New Canadian Media
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

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

Canada is not the land of fairy tales. It is a land of opportunities, welcoming those who are daring and rebound from their suffering – people like Carmen Aguirre, a “revolutionary Cinderella,” whose dreams of being a theatre actor were shattered and rebuffed. 

Her journey from a five-year-old refugee to an award-winning actor and playwright is depicted in her memoir, Mexican Hooker #1: And My Other Roles Since the Revolution, with immense audacity and the flavour of fervor. 

Young Aguirre escaped the 1973 coup d’état in Chile, which led to the death of President Salvador Allende, and moved to Canada as a refugee with her family. 

“Political violence was a concept that I got; senseless violence left me with nothing to excuse him with,” she writes, referring to the man who raped her when she was a teenager in Vancouver, B.C. 

“I had no idea that having machine guns pointed at me at the age of five would in some ways pale in comparison with the up-close-and-personal, full-frontal assault of a rape, with having the coldest human I’d ever come across put a pistol to my temple with a steady hand and whisper, ‘Don’t move, or I’ll shoot,’ in a mechanical voice.” 

“I didn’t know one doesn’t get over childhood rape, one simply learns how to integrate it.”

Facing her trauma 

Aguirre was 13, and her concept of love was not more than “abstract ideas.” She never thought about the “nuts and bolts” of the situation. She describes her physical pain as so excruciating that she believed the man raping her was using a knife. 

“I didn’t know one doesn’t get over childhood rape, one simply learns how to integrate it,” Aguirre writes. Her fear was so traumatic, that it hijacked her future love life and profession. 

Many times, in a haunting style, she describes how John Horace Oughton, known as the “Paper Bag Rapist,” hid his identity and covered his victims’ faces. Oughton called the young Aguirre a “hooker” because she wore a white wraparound skirt and called the rape “making love.”  

Yet Mexican Hooker #1 is not depressing at all. It encourages life and the ability to rise beyond the reality of pain and oppression. 

The book exposes an awesome experience of a human spirit that marvels at different forms of decadence and viciousness.  

A warrior to her core, Aguirre went back to school the day after the rape, despite the fact that the serial rapist was still at-large. Her father urged her to stay home and rest, but Aguirre writes that she did not believe she was sick. 

She never wrote to her mother, then in Chile, about the rape until 16 years after the incident. That was the first time she shed tears over the loss of her innocence. 

Oughton was caught in 1985 after sexually assaulting nearly 200 victims. Aguirre attended his parole hearings with other victims and developed a “new-found sisterhood” with the other women. 

In a direct conversation with the serial rapist, she told him that he taught her “compassion.”  

The book exposes an awesome experience of a human spirit that marvels at different forms of decadence and viciousness.

Finding her spotlight 

“[I]n this country, white was certainly a colour, and it held all power.” 

Aguirre writes about being caught off-guard by racism early in her acting career in Canada and the United States. 

“First of all, I had never heard the word Latino until I got to San Francisco, which was looking to me more and more like the thorns of a rose rather than the petally part.” 

At theatre school in Vancouver, Aguirre was one of the only people of colour in her program, while “mainstream Canadian theatre presented overwhelmingly white, middle-class stories.”

Casts were typically white and roles open to actors like Aguirre were often racist, such as the role of Mexican hooker or Puerto Rican maid. 

“You don’t have what it takes to be an actor,” she was told. “We’re letting you go.” 

“After the show, immigrant Canadians from every corner of the globe waited to tell me in broken voices, how much they identified with the character and her story.”

Aguirre transitioned to playwriting, but realized that transforming a personal story into a universal experience could only happen after healing. Ultimately, she found refuge as a workshop facilitator with Theatre of the Oppressed, where she works with marginalized groups to create interactive and empowering theatre. 

All her years of training and acting classes since the age of eight eventually paid off in the form of her play Chile Con Carne, a hailed success. The play is a dark comedy about the trials and tribulations of an eight-year-old Chilean refugee living in Canada in the '70s. 

“After the show, immigrant Canadians from every corner of the globe waited to tell me in broken voices, how much they identified with the character and her story.” 

Aguirre is now a Vancouver-based actor, playwright, and two-time memoirist. Her first memoir, Something Fierce, tells of her experiences in the Chilean resistance and won CBC’s Canada Reads in 2012. She has written or co-written 25 plays - three of which, Blue Box, The Trigger and Refugee Hotel have also been published as books.

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 

When we study the history of our country, should we examine it critically, use it to inform current policies, or highlight our national successes and values?

The question “Why Study History?” was the subject of a survey conducted by the firm Leger Marketing for the Association for Canadian Studies.

The results reveal that people under 35 saw critical thinking skills as the best rationale for the studying of history. The 55 and over cohort was more likely to endorse the strengthening of identity.

The results also suggest that history educators have placed increasing emphasis on the need to develop critical thinking skills, whereas some governments feel that thickening national identities should be a component of history lessons.

Jenny Carson, an assistant professor at Ryerson University and a social historian, finds this age dichotomy interesting.

“[The younger group encompasses] potentially people who are entering the job market and are focused of how they can use their degrees to enter the job market which is totally fair; it is more than just learning critical thinking – of course,” she comments.

The older group seemed to take a more aspirational approach, seeking to reinforce and discover different identities. “Maybe older Canadians are able to think of it in that way [more] than younger Canadians because they are not thinking about it as a way to enter the labor market,” she suggests. 

The importance of understanding our history

Carson elaborates that while understanding the past doesn’t enable us to predict the future, but it may improve our ability to figure out what to do in our current situation.

“Understanding a woman — how did we go to vote, what was it like 100 years ago when we couldn’t vote — how do those kinds of limitations affect us and how we were able to mobilize to overcome them?”

"Those movements have their roots in past social movements.” 

She continues, “Social movements, civil rights movements — those are relevant and important movements for today. We have the Black Lives Matter [movement] or the movement to end income inequality. Those movements have their roots in past social movements.”

Summarizing her point, Carson states, “History tells us how people have created change.”

Professor of history from the University of Ottawa, Pierre Anctil, agrees with Carson: "A person who is not aware of the past very often will find themselves unable to understand the present.”

Critical thinking as a necessary tool

Anctil says that while history has always been influenced by actors, history requires "complete independence of opinion,” free from the whims of power groups or the actions of a state. 

“This is where we seek critical thinkers,” he says. “If we study the past we have to study on the basis of what we understand of the past, not a proposed narrative that will fit what the present requires.” 

When it comes to rediscovering or refashioning a country’s national identity, Carson emphasizes that we must analyze the actors’ reason for doing so.

She refers specifically to the Harper government’s redesign of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, which in 2012 was granted a $25 million overhaul.

Pierre Anctil says history requires "complete independence of opinion.”

According to Carson, this was an attempt to “create this extremely celebratory history that didn’t pay enough attention to the ways on which Canadian history was about [the] displacement of indigenous people who were here first.”

Carson also describes a shift in the way history is taught in Canadian curriculum. While in the past it largely focused on politics and political actors who were predominantly white men, today the teachings are more diverse.

“That’s really important, that universities can connect themselves to what’s reflected in the history, not just the people who were in power who make decisions,” she states.

Teaching Canadian history today

Steven Schwinghamer, a historian at Pier 21, insists that history is really about a frank and front debate.

“It’s not about certainty. It’s not about finding one story. It’s about an exchange, and in a country like ours where there’s so much opportunity for interesting exchange, history is really valuable tool.” 

In a country as diverse as Canada, Anctil says finding a single story is next to impossible.

“There is not only one narrative to Canadian history; this is a conclusion to which most historians are coming to at present,” he explains.

“It’s not about certainty. It’s not about finding one story. It’s about an exchange."

Moving forward, Carson says that in order to attract more critical thinkers to the study of history, creating personal connections is important. “If you teach it as a story and try to construct a narrative and make it about people, I think that is more relatable.”

For Schwinghamer, “History is fun.”

 

“Working with history means working with mysteries, with complicated questions,” he continues. “Finding these answers means immersing yourself in an amazing exploration of human past. It’s really satisfying.”

 

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 

Pakistani women enjoy more autonomy in the home and greater overall life satisfaction in Canada compared to what they experienced back home, a new study suggests.

According to "Perceptions of Autonomy and Life Satisfaction in Pakistani Married Immigrant Women in Toronto, Canada" this greater sense of satisfaction is directly associated with these women’s sense of autonomy.

Authors Michaela Hynie, associate professor at York University, and Tahira Jibeen, assistant professor at COMSATS Institute of Technology in Lahore, explain that this freedom has many facets. For many, this includes the economic opportunities that Western societies offer women — opportunities women who come from patriarchal cultures might not have had before.

Fauzia, a resident of Mississauga who immigrated to Canada from Pakistan 14 years ago with her husband and three children, has been driving a school bus since September, 2015. She agrees with the results of the report.

“Things have changed in Pakistan, but I don’t think that still any woman would drive a school bus [as] conveniently and willfully as here,” she says.

Pursuing passions in Canada

Fauzia shares that she found her passion for driving at a very young age, before she got married. For her, driving a public transport vehicle is a decision she could only have made here in Canada.

“If I was in Pakistan, I wouldn’t think of doing something like this,” she adds. “It requires lots of guts and being too daring to break through the cultural norms.”

Hynie and Jibeen’s report highlights the importance that in-laws play in maintaining traditional family roles in Pakistani culture. It states “the goal of the study was to explore the relationship between family structures and autonomy among married immigrant Pakistani women.”

It also investigated “the role that these variables play in their evaluation of their life satisfaction prior to migration, in Pakistan, and post-migration in Canada."

“If I was in Pakistan, I wouldn’t think of doing something like this."

The report found that when women lived with their in-laws, even in Canada, their autonomy was more restricted than when they lived only with their husband and children.

While Fauzia has been able to pursue this opportunity now that she's away from her in-laws, she says her own family back home still makes fun of her occupation. 

“Even in Pakistan, if I tell family and friends, they look down on such a job and laugh at it. However, I tell them proudly that I am Canadian and we are proud to do whatever we feel like,” she says.

Job opportunities and education levels

Naheed, who came to Canada from the Middle East six years ago and also drives a bus, has had an experience similar to Fauzia’s. However, she says that when her in-laws resist her occupation, she is often able to convince them that this is a good opportunity.

“Education and logic plays vital part. Now its up to you [to] either convince others or get convinced, so I usually convince others with logic,” she says.

Immigrant women are more likely to have completed university than women born in Canada.

Over the last decade, the emphasis on educational and occupational qualifications when selecting immigrants has meant that the lead applicant’s spouse (often the female) has to fulfill a certain educational criteria as well as pass a language proficiency test to be accepted.

In part as a result of this focus, immigrant women are more likely to have completed university than women born in Canada.

Even though her current job might not be considered white collar, Naheed says, “I don’t believe in class of work. It’s better to work hard and earn than to beg.”

The role of Islam

While speaking about the role of religion, both drivers, who are Muslim and wear headscarves, believe that Islam does not restrict the ability of women to work.

“Islam doesn’t restrict women to work, but what it asks is to limit yourself within Shariah,” says Fauzia.  

“Even when I used to drive a simple car in Pakistan a long time ago, it was considered odd and people used to take it as a bad thing. So it’s our cultural problem, not religious,” she states.

Support from husbands

While they’ve faced opposition from family, both Naheed and Fauzia say their husbands have supported their desire to pursue their passions and find jobs.

Because the women are employed, they can assist in financially supporting the family. Still, balancing their time is very important since they must take care of the children.

“[My] husband and kids are supportive as their only concern is my availability. My husband always asked me to look for a job that [didn’t mean you] ignore your kids and household responsibilities, as our kids are our priority,” says Fauzia.

Their husbands have supported their desire to pursue their passions and find jobs.

Hynie and Jibeen’s report concludes that women may be happier in more egalitarian marriages, regardless of where they reside.

However, it cautions against imposing Western values and ideologies on immigrant communities. 

It suggests instead that supporting women to negotiate their own forms of autonomy in their interpersonal lives might increase women’s life satisfaction more than importing Western structures.

Naheed is happy that in her current job she still has ample opportunity to relax and spend time with her 12-year-old daughter. She also relishes the authority it gives her.

 “I feel like a king, when traffic stops all around my bus when I put up the signals,” she concludes.

This is the second part in a three-part series on changing family dynamics and what it means for women immigrants in Canada. The first part, "In Canada, South Asian Women Find Social Freedom", discusses how women are socially empowered once they reach Canada. If you are an immigrant who has experienced significant social change in your life after arriving in Canada, please contact 360@newcanadianmedia.ca.

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 Arts & Culture

by Tazeen Inam in Mississauga

When you think of integrating refugees into a society, providing them with access to higher education is often considered less of a priority than food, shelter and medical care.

Some experts believe, though, that it’s especially important both for the economy of the host country and for the long-term recovery of war-torn communities and states.

Over the past many years, the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa have displaced a large number of refugees aged 18 to 25 years old. These conflicts have resulted in crackdowns on universities in Egypt, closures of campuses in Yemen and Libya and bombings in Syria and Gaza, all of which have aggravated the plight of the educated youth.  

According to Hans de Wit, professor and director of the Center for International Higher Education at Boston College, higher education for these refugees should not be considered a challenge, but an opportunity.

De Wit explains, “Higher education in particular plays an important role in stimulating the possibilities for alternative pathways [for] refugees rather than putting them into camps, where they cannot learn, work or do anything.” 

He continues, “The alternative is to use their pre-educational skills and educate them further."

“[With] education, you give them perspective. The trauma is worst when you don’t give them any hope,” he adds. “Many of them have lived in camps for years and the end result is that they cannot go back.”

Refugees as an investment

De Wit’s report, "The Syrian Refugee Crisis and Higher Education," suggests that politically-displaced victims, unlike economically-displaced refugees, are better educated and potentially easier to integrate in the labour market in receiving countries. 

This label applies to the current refugees escaping Syria, Iraq and Kurdistan, many of whom have been forced out of their countries due to violent conflict.

The report, coauthored by research professor and founding director of the Center, Philip Altbach, further suggests that while these refugees are often seen as victims and an economic burden, they offer new talent to the host country in the long run.

“Many media reports feature articulate, English-speaking young professionals from the Middle East expressing their hopes to continue their education or obtain skilled jobs and contribute to European economies,” it states. 

“Higher education in particular plays an important role in stimulating the possibilities for alternative pathways [for] refugees."

The researchers argue that this is not merely advantageous for the refugees, but for the profile of the university they attend as well. It is a way to internationalize the campus, making it more competitive as a higher education institution.

Nadia Abu-Zahra from the University of Ottawa, says that be they students, researchers or professors, Syrian refugees are often top quality academics, and calls them an “intellectual wealth." 

“Refugees either landing in Norway, Denmark or Canada — whoever gets the highest number of these academics will have an incredible increase in their intellectual wealth” she says.

She insists, “If you are wise you will incur them. Those [academics] fled their home countries, will stay connected to international trends and will not only give back to the host country, but to the world.” 

Importance of the "lost generation"

In another report on Syrian students and scholars living in Lebanon, Keith David Watenpaugh describes them as the “lost generation” of college-age students.  

"The War Follows Them" states that there are up to 70,000 displaced university-age Syrian students in Lebanon. It estimates that only 10,000 of them are enrolled in Lebanese universities. Another 60,000 college-age Syrian refugees are living in Jordan and 70,000 are in Turkey. 

Watenpaugh describes them as the  “lost generation” of college-age students.

Watenpaugh highlights the need for international policy changes regarding higher education and its role in the rebuilding of war-zones. 

He states that “the war will end, but the young people who would be integral in rebuilding the country are being left behind.”

Watenpaugh stresses the need for increased research and aid for these populations to help post-conflict countries rebuild successfully.

“The focus on elementary education is important, but we must ask who the Syrian teachers in the future will be if we neglect the university students now,” says a UNESCO education specialist in the report. 

Rebuilding for the future

In their report, "The Importance of Higher Education for Syrian Refugees," Sansom Milton and Sultan Barakat speak about the challenges of restoration and the importance of higher education for refugees: “The severe toll that regional conflicts have taken on higher education is further compounded by a failure to appreciate the strategic role of the sector in stabilizing and promoting the recovery of war-torn communities and states.”

Their paper further emphasizes the abilities of the younger generation and says, “Higher education, properly supported, is able to act as a catalyst for the recovery of war-torn countries in the Arab world, not only by supplying the skills and knowledge needed to reconstruct shattered economic and physical infrastructure, but also by supporting the restoration of collapsed governance systems and fostering social cohesion.”

Milton and Barakat are advocating for international policy changes regarding higher education.

These changes would involve greater protection of academic institutions in times of war, augmented university networks to promote academic solidarity and more funding to rebuild higher education in the aftermath of conflict. 

This question will be debated by education leaders at the British Council’s Going Global 2016 conference in Cape Town in May.

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 Education
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