Tuesday, 27 March 2018 04:07

Diversifying Canada's Literature

By: Tazeen Inam in Toronto, ON

Canadian literature continues to diversify as more stories look to include a wider range of content set locally and abroad. Language barriers, migration trauma, cultural discrepancies and family responsibilities; women authors of diaspora are defying the odds, breaking through different obstacles to have their voices heard.

Ayelet Tsabari and Fartumo Kusow are two examples of determined women whose journeys outline what so many must overcome to become Canadian authors. 

Breaking through Language Barriers 

Ayelet Tsabari, who is from Israel, worked as a Hebrew journalist until she came to Canada at the age of 25. Writing, she believes, completes her. But in what was once a strong suit, language now became a challenge, pushing Tsabari to stop writing altogether. She could speak and read English, however it took her about eight years to gain the confidence to start writing. 

Tsabari’s development started with her enrollment in a writing program, which she coupled with Canadian content she would read. As time passed, English began to flow into her work more naturally.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I realized that it’s not just language but it’s your heritage and even your mother tongue are still in you when you are writing in a new language." -Ayelet Tsabari[/quote] 

Tapping into her long lost passion, she began to create original pieces in the hopes of being published. But, to no avail as her lack of success prompted one of her teachers to suggest she read books other than Canadian literature. 

“I realized that it’s not just language but it’s your heritage and even your mother tongue are still in you when you are writing in a new language. So certain things didn’t work for the publishers,” Tsabari explains. 

Getting Published 

Tsabari broadened her scope and soon she was reading literature from an array of multicultural writers. This broke the prison that had withheld her imagination, allowing her to finally express her voice. 

“I just thought that if I started writing with that in my mind, just be you and do what you are and that’s what ended up getting me published,” she says.

Her dream came to fruition when her first book, "The Best Place on Earth", was published in 2013. The collection of short stories challenges the connection of spiritual heritage with modern life. Met with good reviews, it went on to win several distinctions, including the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and the New York Times Book Review Editor’s Choice. Feeding off her first book’s momentum, she is now working on her second. In addition, she is also currently working with immigrant writers at the Toronto Public Library to improve their writing skills. 

Unlikely Beginnings 

Fartumo Kusow was born to a farmer’s family in Somalia, as the seventh child. From a young age, she had difficulties establishing social connections with her peers and preferred to write instead.  

“Instead of socializing with them I always had a notebook in my hand, that my father gave me and I would write in the notebook,” Kusow recalls. 

As per Somali tradition, she married young, becoming a wife at the age of 16. Subsequently, this was also the same year her first fictional story was published in the national newspaper, where she worked. 

Her husband had a job in the Middle East, which kept them financially stable. But when the civil war started in 1990, she was forced to leave. Already pregnant with her third child, she immigrated to Canada with her then-husband and two children. 

Holding onto her dreams, Kusow knew that she wanted to become an author. 

Unfortunately, Somali is her first language, Arabic her second. And due to war, she had little to no transcripts that could prove her credentials. However, she didn’t give up, completing her Bachelor’s in English before going on to a teaching program in Windsor. She has now been teaching since 2000. 

Despite her successes, war trauma combined with move factors led to a failed marriage. She was left with no choice but to put her dream on hold as she filled the role of breadwinner for herself and her five children. 

As she supported the household, her inner writer continued to itch at her until she resumed writing in 2011. 

“When the kids are bit older and my career and my profession is [a] little more stable, I decided to spend an hour a day just to write something,” states Kusow. 

Perseverance trumps Rejection

Nothing could stop her, not even the 104 rejections could dare be a hurdle to her dream. Though she finished her fictional piece in about three years, it did not garner much publisher interest. Sleepless nights turned into frustration as she pondered the reasoning behind her struggles. Until she came to the realization that the rejections were not personal but rather that publishing was simply a business.

With this in mind, she persevered, eventually getting published in 2017, when she produced "Tale of a Boon’s Wife".

Reviews speak to Kusow’s ability to clearly depict the issues stemming from the traditional Somali caste system, while simultaneously detailing the sufferings of the country’s civil war.  

Kusow’s children are very proud of her and look up to her as a stronghold of leadership.

Though it has not been long since Canadian literature has started promoting more diverse content, its clear the industry is moving in the right direction. Several initiatives such as the Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) constantly take steps to ensure progress continues.

While both Tsabari and Fartamo are giving back to the community in the form of teaching, it is important to provide aspiring writers with the opportunities to develop their skills. Through mentorships and training the next generation of writers will make an even bigger impact on Canada’s literary landscape.


This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario" series. 

Published in Books

by Lucy L. Oneka in Toronto 

Writers of Japanese descent say their work is helping to fill gaps in Canada’s literary landscape. 

“When I was at university, the only way I could study a writer of colour was to take the Commonwealth Literature course, and that was a white professor pontificating about South Africa or other places around the world,” says author Terry Watada. 

“There was no such thing as Japanese-Canadian or Asian-Canadian/American writing.” 

Watada spoke as part of a panel on the Japanese Canadian Experience in Literature with fellow Japanese-Canadian writers Kerri Sakamoto, Leslie Shimotakahara and Lynne Kutsukake in Toronto during Asian Heritage Month. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“When I started in 1970, I was with a group of people who decided that it is a political act to call yourself a Japanese-Canadian writer . . .”[/quote]

Evolution of Japanese-Canadian literature 

Watada recalls how the Japanese community first reacted to the absence of their litrature in Canada by taking a stand and boldly declaring who they are. 

“When I started in 1970, I was with a group of people who decided that it is a political act to call yourself a Japanese-Canadian writer, an Asian-Canadian writer, and I think it was modelled on the Asian Americans who also did the same thing,” he says. 

Watada is a playwright, poet and novelist who has written about Japanese history – including experiences with immigration, internment, and Japanese and Buddhist traditions. 

“I am from the same generation as Terry [Watada],” says Sakamoto. “The way that people think about race is completely different now, but yes, I think it was a real act of reclamation to call yourself a Japanese-Canadian writer because you were mistaken for being a foreigner at that time. There were not as many Asians in Canada, so it was a real declaration of self.” 

“But that has changed over the years and I don’t believe anyone starts out by saying, ‘I am a Japanese-Canadian writer,’” Watada adds.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“I felt there was so much to write about that had not been written on the history of internment, and the experience of growing up with racism.”[/quote]

Reclaiming their history 

The panellists say the absence of Japanese voices in literature created a vacuum in the Japanese-Canadian narrative. 

“I felt there was so much to write about that had not been written on the history of internment, and the experience of growing up with racism,” Sakamoto explains, referring to the period during the Second World War when Japanese Canadians were removed from their homes and held in camps in British Columbia’s interior and Alberta. The Canadian government ordered their internment following Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Sakamoto’s first novel, The Electrical Field, tells the story of her own family members’ experiences with internment and the loss of their homes and businesses at the end of their detainment. 

“I felt like I wanted to express that more than just to be a writer,” she says. “I really wrote personally out of a sense of being able to express what I wasn’t seeing in literature or culture at all, at that time.” 

Shimotakahara, a fourth-generation Japanese Canadian, was also inspired to begin writing because of the lack of Japanese narrative and literature about the period of Japanese internment in Canada.  

“I think it comes from more of a personal struggle to understand that whole period of internment history that seemed to me, growing up, people in the family had very contradictory approaches towards,” Shimotakahara says. 

She won the 2012 Canada-Japan Literary Award for The Reading List: Literature, Love and Back Again, a memoir about how she used literature to gain a sense of direction in her life, and at the same time developed a bond with her father and deeper understanding of his past.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“So many things are universal, but some things are very unique to your own personal identity, and reading Japanese-Canadian literature allowed me to find a voice.”[/quote]

Inspiring each other

Reading was also a gateway to the past for author Lynne Kutsukake, who says she was impacted by the few Asian authors she found in North American literature.

“Long before I dared to start writing, I was a reader,” she says. “I remember in the 1970s [and] 1980s, how startling it was when I read for the first time Asian-American, Japanese-American, or Asian-Canadian writing.” 

She says that before then, the only way to study literature in Canada was to read mostly white Canadian authors. 

“I remember that the first Asian-American novel I ever read was by Maxine Hong Kingston,” she says, referring to the Chinese-American author and activist. “I was just blown away.” 

Both Sakamoto and Kutsukake say they were influenced by the writing of Japanese-Canadian author Joy Kogawa, whose novel Obasan tells the story of a Japanese-Canadian family who was persecuted during internment, from the perspective of a young child.

“Most readers read looking for something they can identify with,” says Kutsukake. “So many things are universal, but some things are very unique to your own personal identity, and reading Japanese-Canadian literature allowed me to find a voice.” 

Like Sakamoto and Kogawa, Kutsukake also writes about Japanese Canadian internment in her novel The Translation of Love. It tells the story of a family living in post-WWII Japan, after being exiled from Canada during the internment period.


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Published in Books

by George Abraham in Ottawa

I must confess that I came to Brown: What Being Brown in the World Today Means (To Everyone) and Kamal Al-Solaylee’s thesis as a skeptic. Growing up in India, everybody around me was brown – some lighter-skinned than others – but brown-ness has been a lifelong given.

Moving to Canada, I developed an appreciation for the tension between “white” and “black,” and then a little later, consciousness about indigenous people. Recently, #Blacklivesmatter and #Nativelivesmatter became popular Twitter hashtags, emblematic of a struggle for equality and justice.

The author of this book adds another group to the list of the aggrieved, perhaps calling for a #Brownlivesmatter movement.

Picking up Brown I asked myself, why does Al-Solaylee have to harp on yet another colour distinction?

He seemed to be calling for a new consciousness, “a challenge to white and black hegemony.” What baloney, I told myself. I sensed yet another author adept at milking victimhood for all it’s worth.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]I sensed yet another author adept at milking victimhood for all it’s worth.[/quote]

That would have been the essence of my take but for happenstance.

I read the main sections of Brown during a visit to India, which at the time was roiled by a rather bizarre series of attacks on African nationals staying there for university studies or business. While the political class appeared to be in denial, the national media were unsparing, labelling the attacks “pigment-based discrimination” and brazen racism.

I was shocked to read an African diplomat in New Delhi quoted as saying, “I realized after a while that the taunts of ‘monkey, monkey’ were aimed at me . . .” He was recounting how a group of youth would make primate-like sounds while he was jogging at a public park.

Not just black and white

The exhaustive reporting and commentary in India around these widespread attacks told me that we “brownies” were also capable of racism.

Secondly, it opened my eyes to the possibility suggested by Al-Solaylee: “[W]e are not as privileged as whites but not as criminalized as blacks.” There might be an in-between.

There is no denying that if whites form the top-tier of the world economy, browns and blacks occupy the bottom rungs. However, there is not enough in this book by the widely-published Ryerson University journalism professor to clearly distinguish between the fates of those born brown or black, although he goes to extraordinary lengths to support his basic point that skin colour is destiny.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“[W]e are not as privileged as whites but not as criminalized as blacks.”[/quote]

Brown, he says, serves as a metaphor for a distinct political experience that might include the following: a hyphenated immigrant identity (unlike the Irish and Italian, for example); suspicion at border crossings (perceived as “shifty”); a feeling of disenfranchisement and belonging to a new “global servant” class.

As an immigrant himself, Al-Solaylee pays particular attention to the internationally mobile brown folks who wish to leave the developing world, thereby “browning” the population of countries such as the U.S. and Canada.

Shades matter

The Yemen-born author is at his best when he hews close to the journalism for which he is most known. He cites data to show income disparities based on skin colour in societies such as Brazil (where browns or blacks earn 42.2 per cent less than whites), Sri Lanka and Trinidad.

This book also took him to the Philippines, Hong Kong, Qatar, the U.K. and the U.S. – all in an effort to demonstrate how being born brown inevitably means a life of modern slavery, dim economic prospects, and an endless effort to appear fairer through whitening creams and lotions.

There is, though, no effort to explain brown-on-brown discrimination in countries such as Qatar, where the Asian labour class and local Qataris share a common skin tone. Similarly, the notes from Britain most certainly discount the possibility of a Muslim brownie of Pakistani heritage being elected mayor of London.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]Al-Solaylee’s observations and conclusions throughout his travels can be rather facile and foregone, and lack the rigour one expects from a stellar journalist.[/quote]

The author applies the same woe-is-me-because-I’m-brown outlook to Canada. Jumping off some of the overheated rhetoric from the Conservative campaign during the October 2015 federal election, the author infers that “an anti-brown feeling has been gaining momentum, even in liberal Canada.” This, when he himself concedes that immigration to both Canada and the U.S. is predominantly brown.

Al-Solaylee’s observations and conclusions throughout his travels can be rather facile and foregone, and lack the rigour one expects from a stellar journalist. This one stuck out in particular: “Two black friends have suggested to me that the relatively light skin tones of Syrian refugees explain why Canadians have opened their wallets and homes so generously.”

I’m not sure if the author proves what he set out to demonstrate – that being brown predicts your life trajectory more than any other circumstance.

My own career has taken me to some of the very same countries that Al-Solaylee visited. I know first-hand that skin colour can be defining and shorthand for a “pigmentocracy,” in which white and fair is viewed as competent, while everybody else falls short.

I’d say Brown is a good read for those who are convinced they will never catch a break because the deck is forever stacked against them.

For everybody else, it is yet another thesis in search of a convincing argument.

George Abraham is the founder and publisher of New Canadian Media.

 


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Published in Books

by Florence Hwang in Regina 

Vivek Shraya does not mince words. In even this page is white, her language is visceral, and even the form of her poetry helps to draw attention to the sensitive issue of racism. 

Most of the poems in even this page is white are written in the style of spoken word poetry, and as such, the words can be quite shocking and blunt. Shraya’s debut collection of poems focuses on the physical entity of skin and racism, centring on the idea of being white and drawing upon current events and modern poetry. 

Conforming to racial roles 

She begins with her “white dreams,” describing how she was raised in a society that is predominantly white and how she tries to fit in. In exploring the idea of identity, Shraya includes the perspectives of a white person. 

She explores the word “skin,” its physical element, and its function. She points out that within “white,” there are a range of colours, such as fair and talc. 

The text hints at how Shraya must also conform to white society’s expectations before her views on racism can be heard.

In the poem “You are so articulate,” she explains that there is a standard she must meet in order to be considered normal in mainstream society. The poem is a checklist of steps that minorities are expected to follow in order to be considered successful in North American culture. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The text hints at how Shraya must also conform to white society’s expectations before her views on racism can be heard.[/quote]

In another checklist, Shraya reveals the things she, her mother, and her father had to do so that she could become a poet and express her thoughts in writing. Her father, for example, worked three jobs and sacrificed time with Shraya as a child to pay for her post-secondary education. 

The more the world makes her aware of her brownness, the more she focuses on how race and racism are connected to every aspect of her life. She writes about the ways her race intersects with her desirability, her desires, her gender, her religion, and how she connects or doesn't connect with others.  

Deciphering popular messages 

Shraya questions the actions of celebrities who have also confronted the topic of race through their work. In one poem, she lists reasons why Kanye West should be banned from performing at the Pan American Games closing ceremonies, which took place in Toronto, Ont., in 2015. 

Most of her reasons attack West’s character with words like “selfish” and “childish,” but also attack his talent, describing him as a terrible musician. The most interesting accusation against West is that he “will turn the games into a racism issue.”

It seems ironic that Shraya critiques him this way, when she seems to view most things through the lens of race as well. Shraya says her goal was to highlight how seemingly inoffensive and dismissible pop culture moments speak to systematic racism. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The more the world makes her aware of her brownness, the more she focuses on how race and racism are connected to every aspect of her life.[/quote]

In “Oscars So White,” she draws on the controversy of celebrities boycotting the Academy Awards for not nominating more non-white actors. In this poem, she points out contradictions, questioning whether the Academy should start nominating more non-white actors simply because of their skin colour. 

In another examination of miscommunication, Shraya describes the sounds heard at a Gay Pride event on June 24, 2015 – the voices of protesters, police, the main speaker, and those who were trying to silence the message. 

The main speaker’s message makes up the bulk of the text, but there are other voices present in the margins. Imagine the main speaker being talked over by the police, while listeners are shushing and trying to compete with the authorities to listen to the message.

Working together against racism 

In the middle of the book, Shraya records a discussion she has with four white women regarding racism, focusing on their white privilege, their awareness of other races, and their reaction to racism. One admits she recognizes that she is undereducated about anything outside “the white gaze” and “under-practised in talking about racism.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]In the end, Shraya says the most important thing is that a person listens and takes action against racism.[/quote]

The interview is interesting because most stories about racism are shared from the perspective of those who are targeted. These white friends of Shraya recognize there is a disparity between races, but admit they are sometimes afraid to do anything about it or not sure what to do in response. 

The author asks her friends to make an “allyship towards people of colour,” suggesting the need for white people to support the idea of eliminating racism or racist attitudes, rather than being divided against people of colour. 

In the end, Shraya says the most important thing is that a person listens and takes action against racism. She doesn’t indicate what kind of action, but that people should start by communicating to come to an understanding of the problem of race-based discrimination. 

While Shraya starts with discussing white dreams, she ends with brown dreams – the need to justify the pigment of her skin. In her note at the end of the book, she states that she wants this book to act as a catalyst for discussions about anti-black racism, as well as racism towards indigenous people who continue to face racial violence.

Florence Hwang used to work as a print journalist before becoming a media librarian. These days, she is also a freelance writer, whose work has been featured in several publications, including New Canadian Media. Outside of work, Florence spends her time making short films about her family history. 


{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Books

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.  

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Often, people write about their own cultural background and we want to bring Toronto to life through literature.”[/quote]

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. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“As a racialized person of colour, as an immigrant, you don’t really feel represented in the publishing world.”[/quote]

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. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“These questions arise regularly for her, particularly as she lives in such a racially-charged town as Georgina.”[/quote]

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. 


{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Books

by Melissa Shaw in Vancouver 

A new novel reflects on the experiences of Filipino Canadians through the story of one family, and aims to inspire newcomers to achieve their dreams. 

Eleanor Guerrero-Campbell’s novel, Stumbling Through Paradise: A Feast of Mercy for Manuel del Mundo, is a work of fiction inspired by the author's experiences working with immigrants. 

“Home – one's identity – is not geographic-based, it's not culture-based, it's not age-based. It's who you love and who loves you and who you care about and who cares about you,” says Guerrero-Campbell, who co-founded the non-profit organization Multicultural Helping House Society to assist newcomers with settlement, education, housing and employment in Vancouver, British Columbia.

“This is our home and we will never be torn when we think of home this way.” 

The story follows Josie and Manuel del Mundo's journey from the Philippines to Vancouver with their children. 

Manuel is a proud engineer who has trouble adjusting to his new work environment in Canada. Josie has a teaching background, but finds work as a cook and eventually becomes the chief executive officer of a catering company. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Home – one's identity – is not geographic-based, it's not culture-based, it's not age-based.”[/quote]

Manuel later helps a caregiver in distress, which leads to an affair. His son Bobby discovers his father's secret, resulting in the family's separation. 

After a confrontation between father and son, Manuel has a heart attack. The next section of the novel focuses on the lives of the older del Mundo children: Sonia, who faces racial discrimination, and Bobby, who becomes involved in a Filipino gang.

The third section of the book focuses on the youngest child, Manolita, who becomes involved in politics. 

Familiar stories 

“When I was reading the book, I had to stop for a little bit and wipe my tears. It really resonated with me as a newcomer in Canada,” says Irene Querubin, who was born in the Philippines and now hosts the Vancouver radio program The Filipino Edition. 

Querubin was emcee at the book’s launch at the Creekside Community Centre in Vancouver. The event featured dramatic readings by members of Anyone Can Act Theatre, which sponsored the launch. 

Vancouver-Kensington New Democratic Party member of legislative assembly (MLA), Mable Elmore, B.C.’s first MLA of Filipino descent, read Manolita's political campaign speech from the book. Elmore says the novel captures the challenges and struggles immigrants face in Canada, including racial tensions and underemployment. 

She says although the Filipino community in B.C. is relatively young, she has noticed increasing participation of Filipino immigrants in their community through literary work, council presentations and musical performances. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“When I was reading the book, I had to stop for a little bit and wipe my tears.”[/quote]

Challenges for Filipino youth

Among those using the arts to promote inter-cultural dialogue are members of DALOY-PUSO, a mentorship and arts program for Filipino newcomers in high school. The group, whose name means “flowing from the heart” in Tagalog, benefitted from proceeds collected at the launch. 

“The mom and the dad are working three jobs and they don't have a lot of supervision at home,” Vancouver School Board youth settlement worker Adrian Bontuyan says of young newcomers. 

He explains that many mothers come to Canada from the Philippines through the Caregiver Program, through which they provide childcare in Canadian homes. After working for 24 months or 3,900 hours, they can apply to become permanent residents and bring their family members to Canada if their application is approved. 

Bontuyan says he will read Stumbling Through Paradise to learn about how he can further support immigrant youth and start discussions to help them understand their parents’ experiences. 

“The aspect of mentorship that [Guerrero-Campbell] mentioned is very important, because the youth need someone to look up to as an example of success and basically someone that the youth can be comfortable with sharing his or her struggles of being a newcomer,” he says. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“They came all the way to achieve something and I want them to know that they can achieve their dreams.”[/quote]

Guerrero-Campbell also explores the idea of home through her young characters. The del Mundos' daughter Sonia finds belonging through the satisfying relationships she builds with people in the Philippines and in Canada. 

Empowering other newcomers 

Guerrero-Campbell says she hopes people who have read her book will discuss it with others and start a dialogue about the challenges immigrants face. 

“The one message I really want to convey is empowerment – for our newcomers to feel empowered,” she says. “They came all the way to achieve something and I want them to know that they can achieve their dreams.” 

Guerrero-Campbell came to Canada in the late 1970s with a master's degree in urban planning and regional planning from the Philippines. She was a planner for the City of Edmonton, Alberta, and continued to work in planning in Surrey, B.C. and Richmond, B.C. 

She helped author Hiring and Retaining Skilled Immigrants: A Cultural Competence Toolkit for B.C. human resources managers. Guerrero-Campbell was the CEO of the Minerva Foundation for BC Women and a co-convenor for the Vancouver Immigrant Partnership’s Access to Services strategy group. Stumbling Through Paradise is her first novel. 


{module NCM Blurb}

Published in Books

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.”


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Published in Books

by Shan Qiao in Toronto 

Canadian writers and educators are expressing a need for more children’s books about refugee and diaspora stories that reflect Canada’s diversity. 

“It was very difficult several years ago when we tried to promote diverse kids’ books,” says Sheila Koffman, who hosted the workshop “Diverse Kid Lit” at the first-ever Festival of Literary Diversity (FOLD) in Brampton, ON. Koffman has owned and managed Another Story Bookshop, an independent bookstore in Toronto, for nearly 30 years. 

“We started in a basement of a house,” she shares. “We went around [to] schools, doing presentations and selling books.”
 
When she first began as a bookseller, Koffman was the only one showcasing diverse books – an experience that she says was “very devastating” because of the criticism she faced and the challenge of low book sales.
 
Since then, things have improved. Her bookstore has received many invitations to do presentations at different school boards, who are now very welcoming of Koffman’s diverse children's literature.  

Stories of Canada’s kids

“There weren’t nearly enough diverse kids books in Canada,” Koffman says, adding she still relies on diverse children’s literature from England and the United States to stock her shelves. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We have a lot diverse children books in Canada, but we need more.”[/quote]

“We have a lot diverse children books in Canada, but we need more,” says author and educator Nadia Hohn.
 
At the workshop, Hohn presented her children’s picture book Malaika’s Costume, a story loosely based on her childhood. The story starts with the first Caribbean Carnival that Malaika attends as a child 
after she moved to Canada with her mother. Hohn explains that many children, like Malaika, have come to Canada with their parents who must find work abroad to provide for their family.

“This is a fact for so many kids, not only Caribbean kids, but kids from so many ethnicities . . .” explains Hohn. “Growing up in Canada, a lot of children don’t know about how some of their classmates live. That’s their reality.” 

From Joseph’s Big Ride, about a child refugee’s bicycle dream, to Sex Is a Funny Word, which is about gender identity, human bodies and sexuality, Koffman introduced a few examples of diverse children’s literature authored or published by Canadians.
 
She says there are not enough books for youth that discuss mental health – particularly mental health issues affecting immigrants and refugees.
 
Jael Richardson, Artistic Director of FOLD, introduced her new children’s book The Stone Thrower along with illustrator Matt James.
 
Based on a true story, The Stone Thrower tells of how Richardson’s father, Chuck Ealey, grew up in a poor and racially segregated community in Ohio and found refuge in Canada. The book’s cover features a photo of a young, Black man throwing a football. Ealey eventually became a professional player in the Canadian Football League.
 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Most authors have full-time jobs and are doing this on the side.”[/quote]

Supporting independent authors

Hohn attended Koffman’s presentation as the founder of Sankofa, a collective of authors of African and Caribbean descent. 

“I try to learn as much as I can to help me as an author and a writer,” explains Hohn. 

She says authors from diverse backgrounds need support to write books that fit the needs of children.

“Most authors have full-time jobs and are doing this on the side,” Hohn explains. “Especially if you are self-published, you are paying for everything out-of-pocket.”

She adds that self-published writers face the additional challenge of not having their books showcased in certain bookstores and catalogues.

“Some libraries just started to accept some independently published books, so if most of the books published by Black authors are self-published and so many doors are closed, that means those books are not getting into where they need to,” she says.

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Those books are windows to other worlds for our kids to learn about lives of kids from other ethnicities or even in their own country.”[/quote]

Diverse literature gaining momentum 

Hohn says she teaches in a school that has a mandate to reflect Black or Caribbean history, and believes all schools should reflect the diversity of Canada in their books. 

“I don't think we should wait for the books to reflect the kids. Those books are windows to other worlds for our kids to learn about lives of kids from other ethnicities or even in their own country,” she explains. 
 
FOLD, which Richardson says started two years ago in a coffee shop in downtown Brampton, is working toward this.
 
“Over the past year, provincial and municipal organizations, Canadian publishers, industry professionals, local companies, and community partners have stepped up to bring nearly 40 authors and performers to Brampton, delivering more than 30 sessions and events that showcase diverse Canadian literary talent and provide training for emerging writers,” Richardson says.
 

FOLD’s inauguration took place from May 6 to 8.


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Published in Books

by Rosanna Haroutounian in Quebec City

A trip to an organic dairy farm in Ontario was enough to inspire a former Wall Street banker to launch a global search for better ways to treat farm animals. 

“This was an organic farm, but the cows still weren’t treated well,” recalls author Sonia Faruqi. “They were indoors two-thirds of the year and outdoors only one-third of the year, and while they were indoors, they were chained to stalls, which is really unnatural for cows, who are grazing animals.” 

After volunteering for two weeks at the dairy farm, Faruqi visited other Ontario farms, but not without resistance from farmers, who she says are part of a tightly knit community. 

“Everyone they know is a farmer, so if you’re someone who comes from a city, or who’s brown, or even a woman in a very male-dominated industry, you're immediately very different,” explains Faruqi, who was born in Pakistan and raised in the United Arab Emirates. 

She worked at an investment bank on Wall Street in the United States before the 2008 economic crisis, after which she joined her family who had just immigrated to Canada. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“Everyone they know is a farmer, so if you’re someone who comes from a city, or who’s brown, or even a woman in a very male-dominated industry, you're immediately very different.”[/quote]

Faruqi says she used her savings to visit and volunteer at farms in several countries, including the United States, Malaysia and Mexico. 

Her first book, Project Animal Farm: An Accidental Journey into the Secret World of Farming and the Truth About Our Food, documents her experiences abroad and what can be done to create a farming system that is better for farmers, animals and consumers. 

A world view on farming 

While Faruqi says she witnessed many examples of animals being mistreated, such as chickens being kept in overcrowded cages and pigs covered in their own feces, she also visited farms where animals were well treated and healthy. 

In Belize, Faruqi stayed on a farm with female Mennonite missionaries, who she says have a holistic view of the land and do not refer to raising livestock as agriculture or business, but as “animal husbandry.” 

She says the women named their cows and allowed them to graze in fields with ponds and other animals. 

“It was interesting for me to see that kind of affection for the animals and the land.”  

Faruqi also compared the farming practices between Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore to explore how industrialization affects the treatment of animals. 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“It’s all changed to an extremely industrialized, very low-cost system.”[/quote]

She explains that in Malaysia, which has recently experienced rapid economic growth, the popularity of fast food chains like KFC and McDonald’s has led to an increase in factory-farm practices, including artificial insemination, antibiotic use and corn-based diets. 

“It’s all changed to an extremely industrialized, very low-cost system,” she explains. “Local farms, breeds, and knowledge that people have of animals and of the land – all of it is eradicated.” 

By contrast, in Indonesia, which is less industrialized, Faruqi witnessed hens walking freely in villages that only visited their owners’ homes in the mornings for breakfast. 

“I noticed people walking their cows,” she adds. “It was interesting to see that bond that people have with animals.” 

She notes that at some of the farms she visited in Ontario, farmers didn’t visit their farms and relied on automated systems to update them on their animals. 

The many downsides to factory farming

Faruqi says that despite the downsides to factory farming, the government in Malaysia promotes fast food because it symbolizes industrialization and development. 

“The same way people wear jeans and listen to American music, they’re also eating American foods, which are hamburgers and fries and actually not good for you,” she says. 

“There’s tens of billions of farm animals in the world and most of them are being made to suffer to produce cheap food for people, who should not be eating that much meat, milk and eggs to begin with.” 

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“When people move here, they really want to integrate to the extent that they leave their own food heritage.”[/quote]

Faruqi says consumers have the power to promote good farming habits by eating less animal products and demanding that the animal products they do eat be produced in healthier ways. 

“There’s a misconception that you have to be white and wealthy to even think about this, which is not true, because in the end, everyone’s health is important.” 

A disproportionate impact on immigrants   

She notes that while language or income barriers might prevent newcomers from making healthy choices, many of them come to Canada practising healthy eating habits that they don’t retain. 

“When people move here, they really want to integrate to the extent that they leave their own food heritage.” 

The vegetarian diet that is popular in India is an example that Western societies can learn to value, she says. 

She notes that immigrants can also be disproportionately affected on the production side, because factory farms employ many immigrants in slaughterhouses. 

“Part of the reason is that these are jobs non-immigrants don’t want, for clear reasons,” she says. “Workers have mental and physical health issues, which are not really treated.” 

Faruqi advocates for more government oversight of factory farms and regulations to protect animal rights, as well as the inclusion of more women in agriculture. 

She says that under current laws in Canada and the U.S., a pig has the same rights as a table, “which is really ridiculous when you think about it, because one is an animate being with instincts and interests and desires, at the very least, to not suffer.”


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Published in Health

by Susan Korah in Ottawa

It was a book launch and discussion that should have taken place in Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, Tripoli or any other capital of the Arab world. 

Instead, it unfolded in Ottawa, capital of the land of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, as Lebanese-Canadian author Elie Mikhael Nasrallah pointed out to the audience at the launch of Hostage to History: The Cultural Collapse of the 21st Century Arab World.

Published by Friesen Press, Hostage to History is the latest book by Nasrallah, an Ottawa-based journalist, author, political commentator and immigration consultant.

Approximately 150 people – mostly Lebanese Canadians – gathered at the St. Elias Centre for the book launch.

Arab World in decline

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]The central thesis of Nasrallah’s book is that it is a cultural, not religious, failure that has sent the Arab world into a vortex of decline...[/quote]

“We have to stop blaming colonialism, or Zionism, or the foreigner and look deep within our own culture to explain the turmoil in the Middle East,” Nasrallah told the audience, emphasizing that the pen may be mightier than the sword in places like Canada, where freedom of expression is enshrined in law and respected by the population.

The central thesis of Nasrallah’s book is that it is a cultural, not religious, failure that has sent the Arab world into a vortex of decline and chaos after a brief period of glory between the 7th and 13th centuries, when its civilization reigned supreme.

“Indeed, the Arab world of that period was in a similar situation to the U.S. today,” said Nasrallah. “It was the world’s super-power.”

According to the book, if there is one central cause for the decline and fall of a once proud civilization, it is the triumph of anti-rationalist thinking during the final years of the Abbasid Caliphate, a dynasty of the Muslim Empire. This resulted in a suspension of rational inquiry and reasoning in the Arab world.

Several factors led to the decline and fall of the Abbasid Dynasty and along with it, the collapse of rational thinking processes. These included a weakening leadership, the loss of control over distant territories, corruption and economic stagnation.

“After 1513, with the arrival of the Ottoman Turks, Arab civilization fell into a coma,” said Nasrallah, adding that after World War I and the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, the Arab heartland sank into an even deeper black hole.

Nasrallah went on to give a list of factors that he says underlie the current malaise in the Middle East. Lack of access to education and literacy skills for women; misunderstandings about the concept of freedom; lack of separation between religion and state; dependency on oil with no economic diversification; and kinship, family and clan preventing the creation of civil society institutions are among the reasons he listed.

Imam Sheikh Haitham Hujaij of the Ahlul-Bayt Centre in Ottawa said colonialism, as well as the factors cited by Nasrallah, have played a role in the upheavals of the Middle East.

Arab culture needs own enlightenment

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We don’t need to copy the European model, but we need to wash the dust off from ourselves and do a mental spring cleaning.”[/quote]

Hostage to History not only provides a diagnosis of the ailments of contemporary Arab society. It also offers a prescription.

“To get out of this black hole, we need to form a cohesive group of Arabs of all faiths and start a cultural revolution, a return to Ijtihad,” Nasrallah said, citing the term in Islamic law that refers to critical thinking.

“Here, in Canada, we are living with the benefits of the Enlightenment, and we can start the process here with conversations like this,” he added, referring to the European intellectual movement that began in the late 17th century and emphasized reason and individualism.

“We need a reformation, a cultural revolution of our own, within the confines of our own culture,” he continued. “We don’t need to copy the European model, but we need to wash the dust off from ourselves and do a mental spring cleaning.”

Bridging the East and the West

[quote align="center" color="#999999"]“We don’t want to be just tolerated. We need acceptance as part of the Canadian family.”[/quote]

Daniel Nassrallah, the Ottawa-born lawyer whose firm DNG Nassrallah Law Offices sponsored the event, said that the book launch was the first of a speaker series that he will be organizing to give a voice to the Arab community and to generate discussion.

He added that events like this could help to raise awareness of the Arab diaspora within the larger community. He explained that although Canada is a great country, negative stereotypes concerning Arabs persist and that it is important to break them.

“We need to overcome the ‘us’ versus ‘them’ mentality,” he emphasized. “We don’t want to be just tolerated. We need acceptance as part of the Canadian family."

Ottawa City Councillor Eli El-Chantiry also referred to negative stereotyping, saying “We need to be out there and challenge these.” He praised the author and his work as a “bridge between the East and West.”


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