New Canadian Media

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

Published in Books

 

TORONTO—When Jeremy Campbell purchased a house in Ladner, B.C., with his sister and her husband in 2010, it was meant to be a temporary arrangement until he could upgrade to a place of his own.

“The initial plan was to do this short term just to get into the market, build some equity … get my foot in the door,” says Campbell, who covered one-third of the down payment on a 2,000 square-foot home that’s split into two suites.

 

Epoch Times

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Published in Economy

 Toronto (IANS): Zee TV and Essel Group chairman Subhash Chandra on Saturday received the $50,000 Global Indian Award from the Canada-India Foundation. The award was presented by Canada’s Investment Minister Navdeep Bains at a glittering gala attended by top leaders. In his acceptance speech, Chandra said it was “really a humbling experience”. He said he was […]

 

Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in India
Saturday, 23 April 2016 12:27

Ethnic Seniors Wait for Long-Term Care

Commentary by [             ] in Toronto

The wait to get a long-term care bed in Ontario has increased significantly in the last six years. An individual on a wait-list to transfer from a hospital bed to a long-term care facility waits just over two months, while those who have applied for long-term care while living at home wait 116 days for placement.
 
Yet, a report released last week by the Wellesley Institute has found that seniors from ethnic communities in Toronto have even more difficulty getting placed in ethnic long-term care homes.  Seniors waiting for an ethno-specific long-term care home wait for 18 months on average for placement into an ethno-specific long-term care home. The report noted that some of the longest waits for these high-demand services can be as high as eight years.  
 
Further, the report found that income is a factor. Basic accommodations provided in a long-term care home are in high demand. Yet, the report finds that for people able to pay for more expensive private accommodation, the wait time decreases by nearly three months.
 
Pricey care
 
Long-term care can be pricey. In 2012, Michel Grignon and Nicole Bernier priced the cost of long term care for “24/7 assistance in an institution costs around $60,000 per person per year.”
 
And the prices are only likely to go higher.
 
[T]hose who have applied for long-term care while living at home wait 116 days for placement.
 
People looking for long-term care services have high needs.  In addition to providing living support for individuals, staff care for people with physical limitations, helping them get up from a bed or chair, eating, and using the bathroom.  With higher than average rates of dementia, depression and chronic diseases such as diabetes, heart conditions and arthritis, these homes require highly skilled staff to give the medical attention needed by the elderly population using these homes. 
 
Ethno-specific long-term care homes are in high demand. They offer care in the same language as their residents, provide ethnic- and religion-sensitive food options and conduct social activities and entertainment specific to the community they serve.   
 
The ethnic familiarity provided by these homes are important.
 
Happier and healthier
 
The report notes that elderly individuals in ethno-specific long-term care homes are happier and healthier, “feeling less social isolation, lower rates of depression, and fewer falls and hospitalizations.”
 
Unfortunately, the limited access to these homes is only getting worse.  
 
While, the ethnic population has grown due to increased immigration in the Greater Toronto Area, there hasn’t been a similar increase in bed numbers in ethno-specific long-term care homes.  People in Canada are generally living longer than ever before, increasing overall demand for long-term care. This is good news overall, but those who would have normally stayed at home in their old age are now requiring more specialized medical attention.
 
Cultural acceptance
 
Finally, there is more cultural acceptance in immigrant communities for long-term care.  In some ethnic communities, there is an expectation that children will take care of their elders into old age.  Yet, attitudes within the community have shifted amongst second and third generation immigrants.  And the evidence that people have an improved quality of life in long-term care has resulted in less stigma and increased demand.
 
[A]ttitudes within the community have shifted amongst second and third generation immigrants.
 
There are a few ways that immigrant families can prepare for long-term care needs in the future.  One option is long-term care insurance, which could help offset future costs for families. Further, governments could consider supporting a universal insurance program for long-term care that could share costs amongst Canadians. 
 
Finally, investments in long-term care would be key to ensuring the future of our seniors. Even more than governments, entrepreneurs could be encouraged to consider investments into the development of long-term care, especially for immigrant communities that do not currently have a place to go in their old age. While there are homes specific to the Chinese, Italian, Greek, Polish and Ukrainian communities, other immigrant groups will inevitably require these services.

[            ] is a contributor who has chosen to remain anonymous and has worked in the the health care industry for the last five years.
 

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

Saturday night rolls around. Your mate Dave from downtown Toronto gives you a shout and asks if you want to go to the pub or hit a club. “Nah, mate, I’m alright,” you reply. “Do that all the time. I feel like trying something different tonight. “An activity where I can express myself through dance. […] 

Brits in Toronto

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Published in Western Europe
Thursday, 14 April 2016 10:43

Successful Brits in Toronto: Danny Dichio

Picture the scene. You’re a professional footballer. You take a chance and leave your home country and move to Toronto to play for the city’s new MLS team, Toronto FC. You score TFC’s first-ever goal (in front of home fans). You get TFC’s first-ever red card. Seat cushions have rained down on your head and […] 

Brits in Toronto

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Published in Western Europe

Bit biased, obvs, but we think that British music is the best in the world. End of. The Toronto Summer Music Festival seems to think along those lines too as the theme for 2016 is London Calling: Music in Great Britain. Full credit to Michael Vincent, Editor of Musical Toronto who has the scoop … […] 

Brits in Toronto

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Published in Arts & Culture

by Beatrice Paez in Toronto

It had been such a whirlwind process, Zuhir says of the journey that he and his family took earlier this year from Jordan — where they had lived as refugees for four years — to Canada.

Now that they’re here, Zuhir and his family are one of many that have yet to settle into a normal life in Canada. For now, they remain in a state of limbo, residing at the Toronto Plaza Hotel home and unsure of their next steps in the country.

The Syrian family of seven had been given a month’s notice by the Canadian government to settle their affairs in Jordan. They had no time to even sell their furniture, only to pack their things and leave.

But he has no regrets, says Zuhir, speaking through a translator. 

“Once it happens, you don’t want to lose your chance,” he says. “I’d rather lose the furniture than lose the chance to go to Canada.” 

But the haste in which they left also meant that there was no opportunity for an in-depth orientation on life in Canada, he says. 

He was told to expect a two-week stay at a hotel in Toronto. It’s now been about a month and a half, and they’re still unaware of when they might finally find a place to call their own.

Life at the hotel

Large families like Zuhir’s run into more difficulty when persuading landlords to take them on, explains Abubaker Bennsir, who works at the TARIC Islamic Centre

Settlement groups like COSTI Immigrant Services are currently overwhelmed with cases, which hobbles its ability to help refugees like Zuhir not only find permanent housing, but navigate their new country. 

“I’d rather lose the furniture than lose the chance to go to Canada.”

Fortunately, TARIC, a convenient three-minute walk from Zuhir’s hotel, extended its community programming this year to help integrate Syrian refugees. It has opened its gym for the children to play soccer in and has held dinners and informal sessions on language training and Canadian culture. 

For Zuhir and his friend Diab-Bakora, visits to TARIC break up the routine of roaming the hotel. “It’s [usually] the restaurant, room and lobby,” says Zuhir, speaking of the places he visits on an average day.

As frustrated as they are that they haven’t quite settled yet, Diab-Bakora says the refugees are fortunate that the hotel is surrounded by a complex of shops, fast-food restaurants and a grocery store. There have also been organized trips to Harbourfront Centre and the Ontario Science Centre.

Experiencing the local community

When families meet with Dr. Paul Caulford, medical director of the Canadian Centre for Refugee and Immigrant Health Care (CRIHC), he advises them to seek out opportunities to get to know the city. 

Caulford says it can help them cope with the uncertainty of adjusting to an unfamiliar place. “I [tell them, I] want you out and about,” he says. “We’re trying to get them exercising, get them out.” 

Since they can’t just hop on the bus or subway in a city which they hardly know and whose language they can’t speak, the Islamic centre pairs families with mentors who help them understand how things work. They’re taught how to take public transit, go to a bank and shop at supermarkets, says Haroon Salamat, chairman of TARIC. 

For Zuhir and his friend Diab-Bakora, visits to TARIC break up the routine of roaming the hotel.

There are other practical lessons. For instance, the children have had to learn that garbage is tossed in the can, not on the floor, says Salamat: “We’re using this opportunity to sensitize them to Canadian customs.”

Support from the mosque — which also welcomes Syrian Christian refugees — has given families “a level of comfort” and it has done much to boost their spirits, says Bennsir. 

“They thought they would be somewhere where nobody would understand them,” he comments. 

The centre has helped act as their translators and interlocutor. It has tried, for instance, to get the kitchen to prepare food that reminded the children of home. Some refugees have volunteered to cook occasionally, but staff had to politely decline because of health and safety considerations. 

Taking steps towards integration

Although most have not been vocal in their complaints, Salamat can sense that many refugees are anxious about moving forward, and the children are eager to enrol in school. 

Zuhir's and Diab-Bakora’s children attend a school nearby, but they say they’re not formally integrated and that the school is more like a daycare because it doesn’t offer ESL training. 

Diab-Bakora is hopeful that once they secure housing, schooling won’t be an issue.

For children who have to overcome trauma, getting them back to school is the best approach to managing their PTSD, says Caulford. He’s met with a six-year-old boy who has been unable to speak since he witnessed the killing of his uncle in Syria. 

Salamat can sense that many refugees are anxious about moving forward.

“[The way] to get the boy talking is to throw him [in] with a group of his peers in a classroom,” says Caulford. “That hasn’t happened yet for four weeks now. We’re frustrated with that.”

While many adults are still reluctant to confront the trauma they’ve endured by opening up to a counsellor or seeking treatment, Caulford notes that they’re much more willing to avail of the special clinic for their children. 

“They don’t want to get bogged down. They’re focused on getting food on the table,” he says. “It’s a defence mechanism. If we were to encourage [them] to come out now, we could really hobble their progress. They would start becoming more depressed.” 

In the meantime, places like the Islamic centre are focusing their efforts on providing another refuge for the Syrians while they wait.  

“The kids play a bit of soccer. We’re teaching them a few words in English,” Salamat says. “It keeps the kids out of mischief and running around aimlessly. We want them to feel that things are moving along.”

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 Top Stories

ONTARIO Premier Kathleen Wynne released the following statement regarding the passing of Rob Ford on Tuesday: “It was with deep sadness that I learned that former Toronto mayor Rob Ford has passed away. “As the son of the late Doug Ford Sr., a former MPP, Rob Ford grew up in a family with a strong tradition […]

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Indo-Canadian Voice

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Published in National
Wednesday, 02 March 2016 22:23

The Poetry of Generational Difference

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

Flesh, Tongue, Yaya Yao’s first collection of poetry, brings you to a crossroads where you have a desire for belonging in the place you feel is home, but must first understand why your parents’ own upbringing makes finding acceptance such a struggle.

It is another example of how the need to reconcile with the past is felt across cultures and spans generations.

Yao’s collection recounts her adolescence between paradigms – past and present; tradition and modernity; a new home and the one left behind.

These are the fragmentations many children of immigrant parents experience, especially when they grow up in a culture that is markedly different from the one of their parents.

Yao’s poems, 44 in total, tell of the need for a continuous narrative and context for one’s place in the world. Her words, which sometimes appear scattered on the page and non-linear in form, symbolize this process of tying different histories together.

Knowledge of our past, and the significance it holds for our parents, forces us to embrace and hold on to these fragments of our ancestry as we build our own identities.

Language, history, family

Yao dedicated Flesh, Tongue to her father, Eugene Yong-Ging Yao, “who said he never got my poems.”  Still, she made an effort to “get” him and her mother by learning their languages and sharing them in her writing.

Her poetry mixes Cantonese, Mandarin, Hokkien, and Shanghainese – sometimes translating these dialects into English to reveal similarities and contrasts.

To someone unfamiliar with these languages, they demonstrate that one’s identity can be made both richer and more complicated with their knowledge. The harsh-sounding words on the page force us to appreciate the challenges of learning a language that sounds and even feels different on our tongues from the one in which we were raised.

Chinese culture’s emphasis on ancestors and honour also emanates from Yao’s retellings. They express a definition of family that goes beyond a biological, skin-deep bond to something much deeper, embedded in historical psyche.

There is also a reference to the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Knowledge of our past, and the significance it holds for our parents, forces us to embrace and hold on to these fragments of our ancestry as we build our own identities.

Carrying these narratives is both our burden and our blessing.

Yao was born and raised in the Parkdale and Little Portugal neighbourhoods of Toronto. These communities are built on many histories that have been uprooted from around the world and will continue to change as new narratives take form.

She tells her story in a unique voice, yet the nostalgia created by her images is a familiar sensation to anyone who has grappled with understanding where they came from and whether they ended up in the right place.

Dundas Street evokes memories

Yao’s “living room over dundas” symbolizes many of the homes immigrants have built for themselves in Canada’s bustling metropolises.

For me, Dundas Street brings back images of my earliest memories, spent with my Iranian grandparents in Dixie, a neighbourhood in southeast Mississauga. I knew at the time that, when we walked outside in one direction, we would arrive at the park where Grandfather would push me on the swing.

When we went in the other direction, we would cross a busy street to get to Chinatown, where I would skip from stone to stone in the pond around the imperially decorated gazebo.

Their children – like Yao, and like me – grew up learning that their paths do not start and stop outside their home, but cross continents and oceans.

The street was Dundas, which I now know goes a long way beyond our old neighbourhood and is a meeting place for people from even further away.

The Afghani bakery, the Latino pharmacy, the Indian restaurant – they all hold the histories of many immigrants who came to Canada and undoubtedly struggled to find their footing.

Like my grandparents and parents, they felt the strain of trying to fit the familiar pieces of their ancestral homeland into the strange spaces of a new home, many miles away.

Their children – like Yao, and like me – grew up learning that their paths do not start and stop outside their home, but cross continents and oceans. Carrying these narratives is both our burden and our blessing.

Reflecting on one’s past can induce grieving for what is lost, but also the recognition that there are parts of ourselves we can regain. Yao’s memories – built with colours, feelings and scents – not only tell of desperate times, but also of times when uncertainty was less destabilizing, before it beckoned us to question our place within our families, in society and in history.

“meet your younger

eyes, ones that never

doubt that you, now

are doing what you

came 

to do.”


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. 

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

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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