First of three conversations on our shared hybrid identities
A group of participants sat crowded together in a café to discuss the hybrid identities within Quebec, yet this scene took place not in the 1970s, but on Wednesday Sept. 10 at the Leonard & Bina Ellen Art Gallery on Concordia’s campus.
In collaboration with Just Watch Me, the University of the Streets Café held its first public conversation of the season under the casually flickering lights of a disco ball. Participants gathered around intimately, nestled with a mug of tea or coffee, and became a part of the collective conversation. There were those in the crowd who spoke their mind freely and articulately, and others who began with half-formed ideas, only to finish with more thought-provoking questions. There were also many who simply listened as the dialogue flowed smoothly from English to French.
“We’re looking at questions of identity construction,” said Susan Edey, Coordinator of University of the Streets Café about that night’s talk. This was the first in a series of three talks, the second of which will take place Wednesday Sept. 17. The collaboration with Romeo Gongora, creator of the Just Watch Me space, came about in part because the exhibit also examines identity construction in the context of Quebec. The rest of the conversations in the series will examine identity on a personal level, then identity on a local level. While the conversation itself may look intimidatingly intellectual, many in the crowd spoke of their own personal experiences, mixing their viewpoints in with those who approached the topic from a more academic mindset.
From political discussions and linguistic topics to formative high school experiences, everyone’s input to the discussion was valuable. Many often returned to languages as a signifier of identity, and small wonder that, with several participants noting they perceived a tension between English and French, particularly here in Montreal.
“I find it interesting that some people — the immigrants or some other people from all around the world — were sharing their experiences,” said Julian Angulo, a volunteer with University of the Streets Café.
Although he did not engage, he found himself relating to the speakers. “That helps me a lot because I’ve just been here for two years and I’m trying to find myself.”
For Angulo, the conversations are a way for him to step out of his intense graduate studies and into a more community-engaged world. It also ends up being a way for him to practice both his French and English at the same time.
At the end of the night, a flurry of contacts were exchanged. The conversation, limited to just two hours, could not fully explore every single line of thought.
“I think that the conversation moved. It went to really interesting places,” Edey said, after the crowd had dispersed into the night. “I was glad to see a mixture of Anglophone Quebecers, Canadians, Francophone Quebecers, Allophone Quebecers, and new arrivals. I thought that added to the richness.”
Amongst all the different identities, the conversation that night managed to bridge the language divide and overcome the initial awkwardness of not knowing how to begin.
For more information on future conversations by University of the Streets Café, there is a schedule available online at Concordia’s website for the entire semester in which 12 more conversations are planned.