By: Caora Mckenna in Halifax
If you’ve ever travelled or worked abroad, speaking and listening in a language that isn’t your own, you know the feeling of lying down at night exhausted. Your brain worked all day fumbling from one language to another. Every ounce of energy is drained. When your brain is that exhausted, you call home. You listen to your mother tongue. You listen without thinking – it’s a relief.
For Canada’s consistent stream of immigrants and their children, third language or “ethnic” media can be a refuge. It is news and stories in their language of comfort. Ethnic media -the official CRTC term – is defined as media that is not English, French or Indigenous. It is a collective of “others.”
The number of foreign-born Canadians has been increasing steadily since 1951. Today, metro Vancouver has almost as many foreign-born residents as the entire population of Nova Scotia. According to Statistics Canada, nearly half of the country’s population will be immigrants or children of immigrants by 3036. Of the 270,847 immigrants Canada received in 2015, 23 per cent had no working knowledge of English or French. For them, ethnic media is more than a haven, it’s a lifeline. The weight of this responsibility bears down on the journalists who work in ethnic media.
“It has always been the underdog industry,” says Madeline Ziniak, chair of the Canadian Ethnic Media Association and former national vice-president of Omni TV, Canada’s leader in multicultural programming. “Fraught with casualties, it’s never been easy.”
The state of ethnic media in Canada is as varied as its parts. Print is struggling to survive, radio is successful, online is innovating and TV has long been a quiet powerhouse.
Who is listening?
Across the country “good morning” is said in more than 200 languages every day. Buenos días is heard in Toronto, ਸ਼ੁਭ ਸਵੇਰ in Halifax and 좋은아침 in Vancouver. Omni TV in Ontario offers programming in 49 of those languages. The Canadian Ethnic Media Association’s directory of ethnic media outlets has 1,200 entries from B.C., Alberta and Ontario alone. Of the 1,609 Radio and TV Broadcast licences defined by content language, 275 are not English or French. There is similar momentum south of the border. In the United States there are over 3,000 ethnic media outlets, and since 2006 ethnic media is the only sector of print media that is growing.
Canada’s history of immigration is a history of storytellers. In 1835, Upper Canada’s first German weekly newspaper was printed in what is now Kitchener, Ontario. The Canada Museum und Allgemeine Zeitung’s subscribers were hungry for news from Europe – in a familiar voice. “It’s a bridge to Canadian citizenry,” says Ziniak.
Ethnic media is a vital tool to connect citizens not only to their past, but to Canada’s present, and to one another. Most of the time, that bridge is built with content by minorities, for minorities and about minorities. This has helped and hindered ethnic media by giving it legs to stand on, but few places to go. But this is changing. Today, car radios play international news and music, weekly newspapers cover local politics and run helpful how-to stories. You can watch Hockey Night in Canada in Punjabi from your living room on Saturday night. Ethnic media’s voices are here, they are speaking, and they are many.
The bridge that bends
George Abraham is a Canadian journalist who built a new platform. He started his career at the Times of India in Mumbai, formerly Bombay. Twenty-six years later, from his office in Ottawa, Abraham runs newcanadianmedia.ca. Canadian media, he says, “is not inclusive enough.” The problem: “The mainstream speaks to the mainstream, and the ethnic speaks to the ethnic.”
Dr. Catherine Murray, associate dean of Undergraduate Academic Programs and Enrolment Management and professor of gender, sexuality and women’s studies at Simon Fraser University was the principal investigator in SFU’s 2007 Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Media in B.C study. She says the way different cultures are communicating within Canada is something all journalists – both mainstream and ethnic – will have to “struggle with” in their content.
Mainstream media is taking up the challenge. CBC launched a five-year strategy, A space for us all, in 2014. Its inclusion and diversity plan commits the CBC to “be relevant and representative of the population it serves.” It is starting with the people making the content. Canadaland found that, in 2015, 90 per cent of CBC’s staff was white.
Dr. Sherry Yu, an assistant professor in the Department of Journalism at Temple University in Philadelphia,worked alongside Murray on SFU’s 2007 study. Yu says a “new stream” of ethnic media is emerging to cover issues that are misrepresented or not represented at all in mainstream media. It is driven by a younger generation of journalists whose content is online and in English. It is pushing the limits of ethnic media’s traditional audience.
Rooting for the underdog
As waves of immigration shift Canada’s idea of identity, daily and weekly newspapers pop up and go under in steady rhythm. In 1840, Canada Museum und Allgemeine Zeitung was sold to Heinrich Eby. It changed hands three more times before 1865 when a competing German newspaper, the Berliner Journal, forced it to stop printing. Today, the steady stream of immigrants is causing saturation in already niche markets. The 2007 study Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Media in B.C. found that 28 ethnic media outlets were serving Vancouver’s 50,000 Korean residents. (North Bay, Ontario also has 50,000 residents, but only three mainstream outlets.) There are only so many Korean restaurants, travel agencies and businesses in Vancouver. Yu says this makes competition for advertising revenue “huge.”
For Halifax’s first and only Arabic radio station, 99.1 Radio Middle East, saturation isn’t the problem. Arabic is the second most-spoken language in the city, but Oudai Altabbaa, the station’s accounts manager, says it’s “extremely hard” to introduce ethnic media into Halifax’s traditional economy. Still, he sees ethnic media as a way to “refresh” the economy, bringing in new ideas and new money. “A new way to communicate things to get people a little bit closer to each other.”
Altabbaa is optimistic. Working in radio, he has good reason to be. From 2011-15, third-language radio stations across Canada actually made money. Their English and French counterparts did not.
Other Canadian media outlets turn to funding from organizations like the Canadian Media Fund in order to innovate and stay open. The Canadian Media Fund is mandated by Canadian Heritage and funded by Canada’s TV companies and the federal government. It contributed $371.7 million in funding to Canadian television and digital media projects in 2015-16. Only $2.5 million went to “diverse languages.”
Money is a chief concern across all media, and ethnic media is well rehearsed in the pocket pinch. Many organizations “operate on a shoestring” says April Lindgren, associate professor at the Ryerson School of Journalism. Having time and resources to do good quality, timely and verified news “can be a challenge if you are the editor, the publisher, the reporter and the ad salesman,” says Lindgren. If the money runs out, so does the ink.
The National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada represents more than 500 members of the ethnic press and media. In 2012 it asked its members about business challenges. Forty-three per cent said they weren’t earning money for their work.
Waves of immigration sway ethnic media’s successes and failures. In 1958 Canada had more new Italian immigrants than British ones. At that time Canada’s third language press was building a national presence: there were 250 newspapers, representing more than 50 cultures. The “fiercely Canadian, proudly Italian” daily newspaper Corriere Canadese was started in 1954 by Dan Iannuzzi. In 1995 it revamped, adding Tandem, an English-language weekend edition –aimed at their readers’ kids and grandkids. In 2013, after funding cuts, Corriere Canadese joined the ranks of retired Canadian ethnic newspapers. It looked like the end of an era. Except, six months later, it was revived – and is in print today.
Sitting in corner stores and restaurants, it reaches 30,000 Canadians daily. As Sherry Yu says, ethnic media is “volatile.” It is also unpredictable, persistent, and necessary.
At once, a commodity and a social movement, increasingly important ethnic media in Canada is more important than ever. Ethnic media outlets, like immigrant communities, know that to survive is to adapt. They have learned this the hard way. If they don’t survive, says Yu, “nothing comes after.”
This article was republished under arrangement with the Signal.
By: Lu Xu in Halifax
“I don’t have anything else to do,” says Keith Bi. He is cleaning pig intestines—a tedious job. In the sink of his café in downtown Halifax sit two bowls filled with cold water and floating chunks of pig intestine that he bought from Toronto. Bi’s back is arched forward. He selects one of the intestines and turns it inside out so that he can see where the fat is, and carefully cuts out the white fat with a pair of scissors. It’s delicate work. He has to make sure he takes out the fat without poking holes. His right hand skillfully guides the blades of the scissors close against the inside wall. In one quick movement, the fat slips away into to the sink.
Bi is making a traditional Chinese dish: pot-stewed pig intestines. The café business has been quiet today, as it is on most days. He had to let go his only employee because he couldn’t afford the salary; he’s often the only one inside. A few days before, he added a catering service hoping it would increase revenue. And this traditional stew is something he wants to serve as part of his catering service.
He could’ve just thrown the intestines into a pot and boiled them all together—the fat would’ve just melted into the water, which he could’ve simply thrown away. But, as Bi says, he doesn’t have anything else to do.
In 2011, Bi immigrated from the city of Xi’an, China, on a working visa after being told by one of his relatives who lives in Halifax that Canada is a good place to live. He wouldn’t have to deal with the complicated social relationships that occur in China; relationships are more straight forward in Canada, he was told. And he could even open his own business. He decided to come to Canada first, and then hopefully bring his wife and son in the future.
Bi is not happy with the status quo in modern China. People often go around the law and rules, which has turned non-elites in the country resentful. You are a fool if you just obey the rules, people think. Networks and knowing the right people matter more. For someone like Bi who wants to play by the rules and is not part of the 1 percent, building a life in Canada seemed to be a good choice.
Since Bi came to Canada, he has worked as a chef, a cleaner, and other low-paying jobs. He had one goal: permanent residency. And he worked hard for it like most immigrants do. In 2014, three years after he arrived, he received his PR. It was a long time coming. His wife was supportive and helped with his application by sending all the required documents from China. Two weeks later, he bought himself a round-trip ticket to China and two one-way tickets to Canada for his wife and son. But one week before they were about to leave China, his wife told Bi that she was not coming to Canada with him. Instead, she wanted a divorce. The next day, she packed up her belongings and left.
Bi was shocked. He hadn’t seen it coming. Everything was going as planned and then all of sudden his life was falling to pieces. He went from a happy new immigrant with a PR in hand, to a lonely, divorced man explaining to a customs officer why his wife was not with him.
It takes Bi an hour to finish the cleaning the pig intestines. After washing his hands, he takes off his hat. His hair is longer than he’d like and it gets slippery with sweat when he works. But he hates the black baseball hat. Still, he wears it. “No matter where the kitchen is you have to put it on if you work in one,” he says. Bi is firm when it comes to obeying rules.
Bi is a forty-seven-year-old Chinese immigrant and the owner of Coffee Corner, a café located in the windowless basement below the office of Citizenship and Immigration Canada. The café is only thirty-five metres squared and is a convenience store with a help-yourself take-out lunch service. He does all the work himself and schedules his tasks to get things done on time. He learned how to be efficient when he worked in China as a chief inspector in a five-star restaurant. He was a good manager and knows how to train people. Once, he had two hundred people working under him.
In the late ’90s, Bi was honoured to work in a restaurant of its kind. Not only because it was well-paid, but also because of the associated privileges that came with the job. Most restaurants were only open to foreign guests, which is why he was taught how to cook Western food and learn basic English. They had products that you couldn’t get even if you had the money. It was almost like they got to see a different world.
But Bi never settles. He went all the way alone from Macau, in southern China, to Halifax, in Eastern Canada.
Usually, the stories we hear about immigration are inspiring—about how a refugee family endured trauma and rebuilt their life after coming to Canada. These stories are true, but there are also others—stories of immigrants, especially people with an Asian background, who experience high levels of emotional stress. A 2012 report by Citizenship and Immigration Canada suggests that immigrants from Asia and Pacific are more likely to have emotional problems, including depression or loneliness, than those who come from the rest of North America, the United Kingdom, and Western Europe.
Opening a new chapter in life is never easy. The first time Bi tried to launch a restaurant it fell flat, he says due to a poor choice of partners. And although his second attempt is also struggling, he will never give up. He gets up at 5:30 a.m. before the sun rises and leaves after 6 p.m. on most nights. He doesn’t sit down until noon. Since the café is in a basement, the only time he gets to see the sun on a winter weekday is when he goes outside to have a smoke. He throws on his ten-year-old leather jacket and strolls down the hallway, joking that smoking for him is like an injection, to motivate himself.
He tries his best to strike up a conversation with his customers when they walk through the café door. He smiles—he’s always cheerful around his customers—and asks how they are. He often tells them to leave their money at the counter or pay him later if he is away in the bathroom or smoking. He trusts them. He thinks everyone who works in the building has a decent heart. To his customers, he is an attentive Chinese immigrant who runs a convenient café but they don’t see that when he’s on his own, he gets lonely now and then. When the café is empty, Bi is quiet.
Loneliness is a terrifying thing. It’s like a black hole that sucks you in. Bi’s thoughts go wild when he slows down. He thinks about how rough it has been starting a business, how rebellious his son is, and, above all, how he doesn’t have the family he wanted at his age.
In Chinese culture, a family is one of the most important parts of a man’s life. The pressure from parents to get married and have children is relentless. Divorce and being childless are still new concepts for the community, and like many other divorced men in China, they think it’s somehow a failure or a mistake that they are responsible for.
The combination of living overseas, divorced, with a struggling business has made this restless man depressed—but Bi says he will always keep trying to make a better future. In April 2016, he boarded a plane to China to meet a woman he had been talking to online for six months. He didn’t know how things would turn out, but he hoped that they would like each other—that she would eventually join him in Canada. Nevertheless, he hopped on the plane.
When he arrived in China, he took a bus to meet her but missed the stop while helping blind person dial a number on their cell phone. Bi apologized to the woman when he met her and explained what happened, but she lashed out. “Why did you help a blind person?” she said. “It’s none of your business.”
In that moment, Bi knew she wasn’t the one.
Three months later, he flew back to Halifax, alone.
On a wednesday in January, at around 1:40 p.m., Bi is sitting at a small table outside his café eating lunch. It is his first break in five hours of work. His bowl is filled with a few spoons of some dishes from his buffet, all mixed together. Like many other Chinese people, he doesn’t separate his food. Although he’s a chef, he doesn’t seem to have a high standard for his own meals. He eats whatever is left over.
Bi adjusts his hat, places his cell phone on the round table in front of him, and starts eating. He is focused on his food with his face close to the bowl. There are no customers around, so he plays his cell phone out loud. It’s a video clip from a Chinese media outlet called Today’s Headline—how he keeps track of what’s happening back home. Most influential media outlets in China are controlled by the government, but Bi believes that Today’s Headline is trustworthy enough. Throughout the day, he has a surprising guest: his brother He and the man’s wife. He calls him “brother He” not because they are related but in the traditional Chinese way of addressing a man older than him with respect.
“What brought you here?” Bi asks, just happy that his friends have come. Bi pours two cups of coffee for them and mentions his new plan for a small change in the store: he stretches his arms wide and gestures to demonstrate what the changes are going to be as if he is sharing exciting news he has kept for a long time. His smile is broad and his eyes alight. At one point, he even squats on the floor trying to outline where his new counter will go.
When friends visit, he always cheers up. It just doesn’t happen very often.
One morning, a Thursday, I tell Bi that tomorrow is the Chinese Lunar New Year. He acts surprised—as if he forgot. For Chinese, it is a day of family reunion, when people who work far from home brave the traffic to see their parents.
“Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve?” Bi says. “Well then, I need to call my parents first thing in the morning.” He says he stopped celebrating festivals or his birthday a long time ago. Later that day, a lady walks into the store. She is one of the regular customers who works in the building. The card machine isn’t working very well, and she doesn’t have cash.
“You can pay me next year,” Bi says.
“January 28 is the Chinese New Year.”
Oh yes, Bi remembers. He remembers clearly.
He doesn’t have anything planned for the holiday, and still hasn’t talked with his son. They haven’t spoken in nearly two months.
Friday is usually the least busy day for him, and today, quiet is not what he needs. He seems distant and tries to keep busy. Brother He calls and invites him to dinner, which seems to lift his spirits. Bi takes out a pizza and adds it to the daily menu—the first time in weeks he has added something new.
The following day, Bi arrives at the store at the normal time, 6 a.m., pours cold water into the coffee pot, carefully places the pot in the coffee machine, and turns it on. He takes out his iPhone, dials a number, and puts it on speaker phone. The iPhone screen is broken. His parents are both over eighty and don’t have a computer at their home. Phoning is the only way he can reach them.
Bi seems peaceful when he talks to them; he has a flicker of a smile on his face. As he talks, he takes out bread and puts it into the toaster, cooks bacon, and fries eggs for the morning sandwiches. He moves around his small kitchen placing his cellphone here and there. During the phone call, he doesn’t stop working for a second.
After about thirty minutes, Bi tells his parents that he needs to get back to work, and hangs up. He didn’t want to call in the first place. Why would he? He knew what his parents would ask about: work and family. And he knew he had to lie. Like many Chinese immigrants, he never tells his parents back in China any bad news. He would rather lie than tell them the real story—the story about how difficult it is to build a life in a foreign land.
“It’s called white lies,” Bi says with a grin. But when he talked to them he felt pained.
Their questions only reminded him of his reality: the rebellious son that he hasn’t talked to for almost two months, his cafe that is barely getting by, and, above all, his loneliness.
But he couldn’t tell them the truth. He had to lie. He had to lie well so that his aged parents so far away wouldn’t worry.
Lu Xu, who hails from China, is studying journalism at the University of King's College in Halifax. This article was republished under arrangement with the Walrus Foundation.
By: George Abraham in Ottawa
In 1972, President Idi Amin expelled residents of Indian descent from Uganda. The move's impact was felt throughout the region as Indian-Africans in surrounding countries found they were met with the same hostile environment. Faced with theft, vandalism, and government seizures; a mass exodus ensued that forced hundreds of thousands to leave the only homes they had ever known.
Mansoor Ladha, who was living in Tanzania at the time, remembers the experience vividly. His novel, "Memoirs of a Muhindi: Fleeing East Africa for the West" details the journey he was forced into following exile. New Canadian Media conducted an interview with the author via email:
Q: Your life has encapsulated multiple migrations and at one point you write "Canada will be my final resting place". Can you explain how you came to this conclusion?
A: My book talks about my search for a homeland. I left Tanzania, stayed in Nairobi, Kenya, have been to London England several times and finally landed in Canada which has given me the feeling of being at home.
I had also considered [the] United States where I have family but the violent nature of that society doesn’t blend with my nature, philosophy and temperament. Looks like I have finally found my resting place [in] peaceful, tolerant Canada.
Q: Your memoir is also a journey in journalism - across continents, across political philosophies, ethnic and civilizational divides. Do you think Canada could have been more appreciative of your evident talent?
A: There are plenty of examples of mistreatment that I have received in Canada. First as a job seeker and later even as a newspaper publisher. It gives me the impression that Canadians are always fearful of the unknown. This fear is especially applied to people of colour. There used to be a stereotypical belief which cast doubt on all immigrants’ ability to do a job. Hence, most employers were then reluctant to hire immigrants. However, once Canadians see your performance and are impressed with it, then that fear is gone, replaced by acceptance and respect.
Q: Immigrants tend to have more riveting life stories and this is surely true in your case. What's the one message about immigration that you'd like your readers to take away from your book?
A: My message to employers is don’t indulge in stereotypical thinking and don’t judge immigrants because of their colour. Give them a chance to prove themselves on the job-try them out on probationary period and then make a decision.
To [my] fellow immigrants. My message is don’t be disappointed by failures or hurdles that you encounter during your time of settlement. Keep on trying and you’ll finally succeed.
Q: You have written for mainstream media, owned town newspapers and contributed in many ways to the telling of Canadian stories. How would you describe the state of Canadian journalism today?
A: These are very uncertain times for media in Canada, especially newspapers. In most Canadian cities, newspapers have either folded or are owned by newspaper chains. In many major markets, the chain has also bought their competition, creating a virtual monopoly. With the result: editorial staff has been cut down to a bare minimum, local stories have been replaced by wire stories and the number of pages has also dwindled.
Canada has a lot of excellent journalism schools in every city, churning out J graduates in huge numbers who don’t have a job to go to. It’s a sad and pathetic time for those planning to enter the profession.
My suggestion to J-graduates is to start knocking on doors of weekly newspapers and forget about working on dailies as an entry point.
Q: Lastly, if the forced emigration from East Africa were to happen today, do you think Canada and the average Canadian would be just as welcoming as in the early 1970's when you arrived?
A: The prevailing mood in Canada today is pro-immigrant, pro-refugee, partly because of Justin Trudeau [and the] Liberals’ policy to welcome immigrants and refugees.
Since the 70s, Canadians have learned what immigrants can do and how hardworking they are. Several immigrants have sought civic, provincial and national public office and have done remarkably well in these areas. In business, professions and politics, immigrants have shone brilliantly and the society at large have been appreciative of their contributions. They are now respected by the main stream society.
George Abraham is the founder and publisher of New Canadian Media. A former Nieman Scholarship recipient at Harvard University, he has over 26 years of newsroom experience, including work with publications such as aljazeera.net, the Toronto Star, the Ottawa Citizen and more.
By: Caora Mckenna in Halifax
Inside the Halifax Seaport Farmers’ Market on Halifax’s waterfront you’ll find a stack of the Dakai Times newspapers. Printed in Chinese and English, the quarterly newspaper is a tiny nod to the growing immigrant population in the area. On Saturday mornings, the market fills with sounds, scents and accents from all corners of the world. The lone stand of newspapers tells a different story. Local ethnic media - integral to community integration for newcomers - is almost entirely absent from the airwaves and newsstands in the province.
The provincial government is working hard to bring immigrants to Nova Scotia. Nearly 5,500 newcomers arrived in 2016 -- the highest number in the last decade -- and more are expected for 2017. Significant resources are being put into the Atlantic Immigration Pilot and Halifax Partnership to bring immigrants to the province and keep them here. One thing missing for new and old immigrants is information in their mother tongues. Where local media is absent, newcomers are leaning on international sources for news from home in a familiar language.
Filling the gaps:
Halifax is home to the majority of Nova Scotia’s immigrants and the few local ethnic media outlets catering to immigrants are there, too.
Meng Zhao started the Daikai Maritimes Newspaper in 2012. It covers local events, highlights local business owners, and regularly documents its issues in the Nova Scotia Archives. Through a partnership with The Chronicle Herald, 30,000 copies are distributed four times a year as well as 5,000 copies at specific neighbourhoods in Halifax Regional Municipality. Zhao set out to fill a gap in a niche community, and five years later is still the only print source in the province printed in a minority language.
The second most spoken language in Halifax is Arabic, but it wasn’t until the spring of 2016 that Montreal based 1450 AM launched 99.1FM Radio Middle East in the city. The station broadcasts Arabic programs and a selection of Arabic and international music. Account executive for the station Oudai Altabbaa says the minority language audience is on the rise in Halifax, and “somebody needs to tap into it and talk to it.”
Altabbaa knows there is great potential for the economy to grow by capitalizing on this market. But “it’s extremely hard to educate businesses here about the benefit of this because they are not used to it, and as we know Nova Scotia is very traditional,” he says. “So when you tell them it’s an Arabic radio station, they don’t take you seriously.”
Working to highlight the importance of immigrant voices and stories is My Halifax Experience. The quarterly magazine fills news stands in ethnic grocers and community centres, and content is regularly published online. Filled with helpful tips and inspirational stories, in English, it speaks to all immigrants, beyond their mother tongues. The online website has expanded to My East Coast Experience with the same goal in mind.
International magazines and newspapers available from libraries or specialty newsstands are filling in the rest of the gaps. Halifax Public Libraries has an extensive collection of subscriptions in Spanish, German, Arabic, Russian, Hindi, Japanese, Chinese and more. Atlantic News, a specialty store for newspapers and magazines, fills one to four regular subscriptions for Russian newspaper Argumenti & Facti and German sources Der Spiegel and Die Zeit weekly and biweekly.
In 2011, immigrants accounted for 5.3 per cent of the Nova Scotian population. That proportion is expected to rise to between 7.7 and 10.7 per cent in 2036, according to Statistics Canada. Immigrants in Halifax made up 8.2 per cent of the city’s population in 2011. By 2036, that will rise to 15.2 per cent.
“When immigrants are feeling like they are a little bit more connected with opportunities that come up because of radio stations or media speaking their language,” says Altabbaa, “they might decide to stay in Nova Scotia.”
As Nova Scotia welcomes more immigrants and tries to keep them in the province, ethnic media has an opportunity to catch up, then develop and grow.
This article was republished under arrangement with Mirems.
By: Jagdeesh Mann in Vancouver
To be the “last king” of anything means you left this world either a legend or a tragic figure. Maharajah Duleep Singh, the final monarch of the Punjab kingdom, who was forcibly separated from his family as a child, dispossessed of the Koh-i-noor diamond, converted to Christianity as a teenager, died a penniless, broken man in Paris, and is today buried in England, clearly falls into the latter category. But just as some within England’s Sikh community are seeking to exhume his remains for return to the Punjab, so are others working at rehabilitating his victim legacy.
Veteran U.K. actor and filmmaker Kavi Raz is one of these reformers. His film, The Black Prince, is a new production on the deposed monarch, who as an 11-year-old was removed from the throne and by 15 was exiled to England after his kingdom was annexed by the British in 1849. Unlike other ‘last kings’ such as Louis XVI of France and Nicholas II of Russia, Singh was spared the guillotine and firing squad, but the impressionable boy king would live out his life cut off from his family, culture, and homeland, remaining forever hidden away, if not lost, from his people.
Raz’s biopic sets course to rescue Duleep Singh from the forgotten recesses of English and Indian history. For the writer-director and his fellow producers, The Black Prince is clearly a passion project; the period piece is scripted in a mix of English and Punjabi, showcases an international cast, and features detail-oriented sets of Victorian England.
The film is not song-and-dance Bollywood, nor does it fall into the Punjabi-language genre which is bloated these days with slapstick comedies. Like the recent Oscar nominated Lion, The Black Prince is part of a new wave of film and television content capable of generating box office revenue domestically and internationally. In Canada, there are over one million Punjabi speaking South Asians who provide a niche target for the film.
Raz knows his target demographic well—he is originally from the Punjab region—and has crafted a story to win the hearts and minds of this audience. Unfortunately, this comes at an artistic cost, as The Black Prince seems more like a mission than a movie at times. Raz presses hard to recast Duleep Singh as a freedom fighter and a devotee of the Sikh faith, selectively omitting facts to make this case. The oversimplification of Duleep Singh’s re-initiation into the Sikh faith is one example of the film’s rolling-pin approach to the maharajah’s story (more on this pivot point below).
This heavy-handedness flattens characters throughout the movie, whether they be villainous English officers or the maharajah’s wives. Raz’s Duleep Singh is a stripped-down joyless version of an ex-sovereign, who was known to have thoroughly appreciated the velvet trappings of aristocratic life. We also see very little of a maharajah who took considerable pride in being a sportsman, playwright, and musician.
This ‘Black Prince’ who is constantly in a black mood is played by the eminent Punjabi musician Satinder Sartaaj who is forced to brood through his lines and awkward silences that ask too much of his acting skills. When he is not weighed down by a gnawing sense of displacement—the maharajah was, technically speaking, England’s first Sikh immigrant—he suffers from an identity crisis. That only intensifies when he finally reunites with his mother, Rani Jindan, superbly acted by Shabana Azmi.
These repetitive scenes of inner anguish neither advance the story nor reveal the complexity of a maharajah who, as a blue-blooded aristocrat, may have felt as much kinship with members of Europe’s ruling classes as with the average Punjabi peasant or Sikh devotee. The use of a third-person narrator would have relieved the maharajah from having to make banal political statements every other scene. Alternatively, Raz could have shot the film as a historical docu-drama interspersed with interviews to maximise his control over the narrative.
Eventually the maharajah’s contrived emotional distress culminates in a lukewarm climax when he re-converts to Sikhism during a failed passage to India—the British government denied him entry to travel to his homeland. Now near the end of his life, his unrest becomes outright rebellion as he bands with a group of Irish rebels and Russian agents and takes the helm of a quixotic, and ill-advised, plot to seize back his kingdom.
While there was likely some revolutionary fervor in the maharajah’s desire to overthrow English rule in India, it is a stretch to credit these actions solely to a pious freedom fighter, as Raz has suggested.
Historically there was also a financial motive—and a reasonably just one—behind Duleep Singh’s fall-out with his captors. Like many Victorian-era estate holders of his time, he was perpetually in debt due to a profligate lifestyle. His promised annual pension in 1860 of £40 thousand per annum ($7.7 million CAD in today’s terms) was always short-paid by half every year. While £20 thousand per year afforded him a luxurious lifestyle as single man, this amount, not indexed to the rate of inflation, became insufficient later in life as he became a father to eight children and husband to two wives.
At the time of Punjab’s annexation, the British government had also seized his family’s vast personal estates and holdings which should not have been included as state properties. Despite Singh’s ongoing campaigning to the Crown, these assets were never returned, much to his vexation.
Among Sikhs, there is a commonly held view that the modern downfall of their Punjab state actually began over 150 years ago when the kingdom created by Duleep’s father, the great Maharajah Ranjit Singh, crumbled after the Anglo-Sikh wars. A century after the golden age of the Lahore Darbar, Punjab was torn in half by Partition in 1947, and today what is left is being further shredded by rampant drug abuse, gross corruption, farmer suicides, and environmental damage.
Solutions remain elusive, but heroic accounts from the past provide hope that things can be better.
The Black Prince covers an important story that has long required production. While this movie pays tribute to the maharajah by rescuing him from the shadow of history, it does not, however, set him free. Over a century since his death, Duleep Singh still remains a pawn—now of modern-day Punjabi and Sikh identity politics—as he once was during the Great Game of colonialism in the 19th century.
Jagdeesh Mann is a media professional who works as the executive editor of the Asian Pacific Post. This article has been republished under arrangement with the South Asian Post.
By: Ted Alcuitas in Vancouver
The ‘paper son’ who became a community leader and literary pioneer
“Knowledge does not set you free – it enslaves you.”
Strong words from a strong man.
Jim’s insatiable appetite for history and what he learned motivated him to “create a new reality”, giving birth to such organizations like the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop (ACWW) which he co-founded.
The 68-year old Wong-Chu died on Tuesday, July 11, 2017 after a stroke he suffered earlier this year.
In his last TV interview (February 2016) he told Sid Chow Tan of Access TV that there was “no inspiration” for him when he started the seminal literary grouping, Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop back in the 70s.
"There was no inspiration – it was euphoria and discretion,” he recalls the beginning of the movement to create a space for Chinese Canadian writings.
“Bellyaching” with him at the time was Paul Yee and SKY Lee who later rose to prominence with their writings.”
“ We asked ourselves : What if? And Why not?”
“None of us were writers and we didn’t know the basics. We started from scratch.”
The ‘paper son’ who never finished Grade 11 first dabbled in photography before pursuing a degree in Creative Writing at UBC.
“I was working in a cafeteria and photography was just like making coffee,” he told Tan in the interview.
He finished a photography course at the Vancouver School of Art, now called Emily Carr University of Art + Design.
His collection of photographs of Chinatown taken from 1973-1981 lay dormant until 30 years after when he realized he had a treasure trove of historical significance.
The 80 photos (out of 500 negatives) was shown in an exhibit at Centre A Gallery in October 2014.
It was accompanied by his own poems and Paul Yee’s.
Born in Hongkong in 1949 two years after Chinese Canadians were granted the right to vote, Jim came to Canada as a ‘paper son’ by an aunt when he was four.
Paper sons and daughters adopted false identities at a time when Canada restricted Chinese immigration.
It was not until he was seven years old that his aunt told him – “I am not your mother”.
That discovery completely devastated him, knowing that he did not belong neither to the country he was raised or the country he was born into.
Up and until his death this month, Jim was still haunted by the ghosts of his past.
“It feels like you’re not a part of everything around you, that your participation is not welcome and not well-received…” he told writer Nikki Celis of The Georgia Straight on April 16, 2016.
“In my late teens and early 20s, I was very confused. You’re constantly haunted by this idea that you’re not legal. It destroyed me totally as an individual,” he says, stone-faced. “That’s identity for you—when you talk about identity to the infinite extreme, it feels like you’re a fake.
Giant of a man
Jim Wong-Chu was quite literally a giant of a man.
He stood not all of 5’ -5” but he could talk to you about almost anything – from books to history and politics and everything else.
Some called him the ‘Moses’ of the Asian Canadian literary world for finding and nurturing emerging writers and eventually having their works published.
The list includes Paul Yee, Wayson Choy, SKY Lee, Evelyn Lau among others.
Madeleine Thien, the recent winner of the Governor’s Award for Fiction and the Giller Prize was hired and mentored by Jim to be editor of Ricepaper magazine even before anybody knew her.
“I remember going to met Jim and being amazed at all the knowledge at his fingertips, all the stories and memories he had,” Thien recalls in an interview for B.C. Bookworld.
Jim lamented the lack of visible minority writers in mainstream literary festivals and saw the need for one that showcases visible minority writers.
“In the past, many of the mainstream literary festivals were good at recognizing diversity and inclusiveness but as we are seeing, including one or two token visible minority writers is hardly a way to illuminate the writing of a community.,” he told BC Bookworld in September 2014.
He was the driving force behind LiterAsian, an annual literary festival launched in 2013.
The first of its kind in Canada, LiterAsian seeks to promote and celebrate works of Asian Canadian writers through readings and workshops.
This year’s event will be on September 21-24 during which the recipient of the now-renamed “Jim Wong- Chu Emerging Writers Award” will be announced.
One of the most enduring legacy of Jim is Ricepaper magazine published by ACWW.
It was started as a newsletter in the 60s and its first editor was architect and author David Wong who went on to write ‘Escape to Gold Mountain’, a graphic novel about Chinese immigration to North America.
Now a webzine publication, Ricepaper celebrated its 20- year anniversary in 2015 with an anthology – AlliterAsian: Twenty Years of Ricepaper Magazine co-edited by Jim Wong-Chu, Julia Lin and Allan Cho.
This was Jim’s last anthology although he revealed in his Access TV interview that he was working on a book about Chinese immigration in B.C. for the provincial government. The publication of that book nor its title has not been confirmed.
Wong-Chu also spearheaded a Chinese Canadian radio program called Pender Guy and collaborated with Todd Wong to start Gung Haggis Fat Choy .
Among Wong-Chu’s books:
Chinatown Ghosts (Pulp Press, 1986)
Many-Mouthed Birds (D&M, 1991) co-editor.
Swallowing Clouds: An Anthology of Chinese-Canadian Poetry (1999)
Strike the Wok: An anthology of contemporary Chinese Canadian fiction (Toronto: TSAR Publications, 2003) edited by Lien Chao and Jim Wong-Chu.
AlliterAsian: Twenty Years of RicePaper (Arsenal Pulp 2015) co-editor with Allan Cho and Julia Lim.
Ted Alcuitas is the editor and publisher of the online newspaper-philippinecanadiannews.com. He has known and collaborated with Jim for a number of years as a board member of the Asian Canadian Writers’ Workshop.
By: Sam Minassie
As an integral part of Latin American Week, Carnaval Del Sol has returned for another year with an even larger assortment of activities, vendors and events. Initially established in 2009 with approximately 500 attendees, it has evolved into an annual pillar of the community. In comparison, the festival now hosts up to 100,000 guests annually.
The festival is slated to take place across 7 plazas: The Food Plaza, Kids Plaza, AON Family Plaza, YVR Travel Plaza, Urban Plaza, Sports Plaza and the Beer Plaza. The different sects will host fashion shows, body painting, street performers, live DJ’s and even artists at work on paintings and sculptures.While recent expansions have resulted in new additions, such as “Music on Wheels”, as well as a Beer Plaza which now seats 600!
An entrepreneur by her early teens, founder, Paola Murillo began her first business, selling sandwiches to schoolmates. And although she received backlash from school authorities, by high school she’d already added pens as a second venture. A testament to her resiliency, Murillo, has never been one to shy away from a challenge.
So, when she moved to Vancouver, recreating an authentic “Plaza Latina” was merely another opportunity. In several Latin-American countries, plazas serve as major hubs for residents to socialize, share news and celebrate. These areas often make up the most intricate parts of a city’s dynamics. Murillo's aim to help connect the community through a more traditional approach has been highly successful and has helped bridge the gap for many newcomers.
Originally from Columbia, Murillo came to Canada in 2005 with business aspirations that have lead her to a number of projects including Latincouver. The online platform which provides a central place to find news and information, also hosts a number of programs. With a list that includes the Latin-Canadian Professional Network (LCPN), Inspirational Latin Awards (ILA), ExpoPlaza Latina (EPL), and the Amigo Card; the site offers something for everyone.
Now a Canadian citizen, she has been honoured a number of times, including the prestigious Mary Ozolins award given to a BC woman who “provides exemplary and meaningful contributions to the community”. And was recognized as one of the 10 Most Influential Hispanics in Canada by the Canadian Hispanic Business Alliance in 2010.
Although Murillo’s efforts often resonate more closely with Vancouver’s Hispanic residents, initiatives like the ExpoPlaza target broader international business relations. The conference which focuses on improving intercontinental trade helps Canadian companies connect with South American distributors and organizations.
The festival is scheduled to host approximately 250 performers, musicians, and dancers, keeping the stage overflowing with talent throughout the weekend celebrations. Outdoor cooking demos by the Chefs del Sol will also showcase traditional Latin-American recipes. Entry is free and with a variety of over 25 food vendors to choose from, a virtually unlimited assortment of Latin-American dishes is available.
The event takes place in Vancouver at the Concord Pacific Place, just north of Science World, from 10am - 10pm on July 8 and July 9.
By: Fred Mercnik in Niagara-on-the-Lake
In 1918, 26 Polish soldiers were buried in the Polish Military Cemetery behind St.Vincent de Paul Church.The small plot of graves is immediately distinguishable from the others in St. Vincent de Paul cemetery. Surrounded by a small iron fence, the 25 graves bear the emblem of a white eagle, the symbol of a free Poland. The soldiers were newly emigrated Polish-Americans when they traveled from the U.S to Niagara-on-the-Lake to train for an independent Polish army during the First World War. About 20.000 trainees filed through Niagara from 1917 to 1919, sleeping in barns, outnumbering the town's residents. The men in the graves died in the Spanish influenza pandemic. Each year, local Poles march from downtown Niagara-on-the-Lake to the cemetery plots, commemorating not only the spirit of the volunteers but the liberation of the motherland.
Republished with permission from Fred Photo.
In partnership with Apathy is Boring, New Canadian Media will be posting first-person accounts from the 150 Years Young Project, a campaign that highlights the positive impact youth are making throughout their communities.
Aanjalie Collure, Scary Immigrants
“Why should pictures of normal people doing normal things attract any news? The fact that something like #ScaryImmigrants did, reminds us that we have a long way to go to break the stigma with new immigrants and refugees.”
Aanjalie is a global health and human rights advocate, both inside and outside the office. She currently works as a Senior Associate at Global Health Strategies in supporting their projects that raise awareness of global health concerns like HIV/AIDS and neglected tropical diseases. Aanjalie is also the founder of Autobiography Magazine, an online multimedia platform dedicated to raising awareness of untold stories and silenced voices around the world. As an immigrant herself from Sri Lanka when she was three years old, Aanjalie noticed, even as a child, the severe lack of attention given by mainstream media to the civil war happening in Sri Lanka. This experience sparked a passion in Aanjalie for bringing under represented stories to the forefront. To this effect, in December 2016, Aanjalie organized Toronto’s Untold Stories – a photography exhibit featuring members of marginalized and underrepresented communities in Toronto. Featured stories included those of a wounded veteran, transgender activist, elderly homeless man, and a victim of the Rwandan genocide. More recently, Aanjalie launched the #ScaryImmigrants campaign as an immediate response to the announcement of the immigration ban in the United States. She heard the announcement while waiting for her flight from Toronto to New York and was confounded by the absurdity of sentiments towards refugees and immigrants. Through this campaign, Aanjalie hopes to make use of satire by presenting immigrant families participating in ordinary day-to-day activities with absurd commentary suggesting that they are plotting against their new communities. In addition to all of this, Aanjalie is also in the process of producing a documentary discussing the challenges lower-income women face around the world with menstruation. For this project, she is planning visits to Kenya and Nepal as well as conducting interviews in the USA to discuss stigma associated with it, taxation of hygiene products, and other challenges. In the final product, Aanjalie hopes to present the amazing work being done towards menstrual equity.
Kennes Lin, Youth Reconciliation Initiative advocate
“I feel strongly, as a Chinese-Canadian woman, that we need to understand what the last 150 years have actually meant, and make sure that we have learned what is necessary for the next 150 years.”
Kennes was born in Hong Kong and lived in Shanghai, China until she moved to Mississauga, Ontario when she was thirteen years old. She became involved in Canada Roots Exchange through an exchange opportunity in Rankin Inlet for a week, where she was welcome to live with an indigenous community. Since then, she has become more involved with programs offered through Canada Roots Exchange, especially the Youth Reconciliation Initiative (YRI).
As a proud immigrant to Canada, Kennes has had the opportunity to understand the label of “settler” much better than most. After going to school in Canada, she realized how little is discussed about the history and circumstances of the country’s indigenous communities. While she did not feel personal ties to the country and its history, Kennes found it problematic that the indigenous population of Canada were not given the opportunity to feel that personal tie. At YRI, Kennes and the team across the country work to host events, activities, and an overall safe space that facilitates dialogue and understanding between indigenous and non-indigenous youth.
Through her experience, and the general narrative of Canada’s history, Kennes works on addressing the necessity to “unlearn” many considerations that are believed to be what the country was built on. She has been able to use her experience of having a Cantonese background while living in mainland China and understanding the interaction of the two cultures towards recognizing and appreciating the label she has as a settler. Through YRI, Kennes hopes that reconciliation can be achieved with harmony, and a universal understanding of Canada’s history and the missing parts that make up who the indigenous population are, what they have gone through, and where they are now.
The 150 Years Young Project: In celebration of Canada's 150th birthday, Apathy is Boring is teaming up with community organizers and city ambassadors to recognize positive contributions by youth. Follow the hashtag #150yy for more!
By: Nick Saul in Toronto
The first thing you notice when you walk into the light-drenched main room at Calgary’s The Alex Community Food Centre is the promise written in loopy script above the open kitchen: “Good food is just the beginning….” Or maybe it’s the bright chairs in Crayola red and blue and green. Or the large family-style tables where everyone gathers to eat delicious homemade meals together. Wherever your eyes happen to land, it’s clear the entire centre is designed to make people in this diverse low-income community feel at home.
At a time when public discourse is deeply polarized, when scarcity rather than generosity frames so much of our collective conversation, when many of us have never felt more disconnected from one another, a beautiful and welcoming public space comes as something of a surprise. Yet there’s nothing accidental about it. The Alex and our other partner Community Food Centres and Good Food Organizations across the country, finding ways to create inclusive, thoughtfully designed spaces is a core priority.
Nobody needs to explain why to Ellen*, a participant in the Diabetes Cooking Group at NorWest Co-op Community Food Centre in northwest Winnipeg: “This place will change your spirit,” she says. “As a newcomer, sometimes you feel discriminated against. But this place lifts you up, pushes the negative thoughts away.”
Creating spaces where people can come together and feel respected, spaces that not only make room for diversity, but actively embrace it, is central to the movement we’re building. It’s an approach rooted in the belief that the physical — how a place looks, feels, flows — plays a big part in determining the social — how people feel, treat one another and work together. When low-income community members step into The Alex or NorWest, Dartmouth North or other Community Food Centres, they see fresh, bright, well-kept rooms, comfy chairs to relax on, maybe fresh flowers on the tables, art or murals on the walls, books and magazines to flip through. Signs direct people to the resources they need. The smell of good food—fresh bread, homemade soup — wafts out of the kitchens. The sounds of laughter and maybe even a bit of live music animates the rooms.
For many low-income community members who live in small apartments or shared rooms, who might work long hours for low pay, who have to spend far too much time in the demoralizing work of negotiating the social service or justice system, Community Food Centres offer not just a nice place to spend time, but a true respite. And at its best it can shift their experience away from deprivation and toward something more interactive, respectful and engaged.
“I feel comfortable as soon as I come in the door,” explains Peter*, who comes for the community lunch program at Dartmouth North CFC. “It’s not like a soup kitchen. For a brief time, I feel like a king. And the food looks like it comes out of a magazine!”
Of course, good food is central to creating these positive, friendly places. Step into The Local CFC in Stratford, ON, and you’ll find yourself in the heart of the kitchen. There’s always a group standing around the big open island mixing or chopping, baking or cooking. The pleasure of cooking and sharing a good meal allows community members to find connections that cut across barriers of language, race, class and culture.
For instance, The Alex CFC recently collaborated with the United Way to organize a potluck at the centre that brought together Aboriginal and Filipino leaders to address a history of conflict between their communities. Individuals ate together, then held a talking circle, and drummed together – activities that helped them focus on the connection between their communities, and sparked a promise to work together more in the future. At the Regent Park CFC in downtown Toronto, the Bengali women’s cooking group celebrated Independence Day by showcasing their substantial cooking chops to others in the neighbourhood. And at the newest Community Food Centre in Hamilton, one of the first programs on offer is an Intercultural Community Kitchen with food from many cultures, and staff and volunteers who speak English, Spanish, Kurdish and Arabic.
In our Annual Program Survey, 95% of people told us they feel part of a community at their CFC — at several centres, that number hit 100%. By creating dignified, safe and engaged spaces where good food fosters belonging, we are striving to challenge the dominant narrative of fragmentation and division. We’re creating the kind of connected, inclusive and diverse future we want to see.
“I want to make friends. I want to belong. I want a community,” Rebecca*, another participant from NorWest's Diabetes Cooking group. “I found it here.”
Nick Saul is the co-founder and President/CEO of Community Food Centres Canada. This piece was republished with permission.
-- Canada's economic development minister Navdeep Bains at a Public Policy Forum economic summit