New Canadian Media

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

Commentary by Shenaz Kermalli in Toronto

Followers of Islamic State (IS) or Al Qaeda may never admit it, but the election victory of Sadiq Khan as mayor of a city as great  and in their eyes Islamophobic  as London was a slap in the face.

Like the time Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that Germany would welcome one million Syrian refugees, and when the Pope called on Europe’s Catholics to open their homes to refugees, Islamists are at risk of losing all credibility.

The success of these extremists, after all, thrives on disproportionate military reprisals, sectarian discord, and deeply engrained Islamophobia in Western societies. So the mere thought of a Muslim winning (Khan was born to parents who immigrated to London from Pakistan) over the most hearts and minds of a non-Muslim population, or of Christian ‘infidels’ opening up their homes to Muslims, challenges their narrative.

It’s worth recalling that a big part of ISIS’s recruitment strategy is posting lectures and videos online with  ideologues dictating that killing the enemies of Islam— meaning the United States and its allies — is a religious duty for every Muslim. Often, they cite U.S. military action in places such as Afghanistan, Iraq and Israel as evidence of America’s strategic ‘war’ with Islam. They also play on the insecurities of young recruits by telling them that Muslims in the West would never be accepted into mainstream society.

And given the rise of Republican frontrunner Donald Trump – and increase of far-right parties coming to power across Europe — it’s not impossible to see how vulnerable, disaffected youth could fall into that sort of warped mindset.

2005 London bombings

But while Trump anti-Muslim rhetoric has never been louder, so too have the voices of ordinary Muslims, though not necessarily in the way one might expect.

Many Canadians will remember the anger, confusion and backlash that Muslims, South Asians — literally anyone who even remotely resembled a Muslim or Arab -- faced from their own friends, neighbours or colleagues after the September 11, 2001 attacks in America. A deep climate of mistrust against the community ensued, which for some only gets worse with every new terror attack on Western soil.

I recall that it was amid this climate that Sadiq Khan first entered the political scene in Britain as an elected MP for Tooting in east London. 

As a graduate student in London in 2005, the year four British-born Muslims bombed the London Underground, I heard pundits all wanting to know the same thing: Where are all the so-called ‘moderate’ Muslims? Why aren’t all the so-called peace-loving Muslims living in London condemning these barbaric attacks?

I also heard voices like Sadiq Khan and Baroness Sayeeda Warsi (then the Vice Chair of the Conservative Party) fiercely condemn the attacks and disassociate them with the actual tenets of the faith, to no avail.  As much as people demanded answers from the Muslim community— and Muslims responded in the same unequivocal voice of condemnation every time – it made no difference. The terrorists still seemed to be louder. 

11 years on

What’s changed, 11 years on? Some would argue nothing.

Terrorists continue to slaughter innocents and billionaire conservative politicians continue to incriminate an entire global community for the abhorrent actions of a few. What has changed in the most profound sense is that Muslims are no longer seen (or at least solely) as a fifth column.

The voice of the ordinary, ‘moderate’ Muslim is heard more than ever — not as spokespeople who can denounce the ways terrorists justify their acts through the Quran — but as engaged citizens and leaders paving the way forward in a world that we all want to become more inclusive and tolerant. 

Last year, we saw Canadian Muslims unite strategically for the first time in a non-partisan, grassroots organization to achieve a single goal: Increasing the participation of Canadian Muslims within the democratic process.

This, along with the opposition’s crude anti-Muslim strategy not unlike Zac Goldsmith, Sadiq Khan’s competitor from the UK Conservative Party, played a key role in bringing Justin Trudeau’s pro-immigration party to power.

Drop ‘Muslim’ descriptor

We’ve also seen Maryam Monsef, who came to Canada an as Afghan refugee, sworn in as Minister of Democratic Institutions in Trudeau’s cabinet, and Ginella Massa, a hijab-clad journalist, become an on-camera reporter for Toronto news network CityTV. 

Britons, too, have seen a rise in British Muslims taking centre stage, from national baking contests to professional sports.  

None of these people ever condemned the abhorrent actions of the so-called Islamic State during their moments in the spotlight, simply because it wasn’t their place. They are all skilled professionals or athletes in their own right, recognized as Muslims, but celebrated for their extraordinary skills that contribute to all of society. 

That’s the way it should be.

Muslims are no different from anyone else, and for that reason, their successes should be commended no more, nor less than anyone else’s. Perhaps, the next step in fostering genuine equity in society is for news outlets to drop the ‘Muslim’ reference altogether.


Shenaz Kermalli is a freelance writer and journalism instructor at Humber College. She holds an MA Middle Eastern Studies and has previously worked at BBC News in London, Al Jazeera English and CBC News. 

Published in Commentary
Friday, 13 May 2016 18:00

Toronto Opinion Survey on Duterte

 

The Philippine Reporter conducted a quick opinion survey about the recent results of the Philippine presidential election.

Questions: 1. What should winning presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte do (policy actions, like poverty reduction, reduce crime, jail corrupt officials, environment protection, peace talks with rebels, etc.) as President in his first 100 days?

2.  What should Filipinos 

 

The Philippine Reporter

Read Full Article

Published in International

by Vicky Tobianah in Toronto 

Making distant readers empathize with historical events they have not experienced is a challenging feat.

Mohamed M. Keshavjee grapples with getting individuals to feel the pain of the global collective and experience events that they have not been touched by in his latest book Into That Heaven of Freedom: The Impact of Apartheid on an Indian Family’s Diasporic History. 

Keshavjee, a second-generation South African of Indian origin, not only takes readers through his own family history, but also through the history of Indians living in Africa over the course of a hundred years. 

The title comes from Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore’s poem “Where the Mind is Free:” 

“Into ever-widening thought and action

Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.” 

The poem is part of Tagore’s Nobel prize-winning poetry collection, Gitanjali. The book also has a forward written by Ahmed Kathrada, who spent 26 years in prison with Nelson Mandela and is the longest serving human rights prisoner alive today. 

Path to self-discovery 

We are merely there for the ride as Keshavjee takes his own journey through history.

Keshavjee describes the political struggle against apartheid, beginning with his roots – his family’s establishment in 1894 in Marabastad, a settlement in Pretoria, South Africa. He then describes Mahatma Gandhi’s fight against racism during the beginning of apartheid. Keshavjee’s family continues its journey to Kenya and eventually relocates in Canada. 

While Keshavjee writes with authority and knowledge, lurking behind every page is also the realization that he is discovering his own role in this narrative and not merely uncovering the role of his family in history. It is as much self-realization as it is storytelling. We are merely there for the ride as Keshavjee takes his own journey through history. 

At the onset of the book, Keshavjee states: “If I have started a conversation amongst my readers about their own antecedents and their personal recollections, I shall be happy.”

However, as I continued reading his memoir, I began to suspect that the most important conversation Keshavjee would have as a result of this storytelling is with himself, about who he really is as he grapples with finding out who he was not in the country of his birth, and who he was in the country of his ancestors. 

It is by watching his journey that a reader can hope to embark on the same one through their family’s history. 

Recording history 

Where readers might get lost is in the minute details – names of brothers, cousins’ shops, and small communities, each explained in heavy detail throughout, which sometimes feels as if one is reading a classroom history book – ironic for Keshavjee who writes that as a child, he looked forward to the time when he would no longer have to attend school. 

Each new chapter brings with it new characters who are all part of Keshavjee’s history. While the story could have been told without some of those details, it is again evidence of the author's desire to record the names, dates and places of those that came before him, struggled before he did, and persevered to allow him to find his own place, too. 

“I am grateful that, unlike my ancestors, I have been able to tell my story.”

 

Childhood impressions 

Although the book is very much a journey, it hints at the times in Keshavjee’s life when he did start to locate his place in the world. It’s the 1950s when Keshavjee starts to like school and impresses his teachers with his creativity and talent.

In the childhood stories he writes, “Autobiography of a Penny” and “Autobiography of an Old Shoe,” Keshavjee imagines himself as the coin or shoe and the many places it might have been placed, the people who might have touched it, and the home it ended up in. 

These stories, although only mentioned over the course of a few lines in this almost 300-page book, foreshadow this memoir, as Keshavjee once again describes the life he has and underneath the surface, the life he might have had, had he been born in a different country, to a different race, with a different skin colour.  

Today, Keshavjee is a graduate of Queen’s University and the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University, among several other academic achievements. He was called to the bar at Osgoode Hall in Toronto and is a member of the Law Society of Upper Canada. He also practised law in the United Kingdom and Kenya, and served in the Secretariat of His Highness the Aga Khan. 

His success is apparent as the memoir winds down and Keshavjee seems to find his answers.

“I am no longer a refugee in search of a homeland,” he writes.  Perhaps that is not just because he has found a physical home, but a metaphorical one too in this book. As he notes, “I am grateful that, unlike my ancestors, I have been able to tell my story.”

Vicky Tobianah is an experienced writer, editor and content strategist. She has a bachelor of arts, honours from McGill University in political science and English literature. She is passionate about the future of digital media. Find her work at: www.vickytobianah.com


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

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Poll Question

Do you agree with the new immigration levels for 2017?

Yes - 30.8%
No - 46.2%
Don't know - 23.1%
The voting for this poll has ended on: %05 %b %2016 - %21:%Dec

Featured Quote

The honest truth is there is still reluctance around immigration policy... When we want to talk about immigration and we say we want to bring more immigrants in because it's good for the economy, we still get pushback.

-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit

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