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Invitation & Assimilation? Cultural Exchange versus Cultural Appropriation


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I would like to invite you to assimilate with me.

Yes, you heard that correctly, rather you read that correctly.

I know, I know that is a loaded statement, let me explain. The idea of forced assimilation has been used globally by many colonists who set out to perpetuate their ideas of superiority over all other folks who are not themselves. This way of thinking, of course, has many flaws in its foundation and application which is visible in history when one looks at this fact critically. This can be seen in statements such as “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.” Duncan Campbell Scott.

Gross right!

Why would I want to be a part of any form of assimilation, never mind invite other folks to participate with me, right?

I would like to draw your attention to the first sentence in this letter, particularly the word invite. For an invitation by definition is a cordial request in which another party is capable to accept or deny at their discretion. Essentially I am saying that I am willing to engage with you in who I am and what my culture is, of which is at my disposal and in deciding to keep secret, sacred, aspects which are not meant for the general population to myself. In doing so, I would expect the same from you well respecting your boundaries in and if you so choose to share with me.

This is the distinct difference between forced assimilation and an invitation to assimilation. The invitation will have both parties consenting to this form of cultural exchange. With this cultural exchange, we will assimilate both of our cultures into something new and uniquely ours. The possibilities for new experiences are astronomical, in its spectrum of potential.

I must stress again the importance of both parties being consenting to this experience less it be cultural appropriation.

Now we are getting to the meat of the matter, what is the difference between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation? This question is big, with many contradictory, extremely varied, and passionate answers to both definitions. The question then becomes how do we navigate these experiences while still honouring our experience?

Jeremy Jones

My name is Jeremy Jones, and I am of Coast Salish ancestry coming out of the nation of Snaw-Naw-As (Nanoose First Nation) on Vancouver Island. Growing up indigenous I have had the opportunity to witness many beautiful meldings of cultures. It is my wish and desire to provide more space for the possibility of cultural exchange.

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DIVERSE APPETITES: Cultural Exchange, Appropriation, and potluck.


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A couple weeks ago, I was was surprised to find out that my partner – who is a White-Canadian of Scottish descent – didn’t wash his rice before cooking. I am Chinese, and so rice is a staple in my diet (obvs), and I naively assumed that rinsing rice prior to cooking (to remove the starch) was a universal norm. My partner and I shared this really nice moment later that day where I washed rice with him, our hands rubbing the rice under running lukewarm water, clockwise, and only clockwise as to not break the grains – just like how my grandmother taught me when I was 10 years old. I have this vivid memory of her showing me how you need to feel the rice run through your fingers, and I think about how her grandmother must have taught her the same thing in her home village in Indonesia, and her grandmothers grandmother before that.

Sharing a part of my culture with someone, as minute as washing rice may be, is in my opinion one of the most profound aspects of human diversity. It’s what makes us who we are, and in underpins all of our interactions with each other. That moment of washing rice with my partner, passes on the generations of culture from my own familial history. It’s this moment, this interaction in our interpersonal relationships that makes this project that we are about to embark on so interesting to me.

One of the things that motivated us about starting a project and a dialogue about cultural exchange is around the conversations on cultural appropriation. Cultural appropriation is complex: in a nutshell, cultural appropriation is the taking, exploiting, and/or profiting off ‘another’ community’s culture. The popularity of wearing an Indigenous War Bonnet (headdress) to Coachella or other music festivals (or at Halloween…) is a prime example of this: non-Indigenous people, taking a representation of a sacred object, exploiting it as a fashion accessory, and completely disregarding the meaning (and sacredness) and importance behind the item from the communities that the culture came from.

As this conversation has evolved, what we noticed happening on social media was that the conversation has become very binary. The exhibition of culture is either appropriation or it isn’t – to the point where we’ve seen real online conversations that eating food that is not of “your” own culture, is considered cultural appropriation (actual conversation about how eating sushi as a non-Japanese person is cultural appropriation).

What we hope to do in Diverse Appetites, is to further explore cultural appropriation, and nuance the conversation by finding ways of doing ethical cultural exchange. This is not to deny in any way that cultural appropriation is problematic – of course it is, and it is in it’s worse form, a sinister form of colonization and racism. But we hope to shift our focus towards finding solutions – and finding ways that we can appreciate and exchange culture, while contending with the power dynamics that inform our relationships day to day.

What does cultural exchange look like? How can we share the beauty of cultural diversity, while also grappling with racism?

Is there such a thing as ethical cultural exchange?

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Daniella: On Cultural Appropriation


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One part of my culture that I love has to do with is family. I once got a fortune cookie that said “Cherish your family.” and I thought yeah, you know what, I really do and I want to work on it more. My family is very much about everybody supporting and being there for everybody regardless of what’s happening. If one person is fighting with someone else, it doesn’t matter, we’re family and it will get worked out because we’re all on the same team. I really like that and I aim to share it with the chosen family in my life as well.

What really bothers me about cultural appropriation is that it’s a continuation of everything that colonization was and is. It’s about taking the pretty things that are nice to look at or wear -like a bindi or Black hairstyles – but the whole underlying reason behind their existence is not even considered, much less the discrimination people from those cultures experience when they wear the same things. I think there needs to be much more thought and dialogue in terms of how we can do cultural exchange.

I am mixed race; my Dad’s family was from Goa, he was born in Malawi, in Africa, and my Mom is Zimbabwean. I was also born in Zimbabwe and the world reads me as Black so I identify as African/Black. My parents met in Apartheid-era Southern Africa, and so that was very interesting… them getting married as two people whose skin colours “didn’t match”. Being their first-born child has been a unique experience in cultural exchange and belonging to two very different cultures, but at the same time being read as a Black woman and identifying very strongly as a Black woman, especially in present-day North America. I remember food as always being a key element of learning about each of my parents’ families growing up, whether that was watching my aunt make a curry from scratch or my grandmother cook real sadza.

What is challenging as somebody who has moved from Zimbabwe to Vancouver is almost having to take on a North-American history that isn’t my personal family’s history in addition to my narrative as an African immigrant…and feeling that I want and need to address that additional history now that I live here because I totally experience what it is to be black in North America. That’s a very interesting thing to have had to learn.

., asian, culture, queer

It Runs in the Family: Vancouver Premiere


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We recently spoke with Vancouver based filmmaker Joella Cabalu about her film It Runs in the Family – a film about her own family’s story about being Filipino immigrants in Canada, and their relationships to the queer people in their lives.
It Runs in the Family is premiering at the Vancouver Queer Film Festival:
Tuesday, August 16 at 9 pm, International Village
Tickets available starting July 14:
http://queerfilmfestival.ca/films/it-runs-in-the-family/

1) “It Runs in the Family” – why the title, and what inspired you to go on this journey with your brother?

Coming up with an intriguing title that captures the story and spirit of the film and catches people’s attentions is such a challenge! I had a placeholder title during the development and production of the film, but the current title came during an editing session. I had previously talked to a friend about the film and she suggested IRITF. It was in the back of my mind and I relayed it to my editor Alexandra Marriott. When I met with Alex the following day for an edit session, she had cut the title into the opening sequence and we (myself, producer Cari Green, Alex) all had the same “aha” moment! It’s a bit tongue-in-cheek but also intrigues audiences into thinking what “it” could be!

The idea for the film sparked in my mind when I watched the documentary “For the Bible Tells Me So”. Jay had recently come out to me and this film portrayed five American Christian families and how they each dealt with the coming out of their child. But I noticed that out of the five families only one was a family of colour, so it made me wonder what would that story look like for my own family – a Filipino immigrant family.

2) I love the premise of the film – a personal story of an immigrant family and their journey with the queer members of their own family.  What  surprised you about making a film about this topic, and what do you hope the film shares?

The film is cut in a way such that the audience is discovering things about our relatives just as Jay and I were learning about them. So one thing that I didn’t expect going into filming was how constructs like “coming out” are perceived very differently in North America than in the Philippines. It challenged our ideas around the politics of “coming out” and I hope that sparks dialogue amongst the audiences as well.

3) The film has had an incredibly successful film festival run, and is now premiering home in Vancouver! What have been audience responses? What reactions have stood out in the festival run?

We had our US premiere at the Seattle Asian American Film Festival and that was the first time that the cast and crew watched the film together with an audience. And the response was absolutely incredible! We were actually awarded the Audience Choice Award! A common reaction to the film is that it’s refreshing to see a positive representation of an Asian / Filipino family as accepting and loving of their LGBTQ family members. One audience member remarked that it’s inspiring to know that these families exist! 

asian, queer, race

The Politics of Sexy: Race, Trans, Love


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We spoke with Kai Cheng Thom – Artist, Activist, Therapist, Performer – about her journey being queer, trans, Asian, her relationship with feminism, amongst many other things! Here is a sneak preview of the clip:

”[…] When we can talk about being loved, and when we can talk about loving our bodies, and loving other people’s bodies outside of how much they are valued sexually – then we can talk about equality.”

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Love Letter from a Gweilo to Richmond


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Brexit. I’ve been finding it challenging to comprehend all the explicit hate, racism, and xenophobia. People voting Leave believing they were voting for immigrants to leave and then gleefully celebrating their “victory” has my stomach in knots.

Part of me wants to be in denial that this ideology could be present here, but the truth is that it has been voiced to me many times. It’s rarely explicit stated, but the implicit message is always clear.

What usually happens is that I’m talking with an older white person and they find out I grew up in Richmond. They’ll say something like:

“Oh… Richmond has really changed, hasn’t it?”

What they mean is “there’s too many Asian people now,” and they expect me to agree.

The assumption they make is that I’m on their side in the us-versus-them they’ve constructed. It’s one of the many ways in which they are incorrect.

There’s no question to me which side I’m on. I’m on the side with “those Asians” because they are my friends, my neighbours, my classmates, and my family. And I want to say I love you.

My family left Richmond in 2001, so to my neighbours both from then and those who’ve arrived since: I love you and I really love what you’ve done with the place. By your hands, Richmond has gone from a nondescript, homogenous suburb to a vibrant, multicultural, urban community. Richmond really has changed, and it’s entirely for the better.

To my classmates: I love you and I gained so much from all that you taught me. Like that there’s a difference between Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Mainland China (and Japan, and South Korea, and all the other places in Asia…). That CBC, FOB, and Banana all mean Canadian. How you really don’t need that much shared language to play together. And how more cultures means more opportunities for celebrations.

To my friends: I love you and have so much gratitude for everything we shared. Trading cookies for Pocky, playing Star Wars and Pokémon, watching Disney and Studio Ghibli. We were pirates, Power Rangers, dinosaurs, Sailor Scouts, Batman and Ultraman, and so much more. Anime taught us the extraordinary power of friendship and we brought it into reality.

Two people I am honoured to call my siblings are mixed Japanese and European. You are my family and I love you so much. My world is greater in both breadth and quality for having you in it.

When I say I love all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of Richmond, I really mean it. Not just the sweet and sour and the yakisoba that my grandparent’s palate can understand, but the duck feet and the durian that allow my palate to grow beyond what theirs could even imagine.

The same is true for stories and histories. I love the stories of dragons, lanterns, and fireworks. For the histories of emigration, internment, and inequity my love is just as strong, though awash with sadness too.

Xenophobia tells us to fear difference but as a queer person I know my difference is my gift. I know that in an ecosystem the diversity is what makes it resilient. I know that celebrating and embracing difference makes us all so much more than we could ever be on our own.

We now live in an era of profound global interconnection. Technology, economies, migration, and climate disruption have woven our stories and fates more tightly than has ever been seen. Any movement forward must be grounded in an ethos of connection, acceptance, and a global sense of us. We are not “all one,” but instead an extraordinary multitude of difference, and that is how we will survive and thrive.

So thank you Richmond, for nurturing me and my peers into global citizens.

I love you,

Andrew

., asian, culture, queer, race

Kira


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A few months ago, we spoke with Kira about her journey coming out, and she generously shared with us her life and her dreams.  As a Trans* woman who came out and transitioned in adulthood, Kira explores some of the things she went through, and what it meant to come out later in life.

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“10,579Km: A Queer Journey from Damascus to Vancouver”


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Our newest film is “10,579Km: A Queer Journey from Damascus to Vancouver”- a story of Danny Ramadan, a queer activist from Syria, who has recently made his home in Vancouver, after seeking refuge from imminent persecution.  Danny shares with us his new life and home in Vancouver, some challenges integrating into the queer community as a gay Syrian refugee, as well some hopes that he has for the future.

Check out the trailer below.  For screening information, please email us! intersectinglove@gmail.com

Qmunity – the queer resource centre in Vancouver – has recently launched a queer drop in for refugees and newcomers, called ‘Routes to Roots’.  The next drop in is on June 7th at Qmunity.  For more info email volunteers@qmunity.ca

., queer

Routes to Roots: Building a community in Vancouver with LGBTQ newcomers and refugees


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Our newest Love Intersections collaborator, the amazing Danny Ramadan, shares his experience coming to Vancouver as a queer Syrian refugee, and shares a new program he is spearheading with Qmunity (a queer resource centre in Vancouver), “Routes to Roots” – a drop in for LGBTQ newcomers and refugees.

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Imagine yourself as a tree; a beautiful, fully grown, tree that carries delicious fruits and spring flowers unmatchable to any other. Now, imagine a war on trees, those who want to cut that fruitful tree down, to burn it to ashes. Those who want to eradicate trees.

Like the hero of a story, the tree pulled itself out of the ground. It pulled up its own roots in a painful, unimaginable way, and managed to stand tall to escape that hateful land. It went through a lot of hardship, and traveled across many borders, until it finally found green, welcoming soil, and it decided to root itself there.

Like that tree, LGBTQ-identified refugees and newcomers had to uproot themselves from the soil of their home countries, seeking the promise of a bright future, escaping the fire of homophobia, and the axes of transphobia, in search of safety, security, and prosperity here in Canada.

But planting a tree in foreign soil is not easily done.

When I arrived in Vancouver among the very first LGBTQ-identified Syrian refugees, I was hit by a wave of happiness. I knew my future here would be bright, beautiful, and magical. I felt that I had finally found a place where I could be my true self, and represent who I am to the community at large, without fear of persecution, homophobia, or othering.

I didn’t realize, however, how much time and effort it would take for my roots to grow.

Integrating into a new country requires an equal effort from the newcomer themselves, to learn the traditions and the ways of the new culture, as well as the local community to welcome these newcomers and refugees, and support them as they go through this mesmerizing, yet challenging, transformation.

Building those roots and integrating into the Canadian community is a unique challenge for queer and trans refugees. While other refugees can rely on the local community native to their country of origin; LGBTQ-identified refugees and newcomers moved to escape that exact community back home, running away from homophobia and transphobia, and seeking freedom in Canada.

Queer and trans newcomers and refugees come across  challenges in finding solace engaging with their heterosexual compatriots in diaspora.

With this unique experience in our hands here at QMUNITY, we understood a distinctive need in this new and growing community: the need to integrate in an authentic and supportive environment.

That’s why QMUNITY is running its latest project: Routes to Roots!

Routes to Roots (R2R) is a drop-in group for queer and trans identified folks, from both the newcomer and refugee communities, as well as the local community.

The drop-in will act as a social hub to form a connection between those communities. It will include social games, hangouts, events, and fun nights together to create meaningful friendships within the local LGBTQ community, and the newcomers and refugees community. The hope is that we will be able to help the newcomers and refugees feel that sense of belonging that many of them need so desperately.

We aspire to have each drop-in facilitated in two languages: English and another language.

Our Kick-Off meeting is Thursday, the 5th of May, 2016 from 6 pm to 9 pm. We will be meeting in QMUNITY’s main office (1170 Bute Street). This drop-in is unique, as it will have a space for the newcomer and refugee folks to let us know what kind of social activities they would like to see. We hope that through this drop-in, we will be able to focus our services to provide solutions reflecting the challenges faced by this community.

During this month’s drop-in, facilitated in both English and Arabic, we will be collaging, playing social games, and getting to know each other for three hours. The space is located on the second level of the building, and attendees should be aware that there is a flight of 23 stairs to reach the office.

Depending on the season, we hope to provide a variety of activities: in summer time, we may go biking, hiking, or go to the beach together; in the winter season, we may go to the Aquarium, or to the Vancouver Public Library.

The program will also provide a unique opportunity for the local community of queer and trans people of colour, as it will be a meaningful space for them to integrate with the newcomers and refugees, and connect with them on matters of race, sexuality, and being settlers in the land of Canada.

Integration into a new community is hard, like planting a tree in foreign soil; I know that first hand. But here at QMUNITY, we hope that we will be able to provide a nourishing ground for these fruitful trees to grow and flourish.

Do you have questions? Get in touch with Danny and he will be here to answer them all: volunteers@qmunity.ca

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., queer

The Heart Behind Pink Shirt Day


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IMG_4237Two years ago I partook in the celebration of Canada’s national anti-bullying day as I slipped over my pink shirt and zealously celebrated all-things pink. I was in grade 12 and took pride in mobilizing my high school’s pink-shirt day with what I thought was a tangible solution to the complexity of bullying.

At my school, we had every student, teacher, and custodian’s name posted in the front hall in the form of miniature paper pink shirts, creating a hall flooded with the colour pink.

Yet today I look back at myself and wonder if pink-shirt day really made a difference.

Pink-shirt day originated in Nova Scotia when a gay high school teen was bullied because he wore the colour pink to school. In response, his friends encouraged their friends to all wear pink the following day in an act of solidarity, through protesting bullying.

What happened in Nova Scotia is a prime example of what happens on a day-to-day basis in schools – the targeting of boys who transgress hegemonic masculinity. This is rooted in homophobia and misogyny.

One of the things that I reflect upon is whether or not through anti-bullying day we actually challenge these systems of hegemonic masculinity and misogyny, which cause people harm. Yes, it’s great to blatantly frown upon “bullying” – but how do we actually address the systemic issues that underpin bullying? Are we actually engaging our communities to find solutions against the harms caused by misogyny, homophobia, and femmephobia; why is it that every over day of the year it is still awkward for a guy to wear the colour pink? How can we find ways to challenge the continuous persistence of masculinity by critiquing the social disapproval towards deviances from gender norms?

As students and adults embrace anti-bullying day by wearing pink shirts, going on marches on the street, and preaching the rhetoric of kindness and respect, I am concerned that this movement against bullying will become a façade – which we advocate against “oppression” (in the form of bullying) for one day – yet we will overlook the systemic impacts of how oppression actually operationalizes. I am concerned that when students (like myself) wear pink shirts, they go home and give themselves a feel-good pat-on-the back for challenging bullying, but forget where bullying stems from.

We cannot forget that bullying is a systemic issue; not all students (and adults) are equally susceptible to being bullied, bullying targets those who are socially on the margins. Issues of race should be talked about, issues of cultural and ethnic differences, body shapes, fatness, homophobia, transphobia, gender variances, the way certain people smell, the way certain people dress, the way people talk, the lisps certain people have, the eye twitch that one girl has, the way one walks, and the list goes on, are all things people can be bullied for. This is what anti-bullying day really should be about: yes, wearing pink shirts, but also organizing and finding strategies to combat the root causes of bullying and oppression.

When we wear a pink shirt, we should be willing to address issues of racism, homophobia, transphobia, misogyny, mental health, religious differences, and body image among the variety of reasons why people are bullied. Otherwise, when we wear a pink shirt to preach anti-bullying and stop there, we are in fact perpetuating bullying by saying we refuse to take further action in dismantling systemic discrimination. Bullying is in fact perpetuated because we convince ourselves we are addressing the issues of bullying, but we are merely masking our own insecurities to take action and speak out against various forms of discrimination ranging from transphobia, homophobia, Islamophobia, fatphobia, colonialism and classism.

By merely wearing a pink-shirt and convincing yourself that you are not a bully is a myopic measure that silences the reality of bullying on a larger scale. Simply wearing pink carries symbolic power, it visually creates an image of solidarity, but solidarity can be expressed by showing compassion and taking action to fight systemic forms of oppression, too.

We recognize the unacceptable acts of physical aggression and blatant name-calling, which often come to define bullying, but we are gradually becoming numb to the ways that produce bullying in the act of speaking against it.

Pink Shirt Day reminds me of the challenges I face in my journey, as someone who strives to organize against oppression and bullying. There is something liberating about getting excited to mobilize change when your friends, teachers, and co-workers all wear pink (I remember this good feeling), yet I am reminded that for the other 364 days we must not let various forms of oppression go unchecked. Simply, I hope to find ways to take the fun and love of Pink Shirt Day and use that energy to move one step further to build long term goals and cohesive communities that challenge oppression.

I hope we can realize that behind Pink Shirt Day is a very simple and raw act of kindness. Extend your heart, show compassion, and empathy, just like we do on Pink Shirt Day, and in this simple process I believe various forms of oppression can be alleviated. Initiatives to end bullying will require dismantling systemic forms of oppression, but first, love is required, and that love starts with the love you hold in your heart.

-Andy Holmes