Arts & Culture

by Dustin Godfrey in Vancouver 

A new exhibit at a Vancouver museum is exploring the experiences of a lesser-known group of combatants in the Second World War, who were major contributors to Chinese-Canadian civil rights, according to experts.

The Chinese Canadian Military Museum’s “Rumble in the Jungle” exhibit looks at Force 136, a team of Chinese-Canadians trained by British forces to practice guerrilla tactics in Southeast Asia. 

Borrowing tactics from the French resistance to Nazi occupation during the Second World War, the team fought against the Japanese advancements in the area,

Local historian and lecturer Judy Lam Maxwell, who wrote her master’s thesis on Chinese-Canadian war veterans, conducts tours of historic spots in Vancouver’s Chinatown. She said the reason for using Chinese-Canadians as guerrilla fighters in the region was largely due to appearance and language barriers faced by Caucasian Allied soldiers.

“They were British subjects and they were going into territories that were colonized by the British, but all through Southeast Asia is a sprinkling of Chinese,” she says. “That gave them power that they visually fit the part, whereas here, being in society here, they stood out.”

Launching the exhibit

The museum’s curator, Catherine Clement, says the exhibit’s launch in May was the biggest the museum had ever seen; in attendance were nine living veterans of Force 136.

Cynthia Fung-Sunter attended the launch with her three sisters and her two sons. Her father, Henry Fung, was the among the first group sent into the war with Force 136. She says she has had to piece together her father’s experience through external sources.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The reason for using Chinese-Canadians as guerrilla fighters in the region was largely due to appearance and language barriers.[/quote]

Henry Fung in Southeast Asia in 1945.

“I did ask, clearly, at different points, and he just would not give details,” she recalls, noting that the silence on the subject may have been due to post-traumatic stress disorder.

“She did a fine job,” says Fung-Sunter, commenting on Clement’s work in the exhibit. “I honestly feel that Force 136 became alive in that exhibit.”

Force 136’s impact on civil rights

Clement says the impacts of Force 136 extend much further than the context of the war; its existence acted much like a civil rights movement in its own way.

“A lot of the [Chinese-Canadian men] who served in the war were actually not considered Canadian citizens,” says Clement, referring to the denial of citizenship to Chinese Canadians, including those born in Canada, under the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923.

“It denied [them] the right to vote,” she says. “It means that even if you obtain a university degree, you cannot practice medicine or law, engineering, accounting — any of the really important professions.”

According to Lam Maxwell, after the war, many countries looked introspectively at their own racially driven policies.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Its existence acted much like a civil rights movement in its own way.[/quote]

“There was also the realization that all these countries were racist in their own way,” said Lam Maxwell, pointing to segregation in America and Canadian treatment of the Chinese community. “They were fighting for rights on many different levels.”

Clement notes that it was the contribution of Chinese-Canadians to the war efforts that gained the community a great deal of popular support for civil rights.

“The war ended in ‘45, and two years after, Chinese are finally granted the right to full citizenship,” says Clement. “A lot of it had to do with their service in the war."

In that same year, 1947, the Chinese Immigration Act was repealed. Ten years later, former Force 136 member Douglas Jung was the first Chinese-Canadian voted into parliament as the representative of Vancouver Centre.

The importance of remembering

Due to Force 136’s clandestine nature, Clement says it was difficult to garner information about the group. 

It took about five months of full-time work to put the exhibit together, during which time she interviewed soldiers’ children like Fung-Sunter, whose knowledge of their fathers’ experiences was often fragmented.

Clement said she was interested in doing the exhibit on Force 136 now because there had never been one dedicated to the group and because of the shrinking number of living Chinese-Canadian Second World War veterans.

“There was this one last window of opportunity to do something to celebrate what they did while they were still alive,” she states. “And it’s an excuse to ask them more questions about what that experience was like.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The war ended in ‘45, and two years after, Chinese are finally granted the right to full citizenship.”[/quote]

For Clement, there are lessons that today’s Canadians can learn from the history of the Chinese involvement in Force 136.

“For Chinese people, it’s understanding history,” she says. “How did we get here? This is not by accident; this is by things that people did for us, of [whom] there are still a few [. . .] around.”

Regarding Canadians as a whole, Clement says the lessons come back to the issue of immigration, which has come up in recent years in Vancouver.

“What do we learn from that? It’s that [. . .] making people feel different and isolated actually works against us as a community,” she concludes. 

"Rumble in the Jungle" will be featured at the Chinese Canadian Military Museum in Vancouver’s Chinatown until fall of 2016.

{module NCM Blurb}

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

Canadian authors of faith-based fiction say seeking answers in religion to the injustices of their pasts enhances their creativity and inspires their literary work.

A group of authors explained how their spiritual backgrounds influence the creation and shape of their stories during a discussion titled “Faith and Fiction” at the recent Festival of Literary Diversity held in Brampton, Ont.

Confronting injustice

Growing up, panellist Zarqa Nawaz says she questioned the divider that separates women from men at the mosque.

“It seemed to me, as a child, very fundamentally unfair,” says Nawaz, creator of the CBC series Little Mosque on the Prairie.

She says that while faith is an important part of her life, gender inequality caused a disruption for her until she created the documentary Me in the Mosque.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We had such progressive views centuries ago when it came to not just women, but the third sex.”[/quote]

During her research, she discovered that in Islamic history, there was a section of the mosque for men, a section for women, and a third section for people that define as a third sex.

“We had such progressive views centuries ago when it came to not just women, but the third sex,” she says.

Nawaz grew up reading memoirs and watching documentaries on feminist struggles of different faiths and cultures. She says her understanding of prejudice against women is not limited to any faith, but is in fact a “universal theme.”

“Getting away from faith doesn’t mean that you get away from prejudice,” she says.

She describes an incident in which a Hijab-wearing Muslim girl was barred from going to school in France, where prominent religious symbols are banned in grade schools. 

“How is it different from the Taliban?” Nawaz asks.

She says such injustices provoke her to fight back by raising awareness through her work.

For Ayelet Tsabari, fiction is a place to question the existence of God.

Tsabari grew up in Israel and says believing in God in the Jewish religion was something that she never questioned until her father, who she describes as a pious man, passed away when she was nine years old.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]She returned to Hinduism in search of role models for her writing, which she lacked in her own life as a child.[/quote]

She developed a belief that when a person dies, so does God and that is why he was not there to save her father.

“That was something that sort of made sense to me as a child,” says Tsabari.

She describes this loss as a crisis of faith, which has inspired her writing. Tsabari’s book The Best Place on Earth, won the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature.

“My characters are facing either crises of faith or there is a clash within family over the issues of faith,” she says about the book.

Finding role models

Vivek Shraya says while she does not follow Hinduism anymore, Hindu mythology from a feminist lens has inspired her work. She returned to Hinduism in search of role models for her writing, which she lacked in her own life as a child.

As a queer artist and writer, she says she aims to counter genderphobia, or fear of gender-nonconforming individuals, in her work. She puts particular emphasis on the God Krishna and says she believes that she has an intimate connection with this role model.

Shraya adds that male Gods who have long hair, wear jewellery, and are friends with girls help her relate to the genderphobia she experienced in school.

“It seems to be a common theme throughout my work, because its one of the first places where I felt that I [could] see myself,” explains Shraya.

Shraya’s debut novel, She of the Mountains, has two narratives – one is a contemporary bi-sexual love story, and the other is about re-imagining Hindu mythology and its illustrations.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The story keepers reach back and reach forward and weave together those words that provided a blanket for our community . . .”[/quote]

Reclaiming history

Panellist Cherie Dimaline is a member of the Georgian Bay Métis community in Ontario. Her books Red Rooms, The Girl Who Grew A Galaxy and A Gentle Habit reflect on indigenous people’s connections with the land. 

“That’s what we base our understanding of spirituality on,” she says.

Dimaline says she learned to practise a version of the Roman Catholic faith infused with First Nations beliefs – what she describes as a “mixing and melting of understandings.”   

“It was a very mixed, but also very structured upbringing,” she says.

Along with the influence of the church, Dimaline says she was also privileged to grow up with her grandmother who was the story keeper of the community.

When young Dimaline was selected to follow in her grandmother’s footsteps, the responsibility of preserving her community’s memories – seven generations back and seven generations to the future – fell on her shoulders.

“The story keepers reach back and reach forward and weave together those words that provided a blanket for our community of safety and understanding of our spirituality,” she explains. “The base of the understandings and world views that we have come from that faith.”


{module NCM Blurb}

by Shenaz Kermalli in Toronto

Lynne Kutsukake’s The Translation of Love is as haunting as it is beautiful. Set in post-WWII Japan, the novel touches upon migration and identity issues as pertinent today as they were in 1946.

It is also a rare account of one of the most under-reported and darkest periods of Canadian history  when Japanese Canadians were categorized by the government as enemies and forcibly removed from their homes.

After the Japanese attack on a U.S. naval base in Pearl Harbor, the Canadian government ordered the removal of male Japanese Canadians from 18 to 45 years of age from the coast of British Columbia.

Those displaced were put in shoddy internment camps in B.C.’s interior and Alberta. Camps were often made of barns or animal stalls.

Others were deported to Japan. Some 23,000 people had their property confiscated and were detained without charge or trial.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Some 23,000 people had their property confiscated and were detained without charge or trial.[/quote]

Life in Occupied Japan 

This is the pulsing backdrop to Kutsukake’s plot: the story of 13-year-old Aya Shimamura’s repatriation to Japan with her father after her mother suddenly dies. 

But there is little respite in Tokyo. As her father works long hours, Aya is often left alone. At school, she is bullied for being a foreigner and speaking poor Japanese. 

Only one child, a feisty girl named Fumi Tanaka, befriends her – but only to enlist Aya’s perfect English skills to help her find her older sister who has mysteriously disappeared. 

Together, Fumi and Aya write a letter to General MacArthur, the American military commander who oversaw the U.S. occupation of Japan from 1945 to 1951. Theirs is one of many letters written by Japanese citizens seeking guidance in the aftermath of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and subsequent U.S. nuclear attacks on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 

Sending letters of hope 

The letters are remarkable in how they vividly capture the cultural norms – and oddities – of post-war Japan. Topics range from sugar shortages to the difficulty in obtaining train tickets; from the evils of prostitution to the high cost of soya sauce. 

General MacArthur himself never appears as a character in the book, perhaps adding to some of his mystique. Instead, readers are introduced to his trusty Japanese-American translator, Corporal Matt Matsumoto. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Some were not kind: ‘Get out Americans.’ Some letters were written in blood.”[/quote]

Matsumoto is reserved, almost stiff at times, but inwardly feels the heavy burden of every letter-writer he translates – not always accurately - for General MacArthur. 

“Most letters,” Matsumoto relates, “came in envelopes sealed shut with sticky rice glue, but some were rolled up like scrolls and tied with string. Others were folded so many times they looked like strange forms of origami. Some were not kind: ‘Get out Americans.’ Some letters were written in blood.” 

His reflections on the power of words are poignant. At times, they are chillingly reminiscent of the desperation seen in the faces of Syrian refugees today, who take unimaginable risks to travel to European countries for a better life. 

“It was frightening how many people were writing,” Matsumoto laments upon receiving yet another mountain of letters. “Awe-inspiring, but frightening. Such faith in the power of written supplication, such faith in the power of words. There it was, a gigantic mountain of hope.” 

Matsumoto’s colleague is also an enigmatic character. Nancy Nogami is a cheery Japanese-American typist impatiently waiting to return to the U.S. and seems to take a liking to Matsumoto – or at least an appreciation for his down-to-earth, subdued persona, which contrasts sharply with the boisterous American GIs (a military term for American soldiers). 

Like Aya, Matsumoto and Nogami’s characters struggle with the complexities of their Japanese-American and Japanese-Canadian identities. It’s interesting to see how Aya and Nogami, upon meeting, immediately develop a sisterly kinship – a reflection of just how much easier it is for second-generation immigrants to identify with each other than it is for them to assimilate with young people ‘back home.’ 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The exploitation of women in Japan is not a unique case.[/quote]

Abuse of women in conflict 

The gripping search for Fumi’s ‘missing’ older sister, Sumiko, through dance halls, the black market, and the dark corners of Love Letter Alley - where Japanese women go to get notes from GI boyfriends translated - is perhaps what keeps readers most intrigued. 

Over time, Fumi realizes that Sumiko, like thousands of other Japanese young women at the time, felt compelled to leave home and make a living in Japan’s high-collar entertainment industry that began thriving in light of its American ‘guests.’ Selected by a club manager from a ration line in 1946, Sumiko didn’t accept the job offer immediately. 

“It wasn’t until Fumi developed beriberi and required special injections their parents couldn’t afford that she brought out the business card he had given her,” Kutsukake writes. 

The exploitation of women in Japan is not a unique case. Over and over in post-conflict societies, women and girls fall prey to sexually exploitative situations – illegal or otherwise – that often save their families from impoverishment. 

It’s a phenomenon that thrived in post-war Japan, flourished in post-Saddam Iraq under U.S. occupation, and is growing on the battlegrounds of Syria today. 

At its core, The Translation of Love is a story as much about pride and dignity in the face of oppression and humiliation as it is about the dark effects of discrimination, poverty and war.

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. 


{module NCM Blurb}

by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

Café Babanussa is a story about mental illness that has never been told before. Through the journey of a young, mixed-race woman exploring Germany in the 1980s, we see how mental instability creeps into the lives of even the most beautiful of characters. 

Living in Germany after its separation following the Second World War, Ruby Edwards must adjust to the racist backlash she receives as a Black Canadian in Europe. 

The book’s author, Karen Hill, had her own struggles. She was unable to maintain a nine-to-five job due to challenges with tasks such as getting dressed, arriving at work on time, and dealing with co-workers. She neglected work, which led to her living in poverty and having to survive on welfare. 

Eventually, she took on creative hobbies such as cooking, art and poetry. As a poet, she became known for her work “What is my Culture?” and “A Breath for you.” 

Café Babanussa mirrors Hill’s life and she debated making it a memoir. She wrote the novel – her first – from 1989 to 2012. 

Hill died in 2014 at the age of 56. Café Babanussa was co-edited after her death by her brother, author Lawrence Hill. 

Freedom from a mental cage 

As a child, the book's main character, Ruby, had reoccurring dreams of a man smothering her that continued to plague her into adulthood. She would write in her diary, lock herself up in her room, and argue with figments of her imagination. 

Now a young adult, Ruby’s need for freedom and independence takes her to Germany, where her past demons and current insecurities intermingle to wreak havoc on her mind and personal relationships.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“She became entranced listening to all their voices, searching for some truth in their words.”[/quote]

She explores West Berlin and nearby France. A young man named Werner, a British friend named Emma, and a mysterious drug dealer named Dom – Ruby seeks acceptance from them in a time of racial tumult, as well as an escape from the growing turmoil in her mind. 

After becoming pregnant and not knowing whom the father of her child is, Ruby has an abortion that takes a toll on her mind and body. Dom dies from a drug overdose, leading Ruby to slip deeper into depression. Hill described this process as a form of self-isolation. 

“Ruby was beginning to slowly lock herself up inside her mind. More and more people were prying their way into her head talking to her,” Hill wrote. “She became entranced listening to all their voices, searching for some truth in their words.” 

Ruby later finds out that her mother also dealt with mental illness. Hill reflected on this aspect of Ruby’s life in an essay included at the end of the book. She wrote about mental health problems in her own family and described her personal experience with mental illness as “being crazy.” 

A short reprieve 

Towards the end, we learn the significance of the book’s title. Café Babanussa is a haven where Ruby and her friends go to escape their stressful lives. At the café, she finds solitude for the first time and comfort in being unapologetically Black and ultimately, herself. 

“She felt grateful for having been accepted into the club,” Hill wrote. “The feeling of belonging to one race as opposed to none empowered her.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]At the café, she finds solitude for the first time and comfort in being unapologetically Black and ultimately, herself.[/quote]

At Café Babanussa, Ruby meets a new lover, Issam, and becomes pregnant again. She later gives birth to a child and moves back to her parents’ home in Toronto. Her adventure is over, yet her internal struggles continue. 

“The architecture in Toronto seemed so bland – new and ugly,” Hill wrote. “[A]lmost every night she went to sleep crying for what she no longer had [and] for weeks she wrestled with dark clouds that seemed to follow her wherever she went. She was tired and listless.” 

Understanding a common illness 

What makes Ruby’s story so relatable is the fact that we are all familiar with the places that Ruby has encountered on her journey to adulthood. Trying to be encouraged and spirited while dealing with responsibilities, social issues, love and growing-up can be stressful. 

Hill’s realistic portrayal of someone who cannot cope with these pressures provides a better understanding of mental illness. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]She showed that it is easy to succumb to the bullying thoughts, fears, and demons many of us confront.[/quote]

She did not identify Ruby’s illness as a rare and isolated occurrence, but as a struggle that people often encounter in life. She showed that it is easy to succumb to the bullying thoughts, fears, and demons that many of us confront. 

Before her death in 2014, Hill wrote a letter that talked about her lonely walks, physically and mentally, which was also included in the book. After being out of institutions and hospitals for three years, she had sympathy for those who remained locked-up and suffering as victims of their minds. 

“I feel I have finally reached a place of some stability. From here I can reach out and become a healthier and more active participant in the mental health and wider communities. Sadly, this is still not true for many others who struggle with mental illness.”  

Danica Samuel is a freelance journalist from Toronto. She is a compulsive writer who is constantly searching for new stories on the streets and through social media. Samuel has written for the Huffington Post, New Canadian Media and ByBlacks. She prides herself on her creativity, charisma and provocativeness, while always being committed to content that is memorable, relevant and original.


{module NCM Blurb}

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

Canadian book publishers and literature supporters say diverse stories written by emerging writers can increase readership and are vital for enhancing Canada’s publishing industry. 

Five industry experts led a panel discussion during a session titled “Publishing (More) Diverse Stories,” held at Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives as part of the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD).

The discussion focused on ways to improve access to diverse Canadian stories both here and abroad.

Barbara Howson, Vice President of Sales and Licensing at House of Anansi Press and Groundwood Books, says diversity in the industry means getting young people interested in publishing and widening readership by publishing books with different voices.

“To do that, we need to reach communities and have editorial staff that does that,” she says.

Support emerging publishers

Howson says that expensive college and university publishing programs and editing courses can make it difficult for people from low socio-economic backgrounds to get into the publishing industry.

“I do think you have to have a certain amount of money or your parents’ support to help you get into the industry,” she says. “People can’t afford to be lowly paid interns for three or four internships in order to get a job.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]. . . the cost of going through very low-paid internships bars access to the industry for people of different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds.[/quote]

She says the high cost of education and training needs to change if the industry aims to be more inclusive.

Bianca Spence from the Ontario Media Development Corporation agrees that the cost of going through very low-paid internships bars access to the industry for people of different socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. 

She says she would like to see a publishing degree considered as a pre-requisite, rather than unpaid internships. That way, she says, “we can get some interesting thinkers into the industry.”

Léonicka Valcius, the panel moderator and chair of The FOLD Foundation, applauds the idea of hiring more people of colour in the publishing industry, as well as people of different sexual orientations, abilities, and other backgrounds.

Diversify the eco-system

Panellist Anita Chong, a senior editor at McClelland & Stewart, described publishing as an “eco-system” made up of writers, people involved in the publishing process, and ultimately readers.

She says that the system needs a greater push for change from within publishing itself.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I think it’s important to recognize that we need a wider pool of readers.”[/quote]

She referred to a 2015 BookNet Canada survey that outlines what constitutes a typical Canadian book buyer. The buyer is a female between 40 and 60 years of age, with a college or university education.

“I think it’s important to recognize that we need a wider pool of readers,” Chong says. “We need diversity in this massive eco-system we are in.”

Publishing a wider variety of literature that reflects Canadian diversity can help attract more readers.

Susan Travis, a sales representative for children’s book publisher Scholastic Canada in British Columbia, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Alberta, says that the variety of books offered to children looks “narrow right now.”

“You cannot colour a child’s face tan on a book and call that a diverse book.” She says books should better identify children of all backgrounds.

She adds that as a salesperson, she notices that customers are more willing to buy literature from a store or publisher that has diverse images and stories in its books.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“You cannot colour a child’s face tan on a book and call that a diverse book.”[/quote]

Economic pressures for publishers

“It’s one of the things we struggle with, to highlight these books,” says Howson about diverse literature.

She explains that marketing can go a long way in giving readers access to different stories, and that the media plays a role in showcasing diversity.

"It's really important to develop that whole eco-system of getting those books out to libraries, buying those books from stores, and duly making sure that your voice is heard, because you want diverse books, and the only way is to take them out to the library,” she tells fellow publishers. “You tell your schools that they have got to have them in their library.”

Howson says she is concerned that public libraries are given money by municipal governments to buy only those books that are considered profitable.

Spence adds that diversifying the eco-system could help emerging publishers.

“If more people buy books and publishers make more money, they could pay entry-level employees a bit more.” She says this would incentivize more diverse populations to stay in publishing and establish an inclusive industry.

“They have to be welcomed and they have to stay to bring rise to that change,” she adds.


{module NCM Blurb}

Wednesday, 01 June 2016 00:06

Pinoys Launch First Miss Gay Montreal

Written by

by Krystle Alarcon in Montreal 

Joseph Dadua couldn’t muster up the courage to try on a bikini at a women’s lingerie store in Montreal. 

It took two of his fellow gay friends to encourage him to go to the dressing room of La Vie en Rose. 

“It was an unforgettable experience,” the 24-year-old recalls, “everyone was accepting and open.” 

Dadua says preparing for the Filipino community’s Miss Gay Montreal 2016 was a process that helped him embrace his effeminate side. 

Miss Gay Montreal, held May 28, was the first of its kind for the Filipino community in Montreal. 

It was a joint effort between Montreal’s largest Filipino group, FAMAS (Filipino Association of Montreal and Suburbs) and Pinoy LGBT. 

Dadua and his three rival candidates all identify as “gay cross-dressers” he says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Dadua and his three rival candidates all identify as “gay cross-dressers” . . .[/quote]

For the competition, they chose a pretend country of origin and an existing female model’s name for the night – a tradition borrowed from gay beauty pageants in the Philippines. For example, Dadua (pictured below) wanted to be addressed as Leila Lopes and Miss Angola. 

All the craze 

Beauty pageants are a cultural frenzy in the Philippines. Last year, the country won two titles in international competitions for Miss Universe and Miss Earth, and two crowns in 2013 as well. 

Blogger Raul Dancel aptly describes this obsession pointing out that the Philippines has a local beauty queen for each of its 40,000 small towns. 

“There are a bevy of titles that will befuddle future anthropologists, including: That’s My Boy, Little Miss Philippines, Mr. Handsome, Little Miss Handsome, Miss Gay Philippines, Miss Supranational, Manhunt International, Mr. Marketplace and Super Mermaid,” he writes. 

This is why when FAMAS approached the members of Pinoy LGBT to put together the event, the organization got on board immediately. 

Adiva Estinozo, one of the main organizers of the pageant, identifies as a transgender and transsexual woman. She says she hid her gender identity and sexual orientation from her parents. 

“I was scared of being isolated. That’s why I moved to the [gay] Village [in Montreal] on my own. I didn’t want to wait for the isolation to happen.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It helps parents to understand. It shows parents that their kids are having fun on stage.”[/quote]

She understands firsthand how a contest can help build self-esteem. She won the Pista Sa Nayon singing contest in Montreal in 2002. 

The grand prize was a trip to the Philippines and an appearance on a comedy TV show there, Home Along Da Riles. Upon returning to Montreal, Estinozo came out. 

She says Miss Gay Montreal has also helped some of the candidates be their true selves. 

“It helps parents to understand. It shows parents that their kids are having fun on stage,” Estinozo says. 

Being seen and being seen equal 

The LGBT community is quite visible in the Philippines, with celebrities like femme gay comedian, Vice Ganda, achieving top box office sales for his satirical films. 

But for Mark Simbulan, co-founder of Pinoy LGBT and Estinozo’s co-host for the event, visibility does not translate to equality. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The Philippines should be allowing gay marriage — not in terms of a religious basis, but on a human level."[/quote]

“The Philippines should be allowing gay marriage — not in terms of a religious basis, but on a human level. They should have human rights to love and be able to marry who they want to marry,” he says. 

Simbulan says Pinoy LGBT is working on ways to promote gay marriage in the Philippines. 

Asked what’s the main difference between a women’s pageant and a gay men’s one, Simbulan says, “not much, but ours is more fun.” 

Indeed, the audience squealed with laughter at certain moments during the show. But candidates rode a fine line between mockery and entertainment. 

Axl Hernandez, also known as Tyra Banks and Miss Venezuela for the night, used comedy to slam opponents. 

“Not all horses belong in the stable,” Hernandez says in Tagalog upon grabbing the microphone. “Because you just saw one (the previous candidate) and there are two more.” 

Another candidate who blurred the lines between ridicule and spectacle was Jerrieval Mark Garcia, a.k.a. Adriana Lima or Miss Brazil. During the talent portion, Garcia dressed in a black sequin cocktail dress performing a cabaret dance — then midway, he turned around, put on a baseball cap and tight boxers and fluttered his pelvis like a male stripper. 

In the end, Dadua took home the crown. 

To critics who think beauty pageants are objectifying and do not promote equality, he says, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. I’m not going to say anything against them. We need to focus on our own lives. If it makes us happy then why not. For me, they’re dedma.” 

Dedma is a Taglish slang term mixing the English word ‘dead’ and Tagalog word ‘malisyoso’. In other words, he’s feigning their malice.

Editor's Note: This copy has been updated to correct a mistake in the spelling of Adiva Estinozo's name and the explanation of the word 'dedma'. NCM regrets these errors.


{module NCM Blurb}

by Florence Hwang in Regina 

Skilled immigrants are more likely than Canadian-born citizens to be their own boss, according to the Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council.

By the late 2000s, 19 per cent of Canada’s immigrants were self-employed. The report from the Metcalf Foundation and Maytree examines the challenges and opportunities immigrants face with regards to self-employment and entrepreneurship

While in the past Canada has used immigration to fill its labour market needs — Chinese migrants who helped build the railway, temporary foreign workers to supplement the agricultural industry — creating their own businesses also allowed many immigrants to bring family over from their homeland.

Riding the wave of Italian immigration

Ever since Ralph Chiodo was young, he has loved cars. His dream was to open his own autobody shop. He now has 72 franchise locations in Ontario.

When Chiodo was 12, he worked in a blacksmith shop in Italy. He shoed horses, repaired wagons and plows for farmers. But what he really wanted to do was fix cars. 

At 14, he landed at Pier 21. In 1959, he started working at a gas station in Toronto — getting the job was the easy part. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“He shoed horses, repaired wagons and plows for farmers.”[/quote]

In the ‘50s and ‘60s, thousands of Italians immigrated to Canada annually. Many were sponsored by family members already in Canada, including Chiodo.

Once he got his mechanic’s license in 1965, he opened his own garage and auto repair centre. By 1972, he opened an autobody shop, followed by a Chrysler Dodge dealership in 1980.

His advice for new immigrant entrepreneurs: “Treat people fairly. This includes not only the customers, but the suppliers, landlords and everybody [else]. There’s no substitution for treating everyone fairly.” 

Iranian engineer starts own business

Mahboob Bolandi, who came to Canada from Iran in 2008 on a student visa, keeps himself motivated by not losing the big picture about the future of his business, Texers Inc.: “I always think of the objective and the success I will face and I will achieve through hard work. It has helped me to do and go forward.” 

He started his ceramic materials business after he took the Entrepreneurship Connections program ACCES Employment in June 2014. Texers specializes in technical ceramics used in high technology, engineering or medical applications.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I was doing everything by myself… doing accounting, doing a website, doing social media.”[/quote]

Starting his own business meant a lot of work because he was the only person running it: “I was doing everything by myself [. . .] doing accounting, doing a website, doing social media [. . .] Now I have enough time to focus on real business and growing the business.” 

Bolandi gained valuable insight into contributing to Canadian society by serving as a board member on non-profit organizations, particularly those that were serving newcomers.

“But I’m thinking out of box now […] that being useful to your society, to your community, to serve your country does not necessarily mean doing something related to what you studied,” he notes.

Hire yourself if no one hires you

When Rene C. Berrospi first came to Canada from Lima, Peru in July 2011, he had more than a decade of international experience in immigration law, but he couldn’t find an entry-level position.

His solution was to start his own consulting firm: A&R Global Consulting.

There weren’t any programs to help immigrants with starting their own business, Berrospi says. 

Luckily, he was able to get a business plan in place: “Because I have a legal background, I did my research … people without a legal background … have no idea … what kind of legal structure they need,” Berrospi says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“This is the advice I also give my clients: If no one wants to hire, hire yourself."[/quote]

Another challenge is adapting to marketing in North America: “The marketing is different in North America than other countries so you have to adapt to that too and what kind of market you will have.” 

“I [started] with two clients from two different countries. Now I’m helping a lot of different people from different backgrounds and nationalities. The Toronto Region Immigrant Employment Council chose me because part of the business I’m running [is] an internship program for young Canadians,” he says.

In addition to securing clients from all over the world — Korea, Ireland, Indian, Hungary, Romania, Brazil, Argentina — four of his interns have found work in legal or consulting firms.

Berrospi warns that entrepreneurship is not a nine-to-five job: “I’m very busy. I cannot complain.” 

He advises new immigrants looking to become entrepreneurs not to be scared. As history has shown, he thinks there are a lot of opportunities to do business in Canada: “This is the advice I also give my clients: If no one wants to hire, hire yourself.”  

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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. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“You live here, you’ve worked here all your life, but you’re not a citizen.”[/quote]

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.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“The Ward was considered an undesirable place; it had a bad reputation.”[/quote]

“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.”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Chinatown will endure because it knows how to adapt to survive.”[/quote]

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.”

 

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by Danica Samuel in Toronto 

When Sheema Khan told audience members at the Aga Khan Museum that the men sitting at one of her last lectures refused to face her, the entire room cringed.

Khan, a Globe & Mail columnist, author and women’s activist, says that she became a activist and feminist because of the Muslim community and this kind of behaviour.

For Aga Khan’s lecture series “Islam in the 21st Century,” Khan spoke on the challenges and opportunities of being a woman, muslim and Canadian. 

Known for her fiery columns and controversial discussions on the perception of women in the Islamic community, Khan centred her talk around her latest book “Of Hockey and Hijab: New Reflections.”

Dr. Ruba Kana’an, head of Education and Scholarly Programs at Aga Khan, organized the event that had 250 audience members in attendance.

The topic was chosen amongst many that the Aga Khan visiting survey uncovered, but Kana’an said such a controversial topic was sure to pique the interest of many people within and outside of the Muslim community.

“The issues of women, gender [equality] and the perception of women [are] questions we always ask,” says Kana’an. “It’s important to address these issues especially with how much misconception and misunderstanding there is between patriarchy and religion. It’s a topic to bring to the public.”

Muslim women’s unhappiness in Canada

The highlights of Khan’s lecture related to the statistics that started off her talk, which she used to discuss how unhappy and targeted Muslim-Canadian women felt.

In the Environics Survey 2016, 42 per cent of Muslim women said they felt discriminated against. Of that percentage, 60 per cent wore a head covering and 40 per cent did not. Compare this to Muslim men, of whom only 27 per cent said they experienced discrimination.

Khan says this treatment leads Muslim women in Canada to be unhappy and concerned. 

“More Muslim women than men worry about how Canadians view Muslims. They are far more pessimistic than men are,” she says. “They worry about how Muslims are portrayed in the media, stereotyping their neighbours and wondering if the the next generation will face more difficulties than they do. ”

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“More Muslim women than men worry about how Canadians view Muslims."[/quote]

One of the members of the audience, Judy Csillag, who has been doing interfaith and intercultural work for over 35 years, says that these worries could stem from the fact that mothers and women see how prejudice affects their children more than the men.

“Khan spoke a lot about how women don’t go to the mosque as much as men do. They are usually at home with the kids and involved in their children’s life,” Csillag says.  

To the contrary, Khan says part of the reason why Muslim men are happier is because they aren’t seen as inferior in Islamic society.

Experiences drive desire for change

Khan recalled a few experiences in her lifetime where she felt that men refused to acknowledge her as a scholar and speaker.

One circumstance, Khan recalls, happened in 1996 in Quebec. She was preparing to  speak at a Unity Dinner — a function put together by the Islamic community to address inequality in their community — when she heard that the more Conservative mosque had rejected the idea of having her speak. 

They didn’t think a women should speak in public, she explains.

“One of my muslim colleagues said, ‘Sheema don’t take it personally, it’s not you they’re against, it’s just women in general,’” Khan repeats, laughing with the audience.

She says that the views that conservative Muslim men have of women stems from their ignorance of the roles of women during the prophetic era. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]They didn’t think a women should speak in public, she explains.[/quote]

“There was one scholar, the late Abduhalim Abu Shaqqa: he was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. He [performed] very valuable research on Islamic women, which unfortunately is ignored in the Muslim world,” Khan explains.

“It took him ten years, but he looked at every single verse and narration that had to deal with women and, in conclusion, he found that the way women participated in society during the best era and generation is very different from what we see today in the Muslim world.”

The importance of women in the conversation

Kana’an says that hearing these stories is important for young immigrants looking to locate their experiences within a Canadian context. 

“One of the things that we are noticing [. . .] is that there is a happiness in the awareness of students, that they gain a sense that they matter, their history matters and that there is a worthwhile contribution they’ve made to the world at large,” she explains.

Csillag agrees, saying that as a refugee from Hungary, it was hard for her to settle in Canada.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Kana’an says that hearing these stories is important for young immigrants.[/quote]

“[How] pleased my heart is that women are starting to take the stage, and Aga Khan has been a godsend for women speaking as equals,” she comments. “What was fantastic is that so much of the audience is not Muslim, so people are reaching out and wanting to learn.”

For Csillag and Khan both, educating the younger generation is of utmost importance in order to fight radicalization and misconceptions.

 

“Being treated as an inferior human being is something no one should go through” says Khan. “I decided that I had to fight back. And by pushing back that’s how I gained my self respect. I’ve created a lot of controversy in my community, and I don’t mind because I’m thinking of the next generation.”

 

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by Eddie Ameh in Ottawa 

Elly Bollegraaf, 76, moved to Canada in 1951 with her family after most of her relatives were wiped out in one of the world’s worst genocides. Her father died in the notorious Sobibor concentration camp in German-occupied Poland.

Now, just 70 years after the end of the Second World War, new efforts are being made to preserve the stories of Bollegraaf and her fellow Holocaust survivors.

Carleton University’s Zelikovitz Centre for Jewish Studies, in partnership with the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship (CHES), have set up the Ottawa Holocaust Survivors project to preserve the stories and the testimonies of those who lived through the Holocaust.

“Its extremely important to document what we already have not documented for historical reasons,” Bollegraaf says.  

“We want people to learn from their past mistakes and if we don’t document these things, people will soon forget that they ever happened,” she adds.

Purpose of the project

The Ottawa Holocaust Survivors Testimony project seeks to ensure that Holocaust survivors in Ottawa have their accounts before, during and after the Holocaust documented in short videos and audios as well as written records. 

Mina Cohn, director of the Centre for Holocaust Education and Scholarship, says this project is very important not only for its historical significance, but for educational purposes.

“We decided to do this now because our survivors are aging, and because there are no replacements for their roles and positions, we decided to record them create short videos for presentations and research purposes,” Cohn says.

Most Holocaust survivors in Ottawa have been giving talks in schools and other places around the city since the ‘90s. Cohn says by sharing their experiences in schools, the stories of the survivors have become “an integrated part of history.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]New efforts are being made to preserve the stories of Bollegraaf and her fellow Holocaust survivors.[/quote]

These videos will therefore attempt to give personal testimonies of survivors during the Holocaust when the survivors are no longer able to go to the schools to share their experiences.

“The future generation will hear from the survivors themselves rather than somebody else,” Cohn says.

The project will film up to ten Holocaust survivors based in Ottawa who will tell their unique stories. Carleton University, through its crowdfunding platform Future Funder, intended to raise $7,500 for the project. They have raised over nine thousand dollars for the project within two weeks.

Cohn says, “The extra money will help us create more educational materials for teachers, and we’re very pleased.”

[youtube height="315" width="560"]https://youtu.be/6UEsQl7mODM[/youtube]

Memories of the war

Bollegraff was sent into hiding by her mother at a very young age when Jews were being attacked in the Netherlands in a small town of Mechelen. She recalls how she was made a part of a family that took her in. All the children in the family were older than her and the youngest was nine years her senior. 

“I hung around mainly with the mother of the family that hid me. I was mainly with her all the time,” she says.

Bollegraaf’s mother, Rhodea Shandler ,who died at the age of 88, wrote a book in 2007 chronicling her experiences of surviving the Holocaust and relocating to Canada. 

Shandler’s parents were killed at the Auschwitz concentration camp in German-occupied Poland during the Holocaust. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I hung around mainly with the mother of the family that hid me."[/quote]

She and her new husband moved to Canada when Bollegraaf was only nine years. 

Bollegraaf says documenting testimonies is one of the surest ways of making people know how serious the Holocaust was. She says she and the other survivors are “living history objects as survivors of the war.” 

Lessons from the past inform our present

Cohn says one lesson everybody must take from this project is the need to get involved. She says going forward, the youth especially has the arduous task of taking up challenges and roles of responsibility in order to affect decisions that are taken by people in authority.

“The younger generation is responsible for political elections, when something bad is happening they should be reacting,” she says.

“They should be involved in a way not to let things like the Holocaust happen again and not to be bystanders but active opposers to bad events,” Cohn adds.

Bollegraaf, a scientific evaluator of medical devices, says the system of admitting refugees from war torn countries has changed. She commends Canadian authorities for their efforts in admitting refugees. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“They should be involved in a way not to let things like the Holocaust happen again."[/quote]

In her mind, the world is more proactive today compared to the past when they watched people from other countries being persecuted. She says the developed world has learned a lot from mistakes of the past.

“When the Vietnamese boat people came in the ‘70s, 4,000 came to Ottawa alone,” Bollegraaf says. 

She continues, “Why? Because, when Jews were not allowed anywhere in the world when the war was raging, they were all murdered.”

She says a lot more needs to be done and that economically developed countries need to take more responsibility when dealing with refugee crises in order to avoid the mistakes of the Holocaust. 

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