Displaying items by tag: Tazeen Inam - New Canadian Media
New Canadian Media
Tuesday, 27 March 2018 00:07

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.

“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
 

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: Tazeen Inam in Toronto, ON

Women’s voices and their participation in every aspect of society are more vital than ever. The Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom, is a female-only group formed in the US in 2010. The Toronto group formed after Trump’s inauguration of November 8, 2016 to address the expected threat to religious minorities in Canada.

Led by Cynthia Levine-Rasky, a sociology professor at Queen’s University, and Sabreena Ghaffar-Siddiqui, a doctoral student, the mission of SOSS is to build trust, respect, and relationships between Muslim and Jewish Canadian women. 

The Toronto group received an overwhelming response and in less than a year, it grew to around 100 active members from both faiths. They are from all walks of life, diverse in age, religious identity and practice, as well as political outlook. The group’s members commit to working together to limit acts of anti-Muslim and anti-Jewish sentiment. They stand up to hate against one another and engage in social action work to benefit their communities.  

Group Gatherings and Activities  

In monthly gatherings held in members’ homes, these women talk about issues of shared concern: experiences, challenges, and recent events. They also plan activities of mutual interest. 

Tamara Rebick, who with Tazeen Alam co-leads the North York circle, shared her experience. For Rebick, SOSS is a place where passionate and exceptional women sit together and “have authentic, meaningful and complex conversations for the purposes of learning and fostering respect, understanding and friendship.”  

The women do not share the same degree of religious knowledge. In fact, many describe themselves as secular and as not particularly knowledgeable. As a result, there are opportunities for sisters of both faiths to teach one another about each religion's teachings, customs, culture and traditions. 

In their sessions, the host sisters create an opportunity for all sisters, Jewish and Muslim alike, to learn about important customs within their faiths.  Last year, Jewish sisters hosted a Women's Seder during the Jewish holiday of Passover.  

The Muslim sisters hosted an Eid Brunch featuring regional culinary foods, and one of the sister's sons built a model version of Al-Masjid al-Haram while Muslim sisters taught the group about the customs and background of Hajj.  

This year, the group will be celebrating the Moroccan Jewish custom of Mimouna. (A Moroccan Jewish custom, Mimouna demonstrates the close relationship that existed between Jews and Muslims in the region early in the 20th century).   

Since most Jewish sisters currently involved in the Toronto area are from Ashkenazic (Eastern and Central European) descent, they have never celebrated Mimouna. 

As a result, this year's event is being hosted by a team of Jewish and Muslim sisters who are learning about the custom together and preparing an experience where everyone will commemorate this beautiful celebration of neighbourliness. 

Connection with Intentionality is Natural  

Talking about the historical antagonism between Muslim and Jewish people and the idea that they may be “natural enemies,” the group leaders disagreed. “This is nothing but a spurious assumption…there is nothing natural about hatred towards someone you do not know,” says Ghaffar-Siddiqui.  

“What is more natural is how quickly people will find things in common and become friends, despite religious or cultural differences, if put in the same room together,” she adds. 

“Connection and camaraderie are more natural than antagonism, and simply require intentionality and opportunity to flourish,” says Levine-Rasky.  

Rebick believes that fear and ignorance feed much of the silos that exist in our communities. “There is more we don't know about one another than what we do know, and that leads to dangerous assumptions and unfounded and erroneous conclusions,” she explains. 

Tying back to exactly why she wanted to be a part of this group and has become so committed to it.  “I love learning about what I don't know, from someone who might be considered as, ‘the other,’ ” Rebick states.  

According to both leaders, the Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom represents the power in building strong bonds between Jewish and Muslim Canadian women. Simply standing together makes a powerful political statement for change, they say.  

“When the opportunity arises, we stand together to fight anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim hatred in public spaces, in our public institutions, and wherever the need arises” says Levine-Rasky.  

Modelling for Future Generations  

The emphasis is on allyship and learning what actions and qualities create meaningful, effective and lasting allies — in the good times and bad. Rebick is encouraging her daughters to become familiar with the group. She wants them each to glean important values and lessons from a group like this one — about growing up as strong and accomplished women in their community, how to identify, manage and address adversity and ignorance, about the need for community and friendship, and about living beyond one’s comfortable and familiar bubble.  

Levine-Rasky confirms that there has been a long-standing interest to create a SOSS circle for members’ teenage daughters. They are currently seeking qualified co-leaders for this initiative.  

“The potential impact is extraordinarily positive since youthful relationships may continue well into adulthood, shaping decisions and values that are established at this critical age,” she added.  

Ghaffar-Siddiqui believes, “The youth circle will be essential to ensuring this interfaith movement continues to grow and have a positive present and future impact on society.”  

As Ghaffar-Siddiqui explained, “In whichever role a woman operates — mother, entrepreneur, teacher, community worker, etc.— she has a unique ability to spread light and awareness to whomever she interacts with, whether children, co-workers, employees, or community members. This is why the Sisterhood is so important. Each sister brings a unique and important perspective to gatherings and conversations. What is even more important, however, is how far and wide our message of love and humanity travels, as each sister spreads it in her own unique way”.


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

Published in Top Stories
Monday, 12 February 2018 20:46

Understanding the Roots of Abuse

By: Tazeen Inam in Toronto, ON

One woman is murdered in Canada every six days, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation. This statistic belies what's been happening in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) since the beginning of 2018: there has been a dramatic increase in female homicides, with five women killed in a span of six days.

Three were from the Peel Region, one from Halton and another from the Hamilton Region; all at the hands of their male partners.  

Sharon Floyd, Executive Director of Interim Place in Mississauga, calls it “horrific” and says that there is “no specific cookie cutter that can tell what abuse looks like.”

“Women are murdered because they are women, they are not valued in their families and their voices are not heard,” she added.

In the midst of volatile situations, many women often turn to the shelter system which provides a safe haven for thousands annually. And although it may seem like a viable option for many, a lack of resources can force many shelters to turn away prospective residents in need.

The thought can be alarming, considering that in Ontario, 65 per cent of female shelter residents were fleeing emotional abuse and 46 per cent were escaping physical abuse.

Immigrant women more vulnerable

For women who have immigrated from countries that do not share the same gender-neutral values, abuse can manifest itself at even more alarming rates. Studies show that "immigrant women may be more vulnerable to domestic violence due to economic dependence, language barriers, and a lack of knowledge about community resources."

Canada is fraught with examples of this exact scenario and Samira Farah (name changed to protect victim's identity), a Bengali immigrant, endured many forms of abuse before finally finding access to the resources needed to remove herself from a potentially dangerous situation. Following an arranged marriage in Bangladesh, Farah immediately migrated to the U. S. before settling in Canada with her husband. Throughout their 10-year marriage, she was bombarded with emotional, physical, sexual and financial abuse.

Her husband asked Farah to obtain money ($50,000) from her father to pay-off his own debt, but she refused. Instead, she resorted to jobs as a salon worker in a failed attempt to raise money.

Even through emotional abuse and intimidation by her in-laws, Farah gave birth to a baby boy in 2003. Despite the trauma she had experienced, which included multiple miscarriages, positive thinking allowed her to find solace in her newborn.  

Seeking help

However, her husband did not share her joy. With an eye on Farah's inheritance, he tortured her with threats of murder in isolated barren areas. Going as far as physical abuse with a knife in the presence of their then three-year-old son, she knew she had to make a change.

Farah struggled in silence to improve her marriage by opting for marriage counselling. Her counsellor suggested she call the police and later referred her to a shelter home.

“I didn’t want my son to grow in this violent environment, I want to teach him respect for women and that’s when I decided for divorce,” Farah says bravely.

Canadians spend roughly $7.4 billion annually to deal with the aftermath of spousal violence alone

Every victim is different, however, their aspirations are revived when “they hear that they are not alone”, explains Floyd, who runs a crisis centre for women. “With some initial counselling they learn that it’s not their fault and women are not to blame; this is more of a societal issue.”

Raising Awareness

Farah initially started her mobile beauty spa to make ends meet. But in the process, she has met women from diverse cultures who have been through varied kinds of trauma inflicted by their intimate partners.

She believes that sharing stories with others has helped many alleviate the trauma they have endured.

“I am not the only person who has gone through this, [there are] worse stories out there, but that little bit [of] light of hope can change a lot of things,” Farah says.

Working in different sales and marketing departments, she has now been able to gradually regain her self-esteem. With the support of her co-workers, instructors and mentors she has even followed through on previous plans to further her studies by enrolling in a College program.

“Besides taking action on divorce and get[ting] out of that relationship, I am capable of doing anything that is possible in life,” she says with new confidence.

A woman's self-worth

Generally, it takes a woman 6-7 attempts before she actually pulls away from a relationship because they are not sure of the abuse.Especially when the perpetrator is controlling, it’s important to note that a woman’s security risk doubles when she decides to leave.

Nancy Gibbs, a professor of Community Social Work at triOS College, suggests that education, information and a safety plan must be readily available. Working with victims for over 25 years, she maintains that only through greater public awareness will there be more consistency on what actually constitutes abuse.

“Advertising, blasting social media with what is available to women and what abuse looks like,” she explains, are great ways to spread the word. “It’s important to educate [a] woman [on] her own personal value.” 

What one person would call abuse, another may refer to as just normal behaviour. Gibbs concludes that creating consistency in what is considered acceptable behaviour, stands as one of the first steps to eliminating abuse and ensuring a safer Canada for all. 


This piece is part of the "Ethnic Women as Active Participants in Ontario" series. Writers interested in participating are encouraged to join the NCM Collective for an opportunity. 

Published in Health
Saturday, 13 May 2017 20:30

To Understand a Culture, Read the Women

by Tazeen Inam in Brampton

Canadian woman authors believe that our society tends to equate femininity with a sense of flawlessness. Women have to be impossibly perfect in so many different ways that it’s just another way of imposing oppression on them.

“I really want to show about my characters that it’s not a bad thing to fail, it’s not a bad thing to make mistakes,” says Sarah Raughley, author of the "Fate of Flames".

Raughley longed to work with characters who have the courage to pick themselves up when they fall, in contrast with setting up ideals for women that are very difficult to live up to.

Striking a balance between strength and frailty 

Her characters are not everyday superheroes. Four teenage girls are the only people who can save the world from the massive beasts who are terrorizing the world. One girl stands for each element: fire, wind, air, and water.

“But they don’t have those masks on their faces, everyone knows who they are," Raughley explains.

Her characters are criticized for being too whiny and annoying because they make mistakes, they fight too much, they are weak and make many mistakes.  

“So I was thinking that what are the expectations for women? Especially since these are teen girls, they haven’t figure out themselves, let alone having to carry this huge destiny to fight giant monsters,” she added.  

At the Festival of Literary Diversity, in Brampton, ON, the panel of “Wonder Women” featured authors of young adult literature. They spoke about the protagonists from their stories, stressing that strength is not the same as perfection. But rather that it is in the courage to rise up from devastation and defy all odds by reaching your destination.

Shoilee Khan, the panel moderator, opened the discussion introducing the protagonists of the selected books as women of the present, who everyone aspires to be or would like to befriend.  

“They are fierce, they are stoic, but they are tender and they have this enigmatic aura of cool about them,” she says.

She said that there is a dichotomy of softness and strength exhibited by the characters, that can be translated into real life situations women face everyday.  

“They rise up against obstacles not with complete fearlessness but with a magnetic combination of illation and frailty, first for themselves and then through that self-respect, serve their communities in profound and integral ways,” Khan added.

Seeking protection with intimacy 

The panel then discussed a character with an arsenal of dangerous and desirable skills: Kai Cheng Thom’s Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liar: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir.

Thom is a writer, performer and psychotherapist. 

Thom’s unnamed protagonist is a martial arts expert who runs away from her abusive parents’ house. Raised in a city called "Gloom", she escapes to the glamorous and dangerous "City of Smoke and Lights" where she is forced into oppressive factory work governed by a racist system of castes. However she is able to find herself as a trans-Asian femme and finds a community with other trans-femmes. 

Thom suggested that for transgenders there is something about femininity that’s degrading all the time, that they are weak and hyper-sensitive. But her book starts with this really intense physical strength as opposed to a trans-woman that is helpless and constantly subjected to violence. 

The protagonist loves using her strength, power and speed, until she encounters Kimaya. A mother figure whose nurturing personality is unable to mask her fierce power, Kimaya serves as a mentor figure that helps her realize that there are different kinds of strength. 

She discovers a desire for safety and a longing for closeness but struggles to have intimacy that is also safe. 

“That’s the journey that my character takes and I found out in my life too,” says Thom. 

"Manning up"

Another panelist, M-E Girard in her debut novel, sought a balance in her character when she puts them together with a combination of femininity and masculinity. 

M-E Girard is a YA fiction writer and a proud feminist, her debut novel is "GIRL MANS UP". Her lesbian character, Pen, wrestles with the external pressures societal norms bestow upon her when she exhibits both masculine and feminine qualities.

Although she is a strong protagonist and her choice of clothing and friends makes her imperfect and independent, all Pen wants is to be the kind of girl she’s always been. Pen realizes that respect and loyalty are hollow words, and in order to be who she truly wants to be, she’ll have to "man up".

“My character is tender in some ways and she is also fierce and strong in her own way. Some of it [is] modeled after her masculine ideal and some of it is modeled [after] her feminine ideal. So it’s kind of a big mess,” says Girard. 

Celebrating Canada's 150th anniversary this year, founder and creative director of FOLD, Jael Richardson, says that she was inspired by the famous indigenous writer, Lee Maracle’s quote “if you want to understand the heart of the culture, read the women”. Richardson observed that at every session or panel, the audience was touched by something they weren’t expecting to hear.

“They are always surprised by the wealth of stories, writers and ideas they encounter, and it’s really powerful because that’s when real change happens,” she added.

The second annual FOLD festival was held from May 4 - 7 and hopes to bring change by highlighting the voices of women authors who offer a different perspective.

Published in Arts & Culture
Saturday, 11 March 2017 15:34

When Bigger is Better

by Tazeen Inam

For 21-year-old Mahnoor Baig, who grew up in Mississauga, the guest list for her wedding came as a shock. It included many people she had never met before, and numbered in the hundreds. But her parents insisted they wanted to invite people from every corner of the world to their only daughter’s celebration.

Though younger Pakistanis tend to be more modest in their approach, older generations see weddings as an once-in-a-lifetime affair, to be celebrated extravagantly. Industry insiders say that community members compete to outdo each other in a bid to wow attendees, designing events to be remembered and discussed long after the couple has returned from their honeymoon.

What followed were intense negotiations between parents and daughter. “The final list had only 5 per cent [of guests] that I had not met before,” Baig says. Her husband, Farhan Khan, a physician, is also not very fond of crowded weddings, but understood why so many were invited. “It’s a social gathering that reunites people who’ve been separated for a long time. It was a new experience for me, and in the end, I didn’t mind it as I met lot of people from both sides.” 

They wound up hosting 350 guests at their reception at the Burlington Convention Centre, with some coming in from other parts of Canada, Pakistan, the U.S., and the U.K.

Compared to the average cost of a Canadian wedding — $30,717, including honeymoon — Pakistani celebrations can run between $50,000 and $200,000, according to Roxy Zapala, founder and creative director of Art of Celebrations, who has been planning weddings for 15 years.

For Baig's parents and others like them, a month-long celebration is a small investment to mark the beginning of a lifelong commitment, much like making a down payment on a house. Days are spent shopping, finalizing vendors, and dropping off invitations, while on the weekends close family and friends are invited for tea or dinner. They play the dholki — a large-skinned drum that is struck with a metal spoon — sing traditional songs extolling the bride and groom, apply henna, exchange gifts, and plan for the big day. 

Shahnaz Shah, an obstetrician and gynecologist who immigrated to Canada from the U.K. in 2000, blew her son Rehan away with a grand reception held at Toronto's Casa Loma.  “I knew that my mother [was] going to do something extra for me," Rehan says, "but I never expected it to be this grand.”

“We had bhangra [music], belly dancers, a dance floor, and piano playing too. It was a combination with exquisite decor, to keep my guests occupied with fun-filled activities," Shah recalls. "People are still talking about how well it was organized.”

Other than lavish food and entertainment, the bridal dress (typically red) and jewellry consume a lot of the budget. Yellow or white gold is embedded with diamonds, pearls, or precious stones, and usually customized to match the wedding outfit. Special dresses for the immediate family, outfits for the groom, and an exchange of presents between the families add to the costs.

Competition to provide these services is intense. “There were only a few shops in the Toronto area when I started business 20 years ago," says Erum Ahmed, owner of Erum’s Creations, and a dress designer who caters primarily to the Pakistani immigrant community. "Now there are more than 50 good designer outlets selling traditional, customized bridal dresses.”

Makeup and hairstyling add to the budget as well. Makeup artists such as Aneela Gardezi, who has many years of experience working with Pakistani-Canadian families, says completing a bride's look in the traditional style can cost anywhere between $1,000 and $1,500. “Pakistani makeup is famous for its heaviness," she explains, "so those who opt for total transformation of complexion and features need extra material.”

Baig went for a natural look that suited her pastel outfit. But she had to pay extra for her hijab and dupatta (veil). “Everyone is not an expert on setting bridal hijab," she says. "I called someone at the makeup studio to do the job for me, and obviously I had to pay her extra.” 

All this preparation needs to be documented too. This can include drone cinematography to provide a 360-degree aerial view of the wedding, which can run between $1,500 and $4,500 per shoot, according to Zapala.

Khawaja tried it out at her choreographed Burlington Convention Centre event. “It’s like creating virtual reality for us and for those who missed parts of the wedding. The drone costs us a bit more, but it lent a new perspective and thrilled my guests.”

It's just the latest trend as a community attempts to meld tradition with modernity in a new land.


Tazeen Inam is a freelance journalist with New Canadian Media and Muslim Link based in Mississauga, Ontario.

This story is the product of a partnership between TVO.org and New Canadian Media.

Published in Arts & Culture

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

Sports has the ability to unite Canada, show the recently released findings of an Association for Canadian Studies survey.

“A majority of Canadians agree that sports break down linguistic and cultural barriers to unite people,” the report states.

In Canada, immigrants from different countries and origins also bring with them some of their own favourite sports.

Dr. John Shields, interim academic director at Ryerson Centre for Immigration and Settlement (RCIS), highlights the growing popularity of cricket in Canada as an example.

“[There are a] lot of people coming from South Africa, Pakistan and India who are avid fans of cricket,” says Shields.

Immigrants from different countries and origins also bring with them some of their own favourite sports.

Sports history important to know

University of Toronto vice-president Bruce Kidd says including sports history in the country’s narrative is an important step in telling a complete story.

“If you don’t understand the role of sports in Canadian history, you missed an important part and your sense of Canadian history will be incomplete.”

For instance, Canadian national sports like lacrosse and hockey were part of the nation’s culture even before confederation. They were the outdoor games played by First Nations. Curling and golf arrived with Scottish immigrants in the 1600s.

Canadians also played important roles in the early beginnings of popular sports like football and basketball.

Kidd explains that when sports are adopted in Canada they are infused with Canadian values, skills and narratives.

“I would say that Canadians have put their own stamp on the games that we play.”

“I would say that Canadians have put their own stamp on the games that we play.”

Sports as a unifying force

Today, hockey alone can ignite patriotism throughout the country.

Jennifer Anderson, historian at the Canadian Museum of History, says hockey is often reflected in Canadian popular culture. Even those who are not enormous hockey fans come across cultural references to the game in everyday life through TV shows, books and children stories.

“Somewhere there is a link between the game and our culture, and I think it demonstrates the relationship that Canadians have to the game,” she explains.

While sports can be a unifying force, like other aspects of Canadian culture, it can also be divisive, says Kidd.

“During those times when Canadian teams made up of Anglophone and Francophone athletes lead internationally, it forges bilingualism and commonality,” he says.

However, he adds, “When you have the Canada games, which put efforts from each of the different provinces against each other, it may create rivalries on linguistic ground.”

Exclusion also part of sports history

While Shields says that sport “tends to bring people together in terms of common cause,” he points out there certainly has been a history of exclusion and racism in Canadian sports, too.

“Historically it was very hard for Aboriginal people to get into the professional hockey leagues, as was for Black people,” Shields says.

“Historically it was very hard for Aboriginal people to get into the professional hockey leagues, as was for Black people.”

Anderson explains that it’s not that First Nations people are dissatisfied with the way games like hockey and lacrosse have evolved; it’s more about the acknowledgement of their participation.

“They would like to be acknowledged as having participated in the game over an extended period of time,” she states. “Not just the beginning perhaps, not just the origin, but they continued to participate in the sport.”

Similarly, women have always been engaged in Canadian sports, but pre-Confederation, they were often barred from sports and had to participate informally.

Kidd says that women have gradually succeeded in winning opportunities for themselves in this area.

“I would say since the First World War, they played every sport that men played and today are an important, proud part of Canadian sports,” he adds.     

Anderson emphasizes that “this hasn’t always been acknowledged in the same way as men sports has.”

Increasing the media’s coverage of women’s sports has been a long-fought battle, and there have been movements and conversations about ensuring equality.

“Currently [women’s sport is] still underperforming in the kind of media coverage it gets,” Anderson says. “But I think social media has changed this to some degree and to some extent has shifted the way women sports is being covered.”

Sports have long been an important part of the Canadian economy, culture and education system, but experts like Anderson suggest that more efforts are required to promote equality in Canadian sports.

Specifically, they suggest we need to counter the growing cost of playing sports, ensure greater exposure of women’s sports and include more First Nations people in the national sports arena.

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

Published in History

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

Although a mass expulsion in 1755 resulted in their dispersal, the Acadians of present day New Brunswick and Nova Scotia remained undaunted and, upon their return, revived their cultural roots.

The Acadians are the descendants of 17th century French immigrants. For 100 years, they lived as a French colony called “Acadie.”

Under British rule since the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713, they did not want to bear arms in the event of war and were recognized as neutral subjects within the colony from 1730.

During the War of the Austrian Succession, Governor Charles Lawrence of Nova Scotia refused to trust them because of their religious and linguistic affiliation — Catholic and French. In 1755, the Acadians were deported in small groups to British and French colonies around the Atlantic.

“They (the British) saw them as an obstacle to the larger empire that they wanted to build in North America,” says Maurice Basque, a scientific advisor at the University of Moncton.

Several thousand Acadians died during deportation of illness, drowning and starvation.

Today, as a global strategy, Acadians are working to revitalize their traditions and bring back Acadians from around the world to their origin in Canada.

“[The] 300,000 Acadians that you find today in Atlantic Canada speak French on a daily basis and [call] themselves Acadians.”

The return of the Acadians

The Acadians were allowed to return after 1764 on humanitarian grounds. They rebuilt their villages in eastern Canada and began rebuilding their culture.

“[The] 300,000 Acadians that you find today in Atlantic Canada speak French on a daily basis and [call] themselves Acadians,” says Basque.

The Musée des Acadiens des Pubnicos et Centre de recherché in Pubnico-Ouest has preserved Acadian history and culture since 1653. It prominently features the Acadian craft of quilting.

“We have workshops and classes that we give to people who are interested in keeping the traditions alive,” says Bernice d’Entremont, museum coordinator.

With new techniques and sewing machines, quilting is not usually done the way it was 350 years ago. But at “Quilting Bees”, d’Entremont and others enthusiastically teach the art of hand quilting to a new generation.

 “There is a pride in doing the quilting and having it displayed,” she explains.

In eastern Canada, the Acadian flag proudly flies next to the Canadian flag.

Acadian revival

With time, Acadians have become “open-minded.” Basque says that they have proudly adopted Canadian identity. In eastern Canada, the Acadian flag proudly flies next to the Canadian flag.

Basque adds, “Canadian identity is very elastic.”

Now many Acadians work at the international level with Francophone organizations that focus on the youth. Association acadienne des artistes professionnel.le.s du Nouveau-Brunswick supports individual, French-speaking artistes and collectives.

The association, through its immigration initiatives, invites people to delve into Acadian artisan and take missions to other countries. 

René Cormier, president of the Société nationale de l’Acadie says, “We go to promote this region as the real region; we bring with us artists so the people of other countries can see, hear and feel what we are.”

They organize the World Acadian Congress every five years, which invites people from all over the world. The objective is to promote Acadian culture as an active and present part of the Canadian community.

“Our objective is to contribute to the development of Canada — what Acadian people can bring through the development of our culture,” says Cormier.

The group has members in almost all the provinces of Canada. They work for Francophones’ immigration that includes post-graduate students, young entrepreneurs and artisans.

Cormier adds, “We [are] really an organization that brings people together, not only to talk, but to work together.”

Future challenges

Among the challenges facing Acadians today is creating a closer relationship with the First Nations people of New Brunswick and helping them preserve their language.

“Acadians are Francophone and should understand, in my opinion, the wish of the First Nations to keep their languages, so the first languages of this continent won’t disappear,” says Marque.

It’s still mostly what we could call traditional white.”

Historically, the Acadians were allies of the Mi’kmaq and Maliseet First Nations who taught them how to survive extreme cold, dyke marshland, fish, farm, and locate spices and medicines.

“I must say as a historian that there is lots of goodwill, but concrete actions may be missing,” suggests Marque.

Acadians also need to build bridges with new groups that are arriving in Canada. New Brunswick is one of the least multicultural provinces in the country. “It’s still mostly what we could call traditional white,” Marque explains.

Marque concludes, “But the city I live [in], Moncton, is changing. More people that are arriving and settling here with different cultures, Acadians are now opting to the cultures of the world that are becoming part of their culture now.”

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

Published in History
Wednesday, 03 August 2016 22:40

Story Revisits Vietnamese Revenge Plot of 1908

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

Many leaders of the East who fought to decolonize their countries from Western authoritarian rule were also educated in the West. Upon returning home, they became trapped in a mental rift – they owed their education to the Western system, which also worked to colonize and ruin their countries and people.

This dichotomy is relatable to the main character of Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains, a novel by Canadian author Yasuko Thanh.

It was usually lawyers or social scientists who became leaders and policy-makers to fight rigid authoritarian powers. However, in Thanh’s story, a group of Vietnamese nationalists enlist their friend – the refined, educated Vietnamese physician Dr. Georges-Minh Nguyen – to poison the French general and his garrison.

Dr. Nguyen has a medical degree from Lycée Condorcet in Paris. What he owes to the French and how they’ve taken over Vietnam clash to carve rifts in his psyche and cause him to slowly go insane.

The close-knit group of friends makes up a revolutionary cell called the Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains. They plot revenge on the French for the oppression they forced upon the Vietnamese – an act they hope will send a message to the colonizers that revolution has begun in Vietnam.

“Most of the doubt was gone from his mind now. He was quite certain he could kill a man.”

Justifying revenge

The book is based on the true story of the Hanoi Poison Plot of 1908, which took place in Saigon.

Dr. Nguyen is overcome by the guilt of the prospect of killing someone, until his pregnant wife escapes a rape attempt by a French soldier.

“Though he hadn’t told [his friend] Khieu about the rape his anger about it had made him steely. Most of the doubt was gone from his mind now. He was quite certain he could kill a man. Part of him was looking forward to trying.”

Khieu, a determined member of the revolutionary group, has his mind set on plotting revenge. His commitment is what allows the plan to continue.

However, the plot is foiled when cooks at the garrison confess to it, providing the names, places and dates of the plan to a priest. This forces the Mysterious Fragrance of the Yellow Mountains members to flee to other provinces.

Dr. Nguyen avoids capture, but must leave his wife and his newborn son behind after they are caught by French soldiers.

“He’d never imagined kissing her for the last time. Not once. He’d never imagined last times for anything. He simply ran.”

It sheds light on how discrimination by French imperials aimed to make the Vietnamese feel shame and responsibility for their plight.

Laying blame

The book depicts the era of the French colonial period in Indochina, during which people were suffering from social deprivation and using drugs to quell their anguish. It sheds light on how discrimination by French imperials aimed to make the Vietnamese feel shame and responsibility for their plight.

Dr. Nguyen encounters a French doctor at the Centre for Infectious Disease Control to discuss the “Paddy Fever,” or yellow fever. He is taken aback when Dr. Michaut calls the Vietnamese “teachers of moral vice” because he believes they have “corrupted” the French soldiers.

“What was this man on about?” thinks Dr. Nguyen. “If only he didn’t need his help, his lab, his equipment, he’d pop him in the jaw.”

Instead, Dr. Nguyen suggests Vietnamese boys engage in prostitution in opium dens to pay for their own opium habits, or to acquire goods they can’t afford.

From the French doctor Michaut’s perspective, the offence is less evident: “I don’t include you in these comparisons. You studied in Paris, like me,” he says to Dr. Nguyen.

Vietnam’s colonial history reflects some of today’s challenges of occupation and abuse of people’s land.

Suffering under colonialism

Thanh tells us stories of capricious characters that go to great lengths to overthrow their colonial oppressors. Her characters survive living amongst imaginary, yet dangerous, ghosts.

She takes us to a savaged, but vivid, colonial Vietnam, where streets are filled with fierce threats in the form of killing, rape and rebels’ chopped heads mounted on bamboo poles as warnings.

After his marriage with Dong, Dr. Nguyen lacked solace and drifted away from his wife. Once, in conversation with her, he justifies his absence by explaining the historical colonization of Vietnam by one power or another, resulting in turmoil and agony for the country’s women.

“Our country is in crisis," he said. "Men abandon their families and leave their wives in charge of feeding the children. The women have no money and they do what they must to survive. This country was the possession of the Chinese, and now is the mistress of the French. For a thousand years we’ve lived under the dominion of others. It’s why everyone’s going mad.”  

Vietnam’s colonial history reflects some of today’s challenges of occupation and abuse of people’s land. In war zones like Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan, and many others, colonialism results in the total disarray of a country’s inhabitants, and leaves their attempts at survival and revolution against past oppressors unfulfilled as they are quickly taken over by new ones.

Thanh’s novel shows that the lust for power results in horror and misfortune for the colonized and is ultimately reflected in the truest form of human tragedy – the loss of innocence.

Tazeen Inam is passionate about both print and electronic media. She has a master's degree in mass communications, has worked as a senior producer and editorial head at Pakistani news channels and has contributed to BBC Radio Urdu in London, England. Inam is presently pursuing a course in digital media studies at Sheridan College.


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

Published in Books

by 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.

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

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.

She returned to Hinduism in search of role models for her writing, which she lacked in her own life as a child.

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.

“The story keepers reach back and reach forward and weave together those words that provided a blanket for our community . . .”

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.”


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

Published in Books

by 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.”

. . . 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 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.

“I think it’s important to recognize that we need a wider pool of readers.”

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.

“You cannot colour a child’s face tan on a book and call that a diverse book.”

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.


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

Published in Books
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