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:
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!
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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! email@example.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 firstname.lastname@example.org
It may be hard to admit for some, but I believe that had “Mohammed Sharaz” been “Matthew Smith,” it would have not peaked the VPD’s interest and the media would have sensationalized it as they did. Many people have said that this incident should be blamed on the media and not the authorities as the authorities were simply making sure “people were safe,” but they are missing the point in how the authorities felt the safety of shoppers was at risk in the first place. This racialization of suspicion is not something that is new- nor is this an isolated incident- and as a brown Sikh man with a beard and a turban, I know that all too well.
This past Friday- January 15, 2016- an article posted by a popular Vancouver-based social media outlet went viral in local and national spheres on the internet. The piece featured images that had been leaked from the Vancouver Police Department of three men that had been deemed “suspicious.” The title of the article (which has since been changed) sparked a reaction that is all too familiar in today’s post-9-11 society: “Vancouver Police searching for 3 Middle Eastern men videotaping Pacific Centre Mall.”
People immediately began jumping to conclusions about the probability of another terrorist attack in North America, and several other news articles shared the news and added to the frenzied fear-mongering. However, as we all know, the three men in question ended up being innocent after all, and an article released later on Friday night explained the not-so-sinister motives of the group.
The frenzy has since died down, and the rash Facebook posts made by people have been deleted, but this event has opened up a “Pandora’s box” of issues that Vancouver, and Canada at large, has often denied or has avoided addressing. Racism is a problem that is thought to have been long gone, but that is unfortunately a myth. When racist events occur, the public reacts as if this is something out of the ordinary, and as Manisha Krishnan outlines in an article from Vice, the way these events are addressed never acknowledge the systemic racism that has always been in place.
However, people of colour across North America know too well that these occurrences are simply and physical manifestation of the underhanded discrimination that occurs daily. While Friday’s incident was not violent like the pepper spraying of Syrian refugees on the evening of January 8th was, the incident brought attention to something that is a daily occurrence, is very vicious, and enables attacks like the one we saw on Syrian refugees- microaggressions.
The Racialization of Suspicion
In a manual from the University of California’s Office of the President (UCOP), microaggressions are defined as “everyday verbal, nonverbal, and environmental slights, snubs, or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized group membership.”
Whether we like to admit it or not, these snubs are very much a part of the Vancouver landscape, one only needs to ask around to see how these racist undertones thrive as we continue to ignore them. It’s these microaggressions that set the stage for what Mohammed Sharaz and his two companions went through on Friday. It’s these microaggressions that painted a group of visually-impaired men, who were snapping pictures of landmarks in order to make it easier to find their way around Pacific Centre, as “suspicious.” It may be hard to admit for some, but I believe that had “Mohammed Sharaz” been “Matthew Smith,” it would have not peaked the VPD’s interest and the media would have sensationalized it as they did. Many people have said that this incident should be blamed on the media and not the authorities as the authorities were simply making sure “people were safe,” but they are missing the point in how the authorities felt the safety of shoppers was at risk in the first place. This racialization of suspicion is not something that is new- nor is this an isolated incident- and as a brown Sikh man with a beard and a turban, I know that all too well.
I became observant in my faith a few years ago, and I began keeping my beard, let my hair grow out, started wearing a turban, and became an Amritdhari- “baptised,” or “initiated”- Sikh. While this transformation changed the way I viewed my life and the way I viewed the world, it also changed the way that the world viewed me. The first thing I noticed was how I was getting “randomly” selected for checking more while crossing the border to meet family, or while flying. While on the Skytrain, I have seen this racialization of suspicion manifest, as people shift uneasily when I walk onto the train, or when the seat beside me is often left unoccupied, despite the fact that the everyone in the train is packed in like sardines and people are left standing and struggling to keep their balance. An acquaintance I knew from my clean-shaven days in high school once asked my cousin why I have “gone Al-Qaeda,” and once an elderly woman on the bus told me that it wasn’t good to keep my people, as “my people” had beheaded James Foley in Raqqah.
The stories go on and on. In Ontario, two day after the horrific attacks that took place in Paris, a couple erected a sign asking Muslims if they were “sorry for the slaughter of innocent people by [those] whom represent your religious beliefs.” In December, Valerie Kaur, a renowned activist in the Sikh community, was asked to present her breast pump to be searched “to prove she was not a terrorist” by passengers and staff on a flight home to Los Angeles. While Brazilian-American comedians Nick Giassi and Jobson Chaves were filming a video in Florida, a woman drove by and began yelling racist, xenophobic, and Islamophobic obscenities at them. Lastly, this past September, Ahmed Mohamed, a Muslim high schooler from Irving, Texas, was arrested for suspicion that the homemade clock he brought to school was a bomb, and a month ago Armaan Singh Sarai, a Sikh high schooler from Arlington, Texas, was arrested and forced to remain in a juvenile detention for three days after a bully made a false accusation that Armaan had a bomb in his backpack.
It is quite interesting to see how there is a pattern of brown, black, Muslim, and perceived-to-be-Muslim people have been continually marginalized in the name of security and safety. Therefore, it can be seen how dangerous these microaggressions truly are, as they aren’t mere opinions, but rather they provide the platform for racial profiling- despite the fact that authorities constantly deny that it takes place. However, while authorities keep doing what they do, it is the everyday public that has the most impact on how microaggressions affect people of colour. Thus, it is imperative that the information the public receives is not sensationalized or used to trigger the witch-hunt syndrome we all saw Friday night.
Seeing the bigger picture…
While it is questionable why the VPD found the three men suspicious- and we should be critical of the methods the police have used to identify a possible threat- the social media outlet that leaked the information is also to blame. The chief editor of said-outlet refused to acknowledge what they did as fear-mongering and claimed that they simply believed that the public should know what was going on. That would be absolutely believable, but their choice of language and the way in which they used by-lines which blatantly grabbed people’s attention, while feeding into existing microaggressions that paint brown men as suspicious, only fueled the fire of fear-mongering that we see plaguing North America.
What happened on Friday has gone by, and I am sure we all know what we can learn from this now- how dangerous microaggressions are, particularly the racialization of suspicion. However, there are things that you can do today to ensure that this does not occur again:
Hold media sources accountable for delivering unbiased information without sensationalization, or the use of microaggressions.
Be critical of methods used by politicians and authorities to determine or deal with a threat, be it Harper’s Bill C-51, or the use of racial profiling in the police.
If you shared the original articles online, make sure you take them down, and tag every person who liked or commented your post and let them know what had actually happened.
Don’t be a bystander! Way too often we hear people making off-handed comments and we let it slide, but don’t do that! Address the issue if you feel safe, or offer your help to someone who just faced that awful treatment.
Learn to unlearn racist behaviours. We all say or do things that can be oppressive, and many times we have no idea we are doing anything! Be mindful, and try to catch yourself when you clutch your purse when a black or brown man walks by, or ask yourself why you shift uncomfortably when you see a man with a turban or a woman in hijab.
It was awful what happened to our new neighbours from Syria, and it is sad to see how three men who were visiting Unceded Coast Salish Territories were given such a rude welcome, but it is important to not see these as two isolated events and two address the underlying issue. “This is not Canada” does not do justice to the microaggressions that have been festering in our communities for years. We must be introspective and realize how the institutionalized racism in our combined thoughts and actions, and the lack of acknowledgment thereof, has enabled these events to happen. People of colour often feel muzzled from voicing their concerns, as people use the existence of the Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms to refute lived experiences that many of us face. However, that must stop. The only way we can truly move on and solve this problem is if we allow people to be heard, and acknowledge the problem exists in the first place.
In these first few weeks of January, my faith community worldwide observes Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s Gurpurab — the anniversary of the incarnation of the tenth Sikh Guru — and during these days we reflect on Guru Gobind Singh Ji’s teachings. In one of his writings, Guru Ji addresses us and says, “Maanas Ki Jaat Sabhai Ekai Pehchaanbo,” which translated to “Recognize the human race as one.” I believe that this line immortalized in Guru Ji’s works can teach us a great deal of how we can move on, and I pray that we contemplate, live, and breathe these words so that we may see a more equitable society.
As Toni Morrison writes: “Deep within the word “American” is its association with white… American means white, and Africanist people struggle to make the term applicable to themselves with ethnicity and hyphen after hyphen after hyphen” (Morrison 1992: 46-47)
And if Africanist Americans, what about being Canadian? And Asian?
Wo shi huayi zhongguo Jianada ren.
As they ask, “But what are you?”
“Now if I was speaking to you on the phone, I would never have thought…”
And so begins an attempt to reclaim… but reclaim what?
An identity that you don’t know the identity of?
Who am I to me? Who am I to you? The confusion resurfaces.
This land is my land/This land is not my land
My arms are flung out to the east and the west.
If meaning is constituted through binary hierarchical differences, what do you become if you are slipping through the cracks, neither one nor the other?
Suddenly inauthentic on both parts, according to both sides.
Tossed back and forth, rejected on all fronts.
Stretching both ways, dancing on the shifting line,
A strange creature caught in the strange light of transgression, of interpellation.
A transition, not a conclusion.
Maybe I am more of a mix than I once thought.
These strange roots, this heritage, this so-called culture that ties us down as much as we struggle against it.
And when we stop, stare on in wonder, amazed that this, this, in embracing it, is the only way we stand at all.
How we stood at all in the first place.
How we stand when we find our way up from kneeling, buried in the clay and mud.
There is hope after all – after all, there is always hope.
Beyond the black and white, the day and night
There will always be the grey, the dawn, the dusk, twilight.
The creation of limits and labels necessitates the transgression of said limits.
The ability to access spaces – and the ability to then exist in those spaces in an entirely natural and joyful way, to fully participate in those spaces – has often been a privilege I have had to do battle for.
David and Nomonde recently travelled to Bali, and reflected together on some experiences travelling as racialized bodies
David: Nomonde is one of my dearest friends in the world – since we met in 2010 while we were both studying at the University of Cape Town, we have become very close friends. Mondes is now living in Pretoria, and I’m back home in Vancouver, but every year or so, we make an effort to meet somewhere “half way” in the world to hang out, and travel together.
We recently visited Bali, Indonesia together, and something that we’ve had to talk about seriously – though we do (nervously) joke about – is that when we pick places to travel, we literally have to consider the likelihood of one of us getting lynched or gay bashed.
The reality is, that when me and Nomonde are together – whether it be in New York, Johannesburg, or Bali – we stand out, and often makes many situations unsafe. The negative attention that we receive ranges from awkward, judgmental stares, to literal public mockery (pointing and laughing).
I’ve also recognized that in many cases, especially when I’m with Nomonde, I have the ability to pass more than she does. My body, my skin, my accent, breeds a reaction sometimes, and while we have shared difficult traveling situations, I also recognize the differences in the challenges that both of us face.
When we are together, for example, people usually speak directly to me only – not to her. Servers will always hand me the bill, and not to Nomonde.
Luckily for us, we always manage to navigate these situations with humour…especially when people ask us if we are on our honeymoon! 🙂
Nomonde: The ability to access spaces – and the ability to then exist in those spaces in an entirely natural and joyful way, to fully participate in those spaces – has often been a privilege I have had to do battle for. Because of racial history, my class, education, the kind of work I do – many of the spaces I move in are very white spaces and I have often had to navigate those spaces with extreme caution. My fat black body is perceived as threatening by many white people. When I laugh, or talk, I’m told I’m fighting. When I express myself passionately with gestures, wide eyes and sincerity I am perceived to be angry. Perpetually angry. Eternally threatening. A big, fat, black freak in delicate white, light spaces.
Travelling with David, who I adore, and not just because he always makes me feel so safe, has only confirmed and re-emphasised how difficult it can be for non-white bodies to access spaces of leisure. From sitting in a restaurant in New York and being ignored for a solid 45 minutes until David sat down and a waiter arrived at our side seconds later, to wandering a night market in Bali (which shall henceforth be known as the Night-market of Horror) and being laughed, harassed and jeered at while just desperately clinging to some form of dignity, to the reminder that yes I am a person and I do not deserve to be treated this way. To having those spaces turn threatening and dangerous, which I have never experienced with David, not yet anyway. At home in South Africa while at concerts, restaurants and clubs with other black women I have often been physically threatened and attacked by white men ‘defending’ their girlfriends from the existence of fat black womanhood in spaces they perceive as just their own. I have been spat at, stoned, shoved and punched right in my own back yard because I am a black body ‘trespassing’ where I do not belong and so when it comes to venturing to new shores, particularly knowing and acknowledging that David and I are both highly visible as individuals and even more so as a pair, I do intense research about black and poc experiences of the places we are visiting.
We had a very interesting, and amusing, conversation in Bali after our surreal and ugly experience at the Night-market of Horror, about how white travellers often boast about ‘getting to know the locals’ and ‘avoiding the touristy areas.’ While for black and other poc moving in those ‘authentic’ spaces can very often spell extreme humiliation, if not actual physical danger, and those are simply not conversations that I hear when black women particularly speak of travelling and exploration.
I desperately want to end this on a positive note because travelling has been overwhelmingly positive for me. I am beyond privileged to have the money to see the world, to have had the education and access I have had when the majority of women who look like me and come from where I come from struggle daily for the bare minimum of life and I acknowledge that fact with immense gratitude and humility. I suppose I just want us all to remember that there are many ways to kill a person. Always remember the power and the joy that can come from genuinely seeing each other.
Introducing our newest collaborator and team member – Duane 🙂
Duane R Stewart-Grant is Haisla from Kitamaat Village and Nuu-Chah-nuthl from Port Alberni. His Haisla name is c’ee’hixid and he is from the Raven clan.
In 2006, when he was living in Kitamaat he worked for Kitamaat Village Radio (KVR 96.1FM), where in 2008 he became the radio station manager until 2010. While working at KVR he started learning and growing closer to his culture.
In 2006/2007 he participated in the Star in Your Own Stories with Chee Mamuk, Hello Cool World and 11 other youth from the Haisla Nation. In three days they produced and stared in their own little story called Stand True. Stand True talks about how rumors can spread around like HIV/AIDS. Through Stand True, Duane was able to travel all over BC and he even traveled outside BC for the first time!
Duane came out to his family on May 4, 2010, but knew he was two-spirited at an early age. Through his travels he did with Stand True he met many other Two-Spirited people who were out, strong and proud to be two-spirited, he looked up to them for guidance during his journey.
When he moved to Burnaby in 2013 he started dancing with the Git Hayetsk Dancers and started apprenticing with Mike & Mique’l Dangeli. He now is learning to carve, paint, create regalia, dance, and is drawing First Nation art. Duane hopes to one day bring his knowledge back home and start teaching the next generation what he has learned!