contracts in a variety of fields with Iran. This includes deals with Boeing and Airbus, worth billions.

Diplomatic relations

Reintegration has also taken place in the diplomatic realm as well. The British embassy in Tehran was opened in August 2015 after four years of closure. Over the last 12 months, several countries have started to re-engage economically with Iran and further economic and trade deals are expected in the near future.

In Canada, the government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau lifted some of Canada’s sanctions on Iran in February 2016, leaving in place those relating to arms, Iran’s ballistic missiles program and restrictions on a list of designated individuals.

With a large Iranian Canadian community (a population of around 300,000), who have links with Iran and familiarity with Iranian culture and business norms, there are enormous opportunities for Canada to engage and collaborate with Iran in a variety of fields including trade, cultural exchanges and collaboration in science and research.

[T]here are enormous opportunities for Canada to engage and collaborate with Iran in a variety of fields including trade, cultural exchanges and collaboration in science and research.

Diaspora's views

The Iranian diaspora in Canada have also been largely supportive of the nuclear deal with Iran and re-engagement.

Last year, in two surveys conducted by the Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC), close to 80 per cent of the respondents reported that they were positive about the outcome of the nuclear deal and expressed their hope for rapprochement between Canada and Iran.

[C]lose to 80 per cent of [survey]respondents reported that they were positive about the outcome of the nuclear deal and expressed their hope for rapprochement between Canada and Iran.

All indications point to great potential for trade between Canada and Iran. Canada’s exports to Iran peaked at $772 million in 1997. This figure declined precipitously to $67 million in 2014, after Canada imposed sanctions on Iran.

While Canada lifted most of its sanctions in February 2016, Canadian companies and institutions have been slow to respond. A major barrier preventing further economic engagement today is the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Since the last federal election, Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion has repeatedly expressed Canada’s intention to re-engage with Iran and has confirmed that talks between the two countries have begun.

However, there is still significant uncertainty about the timeline and progress of this reengagement process.

Challenges ahead

While the benefits of reengaging with Iran are enormous and clear, it is important to recognize the challenges and hurdles that lie ahead.

The international banking system has been reluctant to reconnect with Iran, fearful of punishment by U.S regulators, an issue that has even affected the services some Canadian banks are willing to offer Iranian-Canadians. These problems may undermine the nuclear deal and the economic benefits Iran expects to receive from the deal.

 There have however been positive steps in this regard, with governments and financial organizations expressing positive sentiments over Iran’s reincorporation into the banking system.

Secondly, the deal’s fate is contingent upon the political will of the leadership of the countries involved. Given the rhetoric from U.S. presidential candidates and the repeated attempts of the Republicans in the U.S. Congress to block the implementation of JCPOA, there is significant uncertainty about the future of the Iran deal.

Another threat to the process of rapprochement with Iran is the issue of human rights. The United Nations has consistently criticized Iran for its human rights situation. Though this issue is not a direct threat to the JCPOA, it has become a subject of controversy in terms of expanding relations with Iran in Canada and other countries.

While there are significant challenges in the path forward, there is hope that continued dialogue and engagement with Iran will address these hurdles.

Canada must partake in this momentous opportunity in the history of world diplomacy and side with peace, dialogue, and constructive, mutually beneficial engagement.

Pouyan Tabasinejad is the Policy Chair of the Iranian Canadian Congress (ICC). Bijan Ahmadi is the President and Mehdi Samadian recently joined the ICC as a Policy Associate.

Published in Commentary
Wednesday, 06 July 2016 18:29

Canadian Pharma: Know Your Patient

Commentary by Rohit Phillips in Aurora, Ontario

The fast-growing multicultural consumer segment of Canada represents a potential opportunity for pharmaceutical companies, especially if they can improve patient outcomes on a national scale.

For a small or mid-tier drug company battling to make headway in the general market, capturing a large portion of the multicultural market may be the path to improved profitability and growth. 

Ethnic (or “Diversity”) Healthcare is all about the ‘culturally sensitive connection’ to effectively address ‘health and healthcare disparities’ that result from cultural differences. These differences influence the health and well-being of Canada’s growing visible ethnic minority population, which made up to 20 per cent of the total population in 2013 and is projected to grow to 32 per cent by 2031.  

Fifteen years from now, it’s projected that visible minorities will make up 63 per cent of Toronto, 59 per cent of Vancouver, 31 per cent of Montreal.  Together, these three areas will account for 70 per cent of Canadian GDP.

Genetic, Environmental and Cultural Factors 

The factors contributing to varied drug responses are complex and inter-related. Differences in drug response among racial and ethnic groups are determined by genetic, environmental, and cultural factors. These factors may operate independently of one another, or they may work together to influence outcomes.

Biological Factors: The genetic makeup of an individual may change the action of a drug in a number of ways as it moves through the body. Clinically, there may be an increase or decrease in the intensity and duration of the expected typical effect of the drug.

Environmental Factors: Diet, climate, smoking, alcohol, drugs, pollutants —may cause wide variations in drug response within an individual and even wider variations between groups of individuals.

Cultural Factors: Cultural or psycho-social factors, such as the attitudes and beliefs of an ethnic group, may affect the effectiveness of, or adherence to, a particular drug therapy.

Being Culturally Sensitive

Multicultural marketing isn’t just attaching a face to your campaign.

It has more to do with presenting information in a culturally relevant way and context. Isn’t all communication and marketing about better connecting with the audience?

So, what aspects of any ethnicity do marketers and advertisers need to understand to connect their brand messages well?

Here are a few important ones:  

1.       Language: It’s not just about translation from English. The message must be written for and from the perspective of the minority language audience. Health promotion communication should also take into account the visual and oral cultural cues, like pictures and music.

2.       Beliefs: Beliefs can be powerful forces that affect our health and capacity to heal. Whether personal or cultural, they influence us in one of two ways – they modify our behaviour or they stimulate physiological changes in our endocrine or immune systems. Many cultural beliefs have implications for healthcare, which may be direct or indirect.

As an example, many Asians believe that the number four is unlucky because when pronounced in Japanese or Chinese it sounds very similar to the word for “death”. Thus, items arranged in groups of four, such as pills or syringes, can symbolize bad luck for those people who believe in numerology.

3.       Behaviours: Culture has a bearing on the way a person acts in response to a particular situation. Buddhist teachings emphasize ‘’face’’ or dignity. An individual’s wrongdoing causes the immediate family to lose face. Such behaviours have a direct bearing on disease screening and diagnoses as patients may not admit or realize they have health problems, especially mental health problems, as this may bring shame upon their family.

4.       Communication style: Refers to ways of expressing oneself to others and can be very different for a Chinese-Canadian compared to an Indo-Canadian. Older Chinese patients tend to be polite and may smile and nod. Nodding does not necessarily indicate agreement or even understanding of medical facts. Understanding of verbal and non-verbal communication styles of these cultures is critically important during screening, diagnoses and outreach programs.

5.       Notions of modesty: Modesty is highly valued in South Asian culture. An example is an elderly woman who may be soft-spoken and not advocate for herself. Important decisions are made in this culture only after consulting with family members or close family friends. Involving the family and friends in intervention/prevention programs and long-term care for specific ailments like diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancers can go a long way in increasing compliance, raising awareness and generating brand loyalty.

Despite the many differences among the cultures that make up our nation, we all have the same basic needs: to be able to convey the symptoms and concerns of an illness, to receive competent care, to be acknowledged and valued.

A few fundamentals

When conducting situation analysis and a SWOT analysis of your business plan, the following are important for success:

·         Explore implications of demographic changes (regional and national)

·         Segment patient population by ethnicity

·         Identify differences in disease incidence (determine if your product treats a condition in which a health disparity exists between the ethnic and general populations. For example, is mortality different among ethnic groups in your disease category?)

·         Examine the growth patterns of your customer base

·         Find out from physicians and managed care organizations what issues they encounter in an increasingly diverse population. Then identify challenges and opportunities your company can pursue

·         Find out what your competition is doing to serve the needs of the “emerging majority”

Rohit is a seasoned healthcare marketing and advertising professional with an entrepreneurial instinct and a degree in pharmacy. Rohit is currently employed with The Gibson Group, a healthcare communication agency in Canada.

Published in Health

Commentary by Don Curry in North Bay

Critics are looking at Quebec’s so-called “sweetheart deal” on immigrant investors the wrong way.

Instead of complaining about Quebec other provinces and territories should be demanding equality.

A June 23 article by Peter O’Neil in the Vancouver Sun  noted Quebec struck its deal in 1991, when the sovereignty movement was strong.

Quebec had the bargaining chips, certainly, but what is stopping other regions of Canada that would benefit from an immigrant investor program -- Northern Ontario, the Maritimes and the territories come to mind -- from opening talks with the federal government?

The federal immigrant investor program had its critics, who called it a “cash for citizenship” scheme, and it was cancelled in 2014. There were also reports of fraud. Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver didn’t need the program but it would be a huge economic and social impetus for the regions mentioned above, that are starving for increased immigration and economic investment.

Surely smart bureaucrats could modify the Quebec program so that it fits the needs of other regions of the country.

Regional development

In Northern Ontario, the region of the country I’m most familiar with, a program that attracts foreign investors for an $800,000 financial commitment, with a $200,000 down payment, would go a long way toward municipal and regional infrastructure programs.

The Ring of Fire project, long dormant but with billions of dollars’ worth of metals sitting in the ground, would benefit significantly as a joint regional economic development project.

We are talking billions in investment through such a program. Two thousand immigrant investors for Northern Ontario at $800,000 each is an awful lot of money. Even if some left Northern Ontario to live elsewhere and forfeited their $200,000 deposit, it is still an awful of money.

Bureaucrats and politicians are saying they can’t force permanent residents to live in specific regions, because once they have that status they can live anywhere in Canada. But what is stopping them from creating incentives to live in designated areas?

That’s how the prairies were settled.

Housing prices

Insane housing prices in Vancouver are partially blamed on Chinese immigrant investors moving from Quebec.

More to the point, the blame can be laid at the feet of the Vancouver real estate industry and its unscrupulous practices, detailed in a Globe and Mail investigation.

Premier Christy Clark, fed up with 10 years of lack of self-regulation in the industry, has created a government oversight body. 

Northern Ontario, to name one region, is being short-changed in the number of immigrants landing here and, as a result, the immigrant settlement funds allocated. While almost half of the immigrants to Canada land in Ontario, one-tenth of one per cent landed in Northern Ontario in 2011-12.

Northern Ontario has a higher population than New Brunswick.  This statistic is from a 2015 study by Western University professor Dr. Michael Haan and Elena Prokopenko, completed for the Far Northeast Training Board, based in Hearst, Ontario.

Declining populations

While the Greater Toronto Area is bursting at the seams, the northern part of Ontario is experiencing population stagnation or decline. An immigrant investor program would provide a significant boost. Immigrants now in Northern Ontario are secondary migrants from the GTA, mainly, or other parts of Canada.

Immigrant investors would be inclined to stay in the north (North Bay and Sudbury are less than a four-hour drive to Toronto) where opportunities abound, there are good schools and no congestion. A recent phenomenon is immigrant entrepreneurs moving to Northern Ontario to purchase businesses. (I will soon be embarking on a research project to document the movement of immigrant entrepreneurs to nine Northeastern Ontario municipalities.)

There are more than 70 first generation immigrant-owned businesses in North Bay, most of them having moved from the GTA. Once they live here, they stay and raise families. A lasting legacy of former Ontario Premier Mike Harris, who is from North Bay, is a four-lane highway all the way to Toronto.

Call it social engineering if you like, but there has been very little done by the federal government and the provinces to entice immigrants to settle where they are needed. Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Ottawa continue to dominate the immigration discussion. We are long overdue for change.

Background: Quebec Immigrant Investor Program

Don Curry is the president of Curry Consulting (www.curryconsulting.ca) He was the founding executive director of the North Bay & District Multicultural Centre and Timmins & District Multicultural Centre and now serves as a board member. 

Published in Commentary

by Priya Ramanujam in Toronto

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni says the immigration experience helped make her the award-winning and best-selling Indian-American writer she is today.

Her immigration story — which she calls "strong" and "powerful" — along with those of other immigrant women, are central themes in much of her work. 

“I had grown up in a very traditional family, been very protected,” she says of her upbringing in Kolkata, India. “Then I was in America… to go to school,” recalls Divakaruni, sitting behind a table piled high with copies of her latest novel, Before We Meet the Goddess, inside Toronto’s Ryerson Theatre.

“I was living away from my family, I was working odd jobs… and I was really missing my culture. That made me see my culture in a way that I had never seen it when I was living immersed in it.”

The Houston, TX based author is in Toronto for Arranged Marriage, a theatre adaptation of her short story “Clothes,” published in her first book, also titled Arranged Marriage. 

“It’s not so much about arranged marriage,” says Peggy Shannon, professor and chair of the Ryerson School of Performance, when introducing the play to the audience. “It is the immigrant story, the immigrant experience.” 

The immigrant dream 

Divakaruni says one theme the stage production of “Clothes” captured well is the idea of the “immigrant dream” — the hopes and expectations that are attached to moving to places like Canada and the United States — and what happens when they go awry.   

“Both of these countries are wonderful in many ways. They offer many opportunities, but they can’t be perfect. No place can be perfect,” she says. “Sometimes that dream is going to fail and then what do they do? They have to pick up the pieces and go on with their lives.” 

Such is the case for Sumita, the main character of Arranged Marriage, who moves to Mississauga, ON (the original short story is based in California) after her arranged marriage to Somesh. Months after arriving, tragedy strikes and she has to find the strength to go on with her life despite a dream deferred. 

“I was living away from my family, I was working odd jobs . . . and I was really missing my culture.”

Even though people immigrating from South Asia to Canada or America today have a much easier time than Divakaruni did more than three decades ago, thanks to advancements like the Internet and well-established community connections, the author says challenges remain.

This is something she says she sets out to reflect in the characters and plots she creates.

“Missing your home country, missing your family, feeling like you’ve left a whole support system behind – you still feel those things.”

Touching on taboo topics

Through her writing, Divakaruni says she aims to do two things: break down barriers and prejudices between different cultural communities in North America, and ensure that her own South Asian-American community sees its reality reflected in serious literature.

This is why she does not shy away from topics considered taboo by some, such as alcoholism, infidelity, and abortion. 

Her approach has not always been popular among readers, both in North America and in India. But as of late, more people are accepting that Divakaruni pushes boundaries.

… she does not shy away from topics considered taboo by some, such as alcoholism, infidelity, and abortion.

One taboo topic she writes about at length is domestic abuse — an area in which she has been volunteering to help victims since university. Problems like this can be aggravated in immigrant communities because victims are away from their larger familial and friend supports, she explains.

 “It’s very important for us to create a realistic and complex notion of our community,” she says. “Otherwise, we are giving in to stereotypes, either positive or negative ones.”

When this happens, Divakaruni continues, people will feel like they are the only ones experiencing such things and something must be wrong with them.

“I have this great quote that I love: ‘Good literature should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed,’” she shares. “If we are complacent, [thinking] we have no problems, that’s a problem right there because we are not being realistic.”

Empowering women

In Before We Meet the Goddess, the chapters alternate between the lives of grandmother Sabitri who lived all her life in India, mother Bela who immigrated to the U.S. from India, and daughter Tara who was born in the U.S.

The novel details their complicated, and often strained, relationships with each other and the many challenges they face in their journey to figuring out what success is.

“I’m hoping that my books are empowering to women of all backgrounds as they’re going through their own challenges, hopes, and trying to reach for goals…”

Similar to her earlier works, Divakaruni aims to empower women with this novel.

“All of these three women who are the main characters… they certainly have their challenges, but I think by the end of the book they’ve achieved something,” she says.

“I’m hoping that my books are empowering to women of all backgrounds as they’re going through their own challenges, hopes, and trying to reach for goals . . . [and] help the readers to examine their life and what it means to be [successful].”

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Books

by Priya Ramanujam in Toronto 

In Canada, Muslim people are often spoken about, rather than the people who are doing the speaking. 

It is one of the reasons the Outburst! Young Muslim Women’s Program is needed, says the program’s advisory committee chair — writer, poet, and arts and equity educator Rania El Mugammar.

The program recently launched Homebound IIII, its latest collection of Muslim women’s poetry, during its fourth annual Volume: Sisters Make Noise showcase held at Daniels Spectrum in Toronto. 

Homebound is a collection of poetry written by six young women who self-identify as Muslim through spiritual, familial, ancestral, cultural or political connections. During six months, the women came together bi-weekly to share “herstories,” explains the book’s preface. 

“This was a sacred place where our worlds came together, and we felt less disjointed, taking parts of each other and making a whole,” it reads. 

The result: 36 pages of powerful tales exploring everything from the immigration experience to young love, carefully crafted in various styles of poetry. 

You can exist

El Mugammar says that in Muslim communities, events are often separated into the “sister side” and the “brother side.” 

The sister side is taking care of children, preparing food for everyone, organizing and cleaning up. It’s not usually invited to participate. Both the book and its launch — an evening of spoken word, poetry, and musical performances by Muslim women — represent something that is lacking. 

“I think it’s critical to just carve out space and say this is just for us . . . this is our space,” explains El Mugammar, who performed at all four editions of Sisters Make Noise and mentored many of the current and past contributors to Homebound

“This was a sacred place where our worlds came together, and we felt less disjointed, taking parts of each other and making a whole.”

Resilience and strength in the face of adversity are common threads found throughout Homebound. In her poem, “choose you,” Urooj (MC Shahzadi) writes: 

Even in this damned society you can exist,

Blessed with experiences filled of heavenly bliss,

Take the hardest moments as a reminder to choose,

The choice towards a destiny only determined by you.

In the book’s preface, Outburst facilitators Jamila-Khanom Allidina, Rosina Kazi, and Shameela Zaman reflect on this verse, writing, “Not only do we exist, we fight, we laugh, we write and centuries of Muslim women’s resilience is celebrated and remembered. Even if it’s just to remind ourselves: we are powerful, breathtaking and brilliant.”

Fighting to claim stories

El Mugammar says she likes to tell stories of the people in her life, primarily Sudanese women. These stories, she says, are missing from the very public, “Google-and-find-it” type of mainstream historical documentation. 

“Our day-to-day lives, they often get lost,” she says. “I don’t want the women that I know helped shape me to be the person that I am today to be forgotten.”

These daily experiences are creatively woven throughout Homebound

In “skype-shype,” Reema Kureishy captures what it’s like to video chat with her grandparents in her native country, India, effectively detailing their minimal understanding of how to work with technology and the endless promises of “coming home” thrown back and forth. 

“I think it’s critical to just carve out space and say this is just for us . . . this is our space,” explains El Mugammar.

In “thoughts in a waiting room,” Seema (who goes only by her first name) offers a story about the agonizing pain of finding out if a parent has cancer.

In the book’s opening piece “jung,” Kureishy writes about the fight “to claim not land, but our stories.” 

As El Mugammar points out, these stories are important for everyone, not just Muslim women, to listen to and read. 

“A lot of people...who may not identify with that identity of being a young, Muslim woman… can identify with a lot of the feelings, a lot of the kinds of stories that we tell.”

I am real… 

El Mugammar says that Outburst allows racialized women like herself to be showcased as more than one-dimensional. 

She explains that while she has often relied on writing to release some of the anger she feels about the social injustices and oppression she experiences, she is more than the “angry, Black woman” people are quick to label her as. 

“I’m also funny and smart and a whole lot of other things,” she says, adding that the Outburst program allows participants to explore the multi-faceted aspects of their personalities, experiences, and community’s stories. 

Resilience and strength in the face of adversity are common threads found throughout Homebound.

Dumo, an Outburst alumni and co-host of the Sisters Make Noise event, exemplifies this multi-faceted experience in her high-energy monologues. One is about her mother interrupting her Dragon Ball Z episodes to cart her off to Qur’an lessons, another about convincing her Muslim parents to allow her to participate in the school Christmas concert.

As another woman of East African descent, El Mugammar says that while watching Dumo, she felt a strong sense of connection. 

“There was a young girl,” she begins, referring to 11-year-old Marley Dias of the United States, “who started a Black girls’ book club because she was tired of reading about ‘white boys and dogs’ and in a lot of ways, I feel the same. It’s always nice to get the kind of humour and the kinds of stories that are absolutely relevant to my life.”  

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Books
Saturday, 25 June 2016 10:19

Taking On Online Hate Speech

Commentary by Anita Bromberg in Toronto, Ontario

As the husband of murdered British MP Jo Cox reminded the world in his pain, hate is poisonous. Whether the recent Orlando massacre was a hate crime or a terror-motivated attack, or in fact both as the FBI suggested to media, the killings were a stark reminder of what hate can do. 

In the aftermath of such incidents comes the call for action, especially by the Orlando families so tragically affected. And also quite predictably, the focus turns to gun control.

But there is another factor that we must face and seek a way forward on, namely, online hate speech and even incitement to violence.

Rising danger

Indeed, whether in Europe, the U.S. or in Canada, we are seeing a large increase in hate speech on social media platforms. As the perpetrator attacked MP Cox, he allegedly called out "Britain First," the name of a far-right, anti-Muslim movement that grows it audience through the Internet. The Orlando shooter posted his allegiance to ISIS, spreading his message on social media sites.

Online threats of violence and comments full of hate are common throughout social media. One need only look to online comments on media stories to see the hate posted by those who often remain anonymous.

Unfortunately, it has become part of normal discourse. Indeed, social media has allowed hate-filled content to grow and spread.

As the use of social media platforms only increases, so has the danger its use can present.

Pressuring tech companies 

In fact, as social media use grows, so has the emphasis on freedom of expression over protection of minority rights in the interest of diversity and inclusion. Individuals are emboldened to use social media to spread their hate. given at least in part, that its removal is unlikely.

This lack of consequence, when combined with the power and influence of social media, make it a dangerous tool of communication. Hate groups and extremists have understood this power.

Following the deadly attacks by ISIS in Paris and Brussels, the EU launched a joint commitment with Facebook, Twitter, Google and Microsoft to fight racism, xenophobia and terrorism online by removing hate speech from their sites within 24 hours.

Canada and the rest of the world must pressure tech companies to adopt such measures. We as a society dedicated to inclusivity, have to promote the use of social media as a tool for good, and prevent hate speech from circulating online. 

Anita Bromberg has been the Executive Director of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation since June 2014.


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Commentary

by Shan Qiao in Toronto

New writers are using mentorship opportunities to create and share more diverse and inclusive stories about Toronto’s history and culture. 

“What we want to do is to create a living history of Toronto through literature [and] make it as diverse as the city itself,” says Helen Walsh, the president of Diaspora Dialogues  – a charitable society made up of writers, artists and performers. 

“I’m not surprised that there are at least 50 to 60 countries represented through Diaspora Dialogues – lots of voices from Asia, Africa and Northern Europe,” Walsh adds. “Often, people write about their own cultural background and we want to bring Toronto to life through literature.” 

Mentoring new writers 

Toronto’s iconic Old City Hall, a national historic site, was the stage for Diaspora Dialogues during Doors Open Toronto, an event that offers access to buildings with historical significance across the city.  

“Often, people write about their own cultural background and we want to bring Toronto to life through literature.”

Jamaican-born and Ottawa-raised emerging writer Dianah Smith is one of 12 writers who presented their work at Old City Hall. As a teacher and arts educator, Smith joined Diaspora Dialogues in 2014 for its mentoring program, in which she paired-up with Jamaican-Canadian writer and media professional Martin Mordecai. 

“For about six months, he helped me to get into [a] schedule of my draft and first novel, finalizing some of the scenes of my manuscript to get it ready for publication,” Smith says about her experience as a mentee. 

“It’s a story about a seven-year-old girl, Jemela Campbell, and her experience in immigrating from Jamaica to Canada and her first year in Canada,” Smith explains. 

The excerpt she reads is from the novel, with a working title The Promise of Foreign, which explores some of the challenges newcomer parents face in Canada such as finding work and keeping jobs. 

“As a racialized person of colour, as an immigrant, you don’t really feel represented in the publishing world.”

Seeking recognition as writers 

“As a racialized person of colour, as an immigrant, you don’t really feel represented in the publishing world,” Smith explains. “You have names like Margaret Atwood, mainly white and middle-class people.” 

She says that while Diaspora Dialogues does not restrict white writers from participating, it also tries "to have alternative voices to give immigrants and indigenous people the opportunity to share their stories.” 

Author Mia Herrera adds that working in the Canadian publishing and writing industry is precarious. 

“A writer who publishes regularly makes a salary of about $12,000 a year. You can’t make a living on that,” she says. 

Born to Filipino parents, Herrera now lives in Bradford, Ont. She works in communications and marketing and says she continues to write because it is her passion. 

Smith says she is still in the process of finding an interested publisher for her novel. While her mentorship program ended last fall, she continues to participate in other programs led by Diaspora Dialogues such as Lunch and Learn events, workshops about pitching to agents, as well as mentee book readings such as the one at Old City Hall. 

“These questions arise regularly for her, particularly as she lives in such a racially-charged town as Georgina.”

Placing immigrants in Toronto’s history 

After working with her mentor, writer David Layton, Herrera had her first novel Shade published by an independent feminist publisher, Inanna Publications. 

Shade tells the story of a Filipino-Canadian woman named Benni from the small town of Georgina, Ont., and her trip to the Philippines to visit her father. 

“Georgina is a town in York region about an hour-and-a-half north of here that is somewhat notorious for racist acts – disputes about flying the Confederate flag in schools and repeated incidents of racially-driven assaults,” Herrera tells the audience at Old City Hall. 

Georgina was the site of attacks against Asian Canadian fishermen in 2007, which involved car chases, damaged fishing gear, and anglers of Asian descent being pushed into the water. 

The scene Herrera reads is from the beginning of the novel about a breakup between Benni and her long-time Chinese-Canadian boyfriend, Tom. Instead of hearing a proposal, Benni is shocked to learn that Tom has hesitations about their future together because he is concerned about how Benni’s race will affect him and his family’s business. 

“As you will find in this scene and throughout my novel, Benni deals with questions of race and what it means to be a visible minority and second-generation immigrant in Canada,” Herrera says. “These questions arise regularly for her, particularly as she lives in such a racially-charged town as Georgina.” 

“Her experiences in the Philippines allow her to take the long view of not just her life in Georgina, but of her life in Canada, and what it means to be Canadian,” she adds. 


This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in Books

by Beatrice Paez in Toronto

As a child, it wasn’t unusual for Ann Y.K. Choi to be at work behind the counter of her family’s convenience store in Toronto. She and her two brothers were expected to help their parents when they finished school.

Choi’s teenage daughter, a third-generation Korean-Canadian, isn’t familiar with the ins-and-outs of running a variety store – no more stocking shelves with instant noodles, no more keeping a wary eye out for shoplifters.

But Choi says the children of immigrants shouldn’t be spared from learning about the sacrifices their parents made to ensure their children would not undergo the same hardships they endured.

It’s one of the reasons she wrote Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, a fictional, yet deeply personal, account of life in a downtown Toronto convenience store. Mary, the novel’s headstrong, yet conflicted, protagonist, is a composite of Choi and other young Korean women she knew whose stories had yet to be told to a wider audience.

Preserving Canadian history

Choi says she wasn’t ready to pen a memoir for her debut as a writer, but wanted her daughter and other young Canadians to be aware of the Korean-Canadian experience.

“Nobody has gone on to inherit the store, and if I [didn’t] write this story, this whole history would be lost,” says Choi. “This is a part of Canadian history.”

The Choi family moved to Toronto from South Korea in 1975. Choi’s parents worked miscellaneous jobs before saving enough money to buy a variety store on Queen Street West.

What distinguishes the immigrant experience of Koreans, says Choi, is that they had to bounce from neighbourhood to neighbourhood to compete in the convenience store market. Owning a mom-and-pop shop was unlike having a restaurant, which could exist alongside others on the same block.

“We were scattered all over Toronto. We got to experience and live in every pocket,” says Choi. “It gave us insight into Toronto on a bigger level . . . And in some ways, it helped us integrate.”

They led a somewhat “nomadic” life. Moving was dictated by the rising and falling fortunes of the family business.

“It gave us insight into Toronto on a bigger level . . . And in some ways, it helped us integrate.”

Mixing family and business

The store demanded so much of the family that Choi says it was like their “baby.”

Looking after the store barely gave them time to unwind together. There were no family dinners and no socializing until after the convenience store closed at midnight.

“We were all very aware that we needed the baby to thrive because our success depended on it,” she says.

It was only when she became a mother herself that Choi says she fully appreciated the courage and nerve it took her mother to run a store that was always at risk of being robbed.

“It’s hard not to be resentful [growing up], but looking back, I realize she must have been so afraid, but she didn’t show it,” says Choi.

The store demanded so much of the family that Choi says it was like their “baby.”

Taking on taboo topics

At a Toronto Public Library event organized as part of its eh List Author series, Choi recalls how she came to write the book, which explores the relationship between mother and daughter.

It took a little nudging from a former student back in 2007, says Choi, who works as a high-school guidance counsellor. She explains how he flipped the question about his ambitions back at her and persuaded her to fulfill her dreams.

“I told him I wanted to write a book, and he challenged me to do that,” she says.

For five years, she would write after her family went to bed at night. “It seemed safer to delve into the Korean psyche when it was quiet,” she says.

“We’re very guarded about sharing pain.”

She took several writing courses, eventually graduating from the University of Toronto’s creative writing program in 2012. Her final project, Kay’s Lucky Coin Variety, was presented before a literary panel and earned the attention of renowned editor Phyllis Bruce, who acquired the novel for Simon & Schuster.

What struck her editor, Choi explains, was that the book tackled themes of depression and anxiety from the perspective of a Korean-Canadian.

As universal as people’s struggles with mental health issues are, for Choi and other Korean women she interviewed, such anxieties were rooted in a deep resentment toward their mothers. They were seen as an “obstacle” to their desire to be Canadian.

Although aspects of Korean culture have become mainstream, literature still lags behind K-Pop and kimchi in popularity.

This is what partly led Wai, a Chinese-Canadian immigrant, to Choi’s library reading.

“I’m interested in literary diversity,” she says. “I’d like to hear about the Korean experience. Most of it is a universal theme, but it would be nice to hear different perspectives.”

Choi hopes her book will open up the space for other Korean writers who are reluctant to share their experiences.

“There’s a little bit of fear,” she says, adding there are things that Korean Canadians as a cultural group do not discuss.

“We’re very guarded about sharing pain. It’s one thing to share music, food, but stories are so intensely personal.”


 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

 

Published in Books
Wednesday, 01 June 2016 23:25

Rediscovering Toronto's Lost Chinatown

by Beatrice Paez in Toronto 

Tucked behind Toronto City Hall’s curved towers, on Elizabeth Street, is a modest patch of greenery outfitted with bright red benches and blossoming tulips. It’s from this spot — once a parking lot— that historian Arlene Chan reconstructs an image of Toronto’s first Chinatown.

Chan draws on a mix of personal history and research to inform her audience, who joined her Heritage Toronto tour of Old Chinatown on May 14.  A librarian turned writer, Chan offers a glimpse into the lives of the city’s early Chinese immigrants. 

“Why was there a Chinatown? Why was there such a tight-knit community?” asks Chan, before answering her own question. “It was because the Chinese were isolated. ”

Chinatown emerged out of necessity, with different associations providing social services, whether it came to finding a place to live or borrowing startup capital for their business, she says. 

The origins of Toronto’s Chinatown

Today’s Elizabeth Street bears little resemblance to the lively stretch it had been in the 1930s. Gone are the streetcar tracks, the destination restaurants and the Chinese-owned laundry services that made it Chinatown’s first core.

Chan takes the tour group through several stops, starting with Old City Hall, where she points to the pillars carved with faces of municipal politicians and immigrants — including the Chinese — and then coming full circle at New City Hall.

The area and its surroundings (known as The Ward) was from the 1840s to the Second World War, a gateway community for Toronto’s new arrivals. Successive waves of immigrant communities— Jews, Poles, Italians and the Irish—all passed through. 

“You live here, you’ve worked here all your life, but you’re not a citizen.”

Up until the end of the Second World War, the movement of Chinese immigrants in and out of the country had been regulated—first with prohibitive head taxes and then with documents called CI-9s, head tax certificates that were one of the first pieces of photo IDs in Canada.

“They were passports before passports were introduced,” says Lily Cho, professor at York University, in an interview. “These were documents explicitly used to identify people who weren’t given the rights of citizenship. You live here, you’ve worked here all your life, but you’re not a citizen.”

When the Exclusion Act, which banned immigration from China, was repealed in 1947, so too were CI-9s.

Canada’s adoption of the immigration point system in 1967 enabled Hong Kong entrepreneurs to invest in Chinatown at Dundas. 

Redevelopment threatens historic Chinatown

But by the 1940s, the City of Toronto began eyeing the land as a crucial site for redevelopment, the linchpin for its plans to build a new city hall and civic square. Not only was it in close proximity to the seat of government, but The Ward was also considered a slum.

Media reports depicted an unsavoury climate riddled with crime and prostitution, an area dotted with overcrowded tenements and ramshackle storefronts.

“The Ward was considered an undesirable place; it had a bad reputation,” says Chan.

The City expropriated two-thirds of Chinatown, forcing property owners to disperse or relocate their business to Dundas and Spadina streets, explains Chan.

“The Ward was considered an undesirable place; it had a bad reputation.”

“They moved to establish their new buildings and facilities nearby, but that destroyed a lot of significant landmarks,” says Jack Leong, director of the Hong Kong-Canada library at the University of Toronto, in a separate interview. 

By then, about 55 per cent of the property in Chinatown was Chinese-owned, says Chan. “People who had paid a certain amount for the real estate were not fairly compensated. They didn’t get fair market value for the land.” 

What remained was a strip of unremarkable storefronts and forgettable restaurants, with little hint of its significance as the site where most Chinese immigrants settled into their new life. 

The fight to save Chinatown 

Seen through Chan’s eyes, Elizabeth Street looms large in the imagination. It’s where her parents, Jean and Doyle Lumb, opened their famed establishment, Kwong Chow restaurant. It’s also the last frontier on which the fight to preserve Chinatown was waged.

Together with other community leaders, Jean organized the Save Chinatown Committee in 1967.

The campaign mobilized in response to the city’s intention to acquire what was left of Chinatown. Council ultimately decided to preserve what was left, which also allowed Chinatown to be extended to where it is now, says Chan.

“My strong feeling was that it was [actually] because of four restaurants that opened after the Second World War,” she says. “[They] were dramatically different than restaurants in Chinatown earlier—the pre-World War II restaurants were very small, had a very limited menu and catered to the Chinese clientele.”

The “big four” restaurants, Sai Woo, Kwong Chow, Nanking and Lichee Garden, fashioned themselves as classy restaurants that accommodated large parties, offered a Canadian take on Chinese food and provided musical entertainment.

Chinatown also began offering tours around the neighbourhood, which wrapped up with a meal at one of these restaurants.

“All of the owners were prominent members of the Chinese community,” explains Chan. “Because of their leadership and interactions with Canadian society – politicians, celebrities started going to these restaurants. It turned people’s opinions.”

“Chinatown will endure because it knows how to adapt to survive.”

Today’s Chinatown is still bound together by a shared culture and similar values, notes Leong. But Chan and Leong say that Chinatown is always in a state of flux.

Condos have steadily sprung up on the south end of Spadina, notes Chan, along with new restaurants catering to the younger crowd seeking a modern take on Chinese cuisine. Such developments don’t concern Chan, who says Chinatown will endure because it knows how to adapt to survive.

“It’s constantly changing because the community has adapted as things are happening,” says Chan. “[The change] is going to take a while. It’s going to become a hipper part of the city; it’s going to reinvent itself again.”

 

This content was developed exclusively for New Canadian Media and can be re-published with appropriate attribution. For syndication rights, please write to publisher@newcanadianmedia.ca

Published in History

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