My very Jewish love letter to the Cavendish Mall IGA

Spiritual connection can be found in the most mundane places

It may seem peculiar to admit, but one of the spaces I feel the most unabashedly Jewish is in a chain grocery store.

I currently live in Outremont, my small apartment building nestled amongst the rows of beautiful houses containing large, lively Hasidic families. Between Lipa’s Kosher Market, Continental Deli, and the dozens of synagogues, I could definitely get my share of Jewish culture anytime I left the house. But, as much as I love a Cheskie’s black and white cookie, as a secular(ish) reform Jew, these aren’t really my people.

However, a forty-minute bus ride away, at an unassuming IGA, that’s where my people are.

My grandparents immigrated to Canada around 1953 as refugees of the Holocaust. The war broke out when my grandmother was a young teen, and after losing all of her family other than a sister and cousin, likely to Auschwitz but we’ll never know, she met my grandfather in a labour camp. After liberation, the pair were processed through Italy, went to Israel, then finally arrived in Montreal.

Our family began as working class Mile End Jews, as many post-War Ashkenazi immigrants did. In comparison to the more affluent “uptown” Jews of Westmount, who had already assimilated to Canadian culture through a couple generations of living here, “downtown” Jews like my family had a difficult time initially, adapting to two new languages and secular life, all while reeling from the most awful trauma imaginable.

By the 1980s, after moving through multiple Montreal boroughs, my grandparents, again following the trends of their Polish Jewish peers, finally settled in Côte-Saint-Luc. And there they lived until they passed — my grandfather before I was born and my grandmother this past summer.

Everytime my parents and I would travel to Montreal to visit my grandmother, a trip to the Cavendish Mall IGA was inevitable. Beginning as an opportunity to make sure my grandmother got all of her granddaughter’s favourite foods, and later because driving herself became impossible, the IGA factored into every family trip to Montreal.

Growing up in suburban Virginia, never had I seen so much Jewish food in one place. Or, honestly, Jewish food for sale in general, other than a lonely box of Passover matzah inexplicably stocked in a Hanukkah display.

The IGA has been a constant, not just for my family, but for the large Jewish Côte-Saint-Luc community. The store has a sizable kosher section spanning not only the Eastern European Jewish staples like knishes and verenikas, but also babaganoush and harissa to accommodate the more recent influx of Sephardic Jews into the neighbourhood.

Early in the COVID-19 lockdowns, the Cavendish IGA briefly closed its doors to shoppers. IGA’s parent company Sobeys stated that their decision was made to limit the amount of times residents were leaving their houses. With Côte-Saint-Luc’s especially elderly population, this call was made in an attempt to protect residents from disease. However, the move created a backlash from older residents, who either did not have access to or proficiency with computers and online ordering.

On top of the accessibility concerns of online shopping, closing the Cavendish IGA limited the social aspect of shopping for not only the older community, but Jewish Côte-Saint-Luc residents in general.

Much has been said about food and cooking as community-making, but why do we not extend this thought to the grocery shopping experience?

In Côte-Saint-Luc, the IGA has become somewhat of a cultural hub for the community, as, especially during the pandemic, it’s one of the few places community members, mostly older adults, will get a chance to see their neighbours.

I don’t go to the Cavendish Mall much these days. Since my grandmother’s passing, I’ve only been out to Côte-Saint-Luc a few times to help clean out her apartment. But I went this past week, partially to have an excuse to get some reading done one the bus, but mostly because in the stress of exam season, I was craving the warm embrace of Jewish carbs. 

Once I passed the extensive bakery section, I was greeted by a giant Hanukkah display. “A bit early?” I chuckled to myself, thinking about the cliché of Christmas decorations popping up as soon as Halloween passes. Then, I realized I didn’t even know when Hanukkah begins this year. Turns out it’s Nov. 28, so the joke’s on me.

But after the twinge of pain knowing that Hanukkah will have come and gone before I’m even done with finals, I thought: where else would I come face to face with a kiosk full of dreidels, menorahs, and adorned with an image of a yarmulke-clad cartoon boy?

That’s the thing about the Cavendish Mall IGA. The mundane fact that matzah ball soup mix is sold all year (in a section that actually corresponds to the correct holiday), that it’s the only place I’ve ever found kasha varnishkes outside of my dad’s kitchen, that I can walk around on a Friday early afternoon, see a box of candlesticks in my fellow shopper’s cart and share a knowing look.

Though I had no real reason to go to the IGA recently, even without my grandmother to guide me to the good gefilte fish, the experience still ignited something comforting in me that I can’t quite articulate. Maybe it’s God, maybe just good chicken soup.

 

Feature graphic by Kaitlynn Rodney and James Fay

Third culture kid: My identity crisis as a multicultural person

Stop asking me where I’m really from because it’s none of your business

I was 10 years old when my parents told me to pack my suitcase and said, “We’re moving to Canada.”

As a kid, everything happened so fast, and I didn’t really understand where we were moving. Within a blink of an eye, I said goodbye to my friends, family, teachers, and left my home in Italy.

Growing up with my multicultural background in Montreal, I often got asked what culture I identified with the most.

That’s a hard question to answer. As a third culture kid (TCK), I’ve been unable to fully relate to any of the three cultures I grew up with: Italian, Filipino, and Canadian.

Who am I? Where do I belong? What defines my identity? These are questions that many TCKs ask themselves.

The TCK term was coined by an American sociologist Ruth Useem in the 1950s. A TCK is a child who grows up in a culture different from the one their parents grew up in. According to Merriam-Webster, “The ‘third culture’ to which the term refers is the mixed identity that a child assumes, influenced both by their parents’ culture and the culture in which they are raised.”

When I moved to Montreal, I was amazed by the multiculturalism. It was refreshing to see so many different cultures existing side-by-side. However,  I was shocked to find out how unwelcoming some people in the city were at times, despite the melting pot of cultures around them. Though, I didn’t understand at that time.

One of my first encounters with racism was in my elementary school here in Montreal. I vividly remember my classmates asking me where I was really from. Initially, I didn’t understand what they meant.

Until I heard them say, “Well, you look Asian, how come you’re Italian?” Ouch, I thought. Why would they ask me such a thing?

To me, it was normal. So, I explained. My parents are originally from the Philippines, but they moved to Italy, met in Rome and lived in Italy for more than 20 years. The kids insisted that I wasn’t Italian because I didn’t have citizenship.

They didn’t know that those born in Italy are not automatically citizens unless a parent is an Italian citizen. However, those who are born in Italy to foreign parents can become Italian at 18.

In my case, my parents did not want to give up their Filipino citizenship to get the Italian one. I was born and raised in Italy, but I’m not a citizen, because I left at the age of 10.

After a few years of living in Montreal, I realized that every time someone asked me where I was really from, it was a microaggression. Their question implied that I couldn’t be from Italy because I’m not white.

Why was it so hard for people to understand and accept that I considered myself Italian because of the culture I grew up in?

The first language I learned was Italian. Not once did I conversate in Tagalog (the spoken language in the Philippines), nor did I grow up eating Filipino food. It felt strange to identify as a Filipino because I had never associated with its culture.

Within my first year in Montreal, I had to curate the perfect answer for this question to avoid further probing and undesired comments.

This was only the beginning of my identity crisis. 

Why did I let friends and strangers define my identity? Why couldn’t I consider myself Italian regardless of what my papers said? It was easier to let others label me and define my identity to fit their expectations without constantly explaining myself.

Whenever I identified myself as an Italian, I had to explain my whole life story and always got mixed reactions. This was uncomfortable.

As the years went by, I let myself assimilate to Quebec culture. I learned how to speak French and English. I mastered the perfect Montreal accent just to fit in.

I abandoned my Italian culture and gave up on telling people that I considered myself Italian. 

Forgetting I was born in Italy and spent my childhood there was a small price to pay if it meant I could finally fit in somewhere.

Today, I rarely get asked where I’m from, partially because I no longer have a thick Italian accent when speaking in English and try to avoid the conversation before it can even begin.

This summer, I had the opportunity of going back to Italy after 11 years of being in Montreal. I got to see my family and my childhood friends. We visited my old house and my old neighbours.

As a 10-year-old, relocation to another country didn’t affect me. When I finally revisited my old home for the first time since we left, I was able to reconnect with my Italian “roots” that I had abandoned. I was reminded of my childhood in Italy and the life I had before moving to Montreal.

It was easier to block out my childhood memories in Italy and pretend that I had always lived in Canada in order to fit in.

After returning from my trip to Italy, I finally processed all the emotions that I couldn’t feel as a child. I grieved the life I lost and the citizenship I could have had if I stayed eight more years. I cried for my 10-year-old self, who packed up her life, left her friends and relatives, and flew across the world only to lose her culture and identity.

I now understand what it means to be a TCK, and I accept all my cultures as part of my identity. As a TCK, it’s impossible for me to identify with one culture without raising questions. I’m Italian, Filipino and Canadian, regardless of what my papers say. My citizenship doesn’t define my identity.

 

Feature graphic by Maio

Long-distance relationships — could you make it work?

It can’t be that hard to live in different cities… right?

Long-distance relationships always seemed implausible when I was younger: how could two people be in a relationship, yet spend their day-to-day life apart?

I had seen my parents go on work trips for a week or two at a time and all seemed well, but my media consumption also showed me the well-known trope of girl and boy in a long-distance relationship: girl surprises boy, boy is cheating on girl, girl eats a whole pint of ice cream on a curb in the rain.

But while sitting at the dinner table during one of my parent’s dinner parties, picking the green peas out of my rice, I overheard my mom’s diplomat friend say something strange. “Yup! This fall, I’m moving to Sweden, while David stays back in Seoul until next winter. Then he will come join me…” A unique situation notwithstanding, I started to realize there are nuances in relationships, and different things can work for different people.

Fast-forward 10 years, and here I am, two-and-a-half years deep into a long-distance relationship. When I moved to Montreal two years ago for school, I was forced to leave my partner behind in our country’s quaint little capital. Although we had only been together a little over six months, and had initially planned to break up like most people do when they start this new phase of life, we decided to give it a go!

Ottawa to Montreal is only two hours by bus, train or car — so when I say to people my partner and I live in different cities and they initially give me a glance of pity, I must swiftly clarify that it’s a mainly-long-distance-relationship-but-is-it-really-long-distance since we practically see each other every second week.

When I tell people how long we’ve made it work, they always seem impressed — for me, it didn’t seem exceptional — we were just like any other relationship. It didn’t occur to me that we were doing anything different. Yet the more I think about it, the more I see the differences between relationships where two partners live in the same city, and those where they don’t.

Here are a couple things I like to keep in mind when trying to navigate the relationship landscape.

Communication is key

This may be one of the biggest relationship clichés, but it rings more true than ever when you have to decipher body language and tone over FaceTime or texts. In general, 20-somethings have trouble communicating their feelings efficiently, which can lead to frustration and miscommunication.

In my experience, I’ve found that I often get frustrated when my partner can’t match my “energy” when it is convenient to me: you could call it a remnant of immature childish behaviour. I tend to take my frustration out on him, which has led to me creating an unsafe space for him to express his feelings in the past.

Rather than shutting down and getting upset that my partner can’t relate to my current state of mind, I need to allow him to feel what he wants, without it impeding my own expressions. In short, it’s okay to be experiencing different things at different times — acknowledge what your person is feeling, and empathize with them without letting it impact you in the now.

The independent side of your relationship

When you’re in your twenties, everyone is always expected to be mingling — going out and meeting all kinds of people. And I mean, I like going to restaurants, or even the occasional party or park hangout. All around me there is a perception that being in a partnership — especially a long-distance one — could have a negative impact on the quality of your classic ‘uni life’ experiences, but I disagree.

Maybe I’m lucky in the sense that I hate clubbing — so even if I was single, it would never be something I would pursue — but I’ve found that if there is a basic sense of trust between you and your partner, you are able to do all the fun partying and mingling you want, without the pressure of flirting and/or rejecting flirtation. Instead, you get to go make friends and then come home to a heartwarming text reminding you to take some Advil from your boo thang.

Speaking of my boo thang, shoutout to him for being super kind and driving up to Montreal every second week despite the parking situation in the Plateau — love you.

 

Feature graphic by Madeline Schmidt

Seasonal depression is approaching— here’s what I wish I knew before to fight these depressive times

The weather is getting colder, the sun doesn’t shine as long, and for many of us our moods are following suit

In high school, I didn’t fully understand what Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) was, nor that it affected me and every aspect of my life: mental health, relationships, and academic performance.

When I was in grade nine, around November when it first started snowing, I noticed that I was having symptoms related to depression — oversleeping, having low energy, moodiness, becoming easily irritated, and often feeling exhausted by doing the smallest tasks.

At that time, I was going through a lot of changes in school and in my personal life. It was easy for me to think that I was just going through a funk that I would eventually outgrow. Which I did, but the “funk” came back the following winter.

This “funk” lasted for about five months, roughly the whole duration of the season, but right as spring came by, I would feel like myself again.

Over the years, I noticed that this “funk” was recurring, and always happened around this time of year. Sure, the warmer seasons didn’t erase all my tiredness and sadness, but nothing felt as depressing as during the winter.

Full disclaimer: I have yet to be diagnosed with SAD by a professional. I’ve been gaslighting myself into believing that these depressive episodes are just the usual “winter blues,” and something normal that everyone experiences. Until I see a doctor and take all the tests, I am only self-diagnosed with SAD.

I only recently started researching and learning more about SAD and how to cope with it. So, what is SAD exactly?

The specific cause for this form of depression remains unclear, although the Mayo Clinic suggests that it is directly related to sunlight which affects several essential factors in our bodies.

The first factor is our circadian rhythm (biological clock). The decrease in sunlight during the winter and fall may disrupt the body’s internal rhythm, and can lead to feeling depressed.

Another potential factor is serotonin levels. Reduced sunlight can cause a drop in serotonin, the key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness, which may trigger depression.

Finally, the change in season can disrupt the body’s melatonin balance, which affects sleep patterns and mood.

A misconception about SAD is that it only happens in the winter, hence the “winter blues.” However, it doesn’t only occur in the colder months. This form of depression is a lot more complex. The symptoms can be distressing and overwhelming, and can interfere with daily functions.

SAD usually begins in the fall when the days get shorter, and lasts through the winter. Weather affects people’s moods. A sunny day can make us happier and energized, while a rainy day can make us feel gloomy and down. Though these minor mood shifts don’t usually affect people’s ability to cope with daily functions, some may be vulnerable to depression that follows a seasonal pattern.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, about two to three per cent of Canadians will experience SAD in their lifetime. In comparison, 15 per cent will experience a milder form that will leave them slightly depressed, but able to function without any significant symptoms.

Personally, every winter, I experience the same symptoms, but they have worsened over time, which makes me wonder if I have SAD.

SAD symptoms are similar to those of chronic depression. Common symptoms include fatigue, even after having enough sleep, and weight gain associated with overeating and carbohydrate cravings.

As previously mentioned, SAD affects not only my mental health but also my relationships. In previous winters, I would hibernate at home and avoid all sorts of socialization and activities. Any kind of non-essential task became too exhausting. Even doing basic daily tasks like checking up on friends required extra effort. This affected my relationships with those around me, and made me more distant and very lonely.

I’ve also seen it affect my academic performance. I usually perform very well in the fall semester, but I’ve noticed a drastic change in my grades and a lack of motivation during winter semesters.

My SAD has made it hard for me to even get up in the morning without crying. No joke. Only a few days ago, I woke up at 5 a.m., got dressed, sat on my couch and cried about how stressed I was. Then, I left the house to catch the bus, and missed it. Cried even more.

By waking up every morning and seeing how dark it is outside, I instantly feel depressed. The cherry on top: when I take the train going back home at 6 p.m., it’s already pitch-dark, which is very discouraging, and makes me extremely tired.

The transition between the summer and fall seasons has been excruciating. How will I cope with my undiagnosed SAD, and prepare myself for the brutal winter, you may ask?

I will try to be active and spend time outdoors during the day, but most importantly, I’m finally going to see a doctor for a diagnosis, and finally start therapy.

SAD is a form of depression that needs to be treated just like any other mental illness.

SAD is still a stigma around many people, especially students. If you’ve had similar experiences, I encourage you to reach out to a mental health specialist and get the help needed.

 

Feature graphic by James Fay

This back to normal is… weird, right?

Going back to normal isn’t going to go as we expected

Is it just me, or does being back on campus feel weird to anyone else? Eighteen months of online school came to an end in the span of a week with little more than a new access card to mark the occasion. I don’t know what I was expecting; certainly not a marching band to parade down Sherbrooke St. to raise the Concordia flag over the Loyola campus, but a bit more than my professors saying “wow, Zoom sucked… anyway here’s the syllabus.”

It was the perpetual promise of this “back to normal” that helped me through some of the toughest moments of the pandemic. Now that I am living the life that was interrupted, it feels like at any moment I could look down and find the pen that I lost on the last day of in-person classes before Montreal entered its first lockdown — slightly dusty but otherwise in the same place I left it.

The influenza pandemic of 1918 was dubbed the “forgotten plague” because of how quickly it disappeared from public discourse afterwards. Historians aren’t certain as to the reason why people stopped talking about it. Possibly, pandemics were more common back then or news coverage focused more on the war than the flu. Maybe after living through four years of chaos caused by a world at war, they too were desperate for a return to normalcy.

100 years later, as the COVID-19 outbreak surpasses the 1918 influenza epidemic as North America’s deadliest pandemic, I catch myself slipping into this new collective form of self-induced amnesia. On a video call with my family, my mother asked me how many Concordians died from COVID-19 and I had to say that I didn’t know if any Concordians died. I doubted that Concordia would have the authority to disclose that information, but I checked their website regardless and couldn’t find anything.

It’s only with those closest to me in our most private and intimate conversations that keeps the pandemic from fading into memory. While on a walk, a friend grieved for her “lost year” and the experiences she missed out on and could never get back. Another, who had lost multiple family members in the second wave, cried over feeling guilty that he wanted the lockdown to end. After returning to the last place I saw the girl I was dating before the lockdown, I realized how angry and jaded this pandemic had left me.

I have heard this pandemic be compared to war, natural disaster, even religious reckoning. In my opinion, the best comparison is to the fable of the frog and the pot of boiling water. The fable states that if you put a frog in a pot of boiling water it will immediately jump out; but if you put it in cool water and then bring the pot to a boil, the frog doesn’t feel the changing temperature and boils alive.

Inversely, this pandemic threw us into a pot of boiling water and made us wait until it cooled. A lot of people died very quickly, and then gradually slightly fewer people died as time went on. Life moved forward with online classes and remote summer jobs. The curfew got pushed back and was eventually lifted. Social bubbles got bigger without us noticing. And along the way we forgot what it was like not to be boiling alive.

 

Photograph by Christine Beaudoin

Confessions of an ADHD-riddled crochet-holic

The unconventional way I got through Zoom learning: crochet

When I was young, my grandma taught me to knit for the first time. I was five years old, sitting on her lap on a cold December day, when she first introduced me to the sport. She held my hands in hers as the needle weaved through the yarn, creating a line of crooked stitches in fluffy red wool.

It wasn’t until years later, a little after I turned 18, that my sister gifted me two pairs of knitting needles and a couple bundles of bright coloured yarn, when I finally picked up the hobby for good.

A couple months before the great gift that started it all, I had received a diagnosis for hyperactive ADHD, coupled up with chronic anxiety — I was in for the ride of my life.

I swiftly moved from making simple tension squares and knitting hand cloths to more intricate projects like… scarves. But in all seriousness, I always got too overwhelmed by having to handle the two needles required for knitting, and never really understood the concept of tougher projects. My goal with knitting was to create something I could enjoy, wear, and pass down, just like my grandma had done for me. But the works of art I was knitting weren’t gonna cut it.

One day, I was thrifting (as per usual), and stumbled across the wall of random stuff that Value Village packages up in little plastic baggies. These are sometimes filled with mangled Barbie dolls, scraps of a McDonald’s Happy Meal toy… you get the point. But this particular day, I decided to intentionally look at what was there, and found a plastic bag filled with crochet needles, all for $3.75.

I decided “Why not give crochet a shot,” making it the 17th hobby I would try out that year. It quickly became a love affair. 

For those who don’t know, crochet is knitting’s little sister; it requires only one needle, or “hook,” and some yarn, or any material weaved into a thread that you can hook onto.

At first, it was just me, my laptop, my hook and my yarn. I learned all the basics; slip stitch, single crochet, double crochet, half double crochet, how to chain, the magic circle, and so on. I started making hats, bags, coasters, and different fun patterns of granny squares.

Instead of overwhelming me, I felt I was able to grow within this form of creative expression, and to this day it has become one of the only hobbies that I have stuck with.

People with ADHD often struggle with holding onto projects, hobbies, or habits you’re either trying to pick up or kick. You quickly get sidetracked by small things that are normal parts of life, and so it’s hard to stay focused and committed to one thing that you love.

When March 2020 hit, and the unthinkable happened, my first year of university was shifted into an environment where being actively engaged with the class material was extremely difficult for me, and pretty much everyone else. I began classes online, and finished my semester cosplaying as a hermit in my partner’s basement, eating junk food and squinting whenever I was confronted by daylight.

When September rolled around, I was ready and excited for my second year of school. In the journalism department, many of the classes are smaller than what you’d expect in a university setting, with most of them consisting of around 20 people. At least I wasn’t in an online class with over 200 participants — sorry sociology majors.

Still, they were long lectures; I realized I wouldn’t get through them if I got distracted by every noise, feeling, thought or impulse I had. However, I am a grown-ass woman, and I refuse to own a fidget spinner. So I started to crochet during class.

All of a sudden, I could get through the two hours of a two-hour lecture and actually grasp the content. My hands were busy, and somehow that opened up my ears to absorb what was being said. I was no longer held captive by my own thoughts, because all I was doing was thinking about my next stitch while I listened to what sounded like a slightly boring podcast on business reporting — how educational!

Even though I had friends kind enough to send me their notes, professors who would share slideshows with me so I could catch up if I needed to, or revise something if I had been too distracted — I didn’t need it.  After learning to crochet, I was able to concentrate and absorb information properly. This has been the best tool I have found to help me thrive in the online environment. 

Now all I have to figure out is how to get professors to allow me to crochet in class… I am only kind of kidding.

 

Photoraph by Juliette Palin

Categories
Sports

My experience at the 100 tours par amour fundraiser

I aimed at cycling past my limits at the 100 tours par amour cycling fundraiser held at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve

The longer I spend sitting on my sofa writing this article, the less I feel like getting up. I feel intertwined with the fabric, slowly melting into it. With no energy left to spare, I look back on the events that happened on Saturday, Sept. 18. The opportunity to be a part of the fundraiser and the importance of raising awareness for food insecurity ultimately made strangers come together.

For Étienne Laprise and Gaspard Vié, organizers of the fundraiser 100 tours par amour, the day started at 5 a.m. at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. The event did not have an official starting time for everyone else, so people were invited to come at their own convenience to show support or even participate in accomplishing their own personal milestone.

I only got into biking around two years ago, however I began to take it more seriously this summer. Usually, I would only do 30 to 40-kilometre days, but my goal was to test how far I could push myself.

My original objective was to accomplish 200 kilometres in a day. I figured that comparing my goal to both Laprise and Vié’s 436 kilometres was modest, especially for someone who just got into the sport. At 7:15 a.m., I arrived at the circuit and was ready for the challenge — or so I thought.

Upon arrival, the pure rush of adrenaline to begin the day was amazing. In unison, two lines of 20-plus bikers filled the lanes. I felt great throughout the first leg of my challenge, catching up with people I haven’t seen or spoken to since the pandemic. At the peak of the fundraiser, many people joined our convoy while others came in support for the cause. At one point there were well over 40 to 50 people biking all at once. With all the energy bouncing off of us, it felt exhilarating to participate in.

As each lap passed by, the encouragement from onlookers seeing what we were all accomplishing felt reassuring, especially when your thighs feel like they’ve been in a furnace for three hours. Zooming at speeds upwards of 43 kilometres per hour, the draft we created really helped, especially when facing the heavy wind or going uphill. The whole three-hour segment in the morning felt good. I had at that point completed 120 kilometres, and I felt that I could easily carry on to 200.

After our second break, I started to feel my legs get under me. I still felt that I could keep up, but I could tell I was losing strength at a slow pace. It was only 20 kilometres into our second leg when I felt something that I had never felt before. At the 140 mark my body crudely told me that I was out of energy.

With every hard push of my pedals attempting to stay with the convoy of bikes, the further I got. I officially couldn’t keep up with the rest of the group. I tried on a few occasions to latch onto the back of the convoy but to no avail. My legs had no more to give and I was exhausted beyond belief. I had 60 kilometres to complete to get to 200 and I was so dead-set on that number, if I had just left I would’ve kicked myself for not completing my goal.

Those last 60 kilometres were very tough, especially in a heavy caloric deficit, but I eventually got through to my goal at a slower pace. As for Laprise and Vié, they completed their 436 kilometres in under 13 hours, beating their time from last year.

My biggest regret is that I didn’t prepare properly, and I clearly underestimated the calories needed to complete bigger distances. This experience provided insight for how I should prepare for next year. 

 

Photograph by Gabriel Guindi

Categories
Opinions

How it feels to be a Cuban-Canadian right now

Greater governments have fallen, but this one has its heels dug deep

Perpetual struggle. This is the most accurate way to describe the life of an average person in Cuba. As the child of immigrants, it was a slap in the face to hear non-Cubans rave about their vacations in Cuba and how beautiful the country was. To this day, there are still crumbling buildings, starving families, and a continually declining economy — all of which has become exacerbated by the pandemic.

After 62 years under the same government, this past July, Cubans took to the streets in protest. They were chanting for “libertad” (freedom) and “patria y vida,” (homeland and life). To understand this is to go back to the days when Fidel Castro held power, a time when nationalist propaganda read as, “patria o muerte,” (homeland or death). The slogan was spray-painted all over Cuba, and emblazoned on our coins. However, pride has since fallen away, and “patria y vida” is now being used as a play on archaic propaganda. While it hasn’t found its way onto the coins yet, the phrase is now a token of rebellion and an anthem for the right to liberty.

In response to this, Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel called a division into Cuban society by declaring that the streets of Cuba belonged to the revolutionaries (people who support the current government). Through this, he has created a more visible polarization between Cubans, something I have observed in my own life. Arguments of right and wrong have taken shape between family and friends — and at the end of the day there is one truth: the struggle continues for those on the island.

For most Cubans and expatriates, it is clear that the time has come for the communist regime to come to an end. People are tired of having to scrape by for basic necessities through illicit dealings in the black market, or as we like to say, “por la izquierda.” Moreover, they are tired of not being able to say anything critical about it. This is what the protests have been about at their core: the right to speak up about what citizens are unhappy with, the right to affiliate with a party that represents their values, and most importantly, the right to life.

The fight for change is like sledding uphill. Leaders of organizations in favour of democracy and overthrowing the current government have been detained, leading to some trials, but often ending in sentences. Cuban police have been walking through neighbourhoods in plainclothes, actively stalking, assaulting, and detaining anyone they hold in suspicion of conspiring to organize opposition. As a result, there are countless Cubans in jail for expressing their right to protest as outlined in the Cuban constitution.

Growing up in Canada, most of what I was told about Cuba came in the shape of horror stories — empty stomachs, silenced opinions, and tales of friends and family who fled to Miami on rafts. All of this manifested itself in my parents sitting me down prior to a visit to Cuba and telling me that I was not to repeat any of the anti-Fidel talk that I was hearing in our house. I didn’t get it then, but as the years went on I grew to understand the sentiment. Cubans live under an unspoken gag order — if they speak out against the communist establishment, they will be dragged to prison for treason.

In recent news, the Cuban government has imposed new censorship laws to prohibit stories of what is occurring on the island finding their way into western media. This policy aims to prevent expression of dissent through social media, marking these acts as cyberterrorism. It is because of this gag order and the censorship laws that expats have spurred such passionate outcries for the liberation of Cubans. Countless people in the Cuban-Canadian community have taken to platforms like Facebook and Instagram to voice their support for the fall of the current government in favour of one that repeals decades and decades of suffering and starvation.

When I decided to enter the field of journalism, the core of the decision was based on giving a voice to those who have theirs stifled, like Cubans. The article you’re reading is no more than a general picture of something that is ugly at its heart. There are many people who I could have reached out to, but I did not want to put them on the record speaking out about Cuba because they may not be able to return to Cuba, or worse. By no means is this how every Cuban feels. Those who have benefitted under the 62-year regime may feel outraged that a change is no longer a matter of “if,” but “when.”

The fact is that even the Roman empire collapsed. The present organization of Cuban society is one day going to fall, and the freedom of expression, of press, and the people as a whole will one day run through Cuba.

 

Graphic by James Fay

”Not a hate crime”? Or anti-Asian racism denial?

Anti-Asian violence is more than just a few isolated cases

It’s very rare for me to tear up when reading the news — as a journalism student, I have headlines for breakfast and newscasts for snacks. But just last week, I came across a CTV News article that mentioned a man who killed two Asian individuals in September after plowing through them with his car.

This happened in broad daylight. The police asserted that these crimes weren’t racially motivated, that the victims had been hit “at random.” But what really affected me was that these murders occurred blocks away from my mom’s house; a street my sister and I biked on every summer growing up was the site of 50-year-old cyclist Gérard Chong Soon Yuen’s death.

The same day I read this story, I had my mom on the phone. I told her to be careful and not to leave the house unless she absolutely needed to. She told me the same, thinking I was worried about COVID. I wasn’t.

I’ve spoken before about the model minority myth and how its toxicity breeds a culture of indifference towards anti-Asian violence. For decades now, the contrast between the treatment of white and East Asian people hasn’t been stark enough for our society to acknowledge the correlation between crimes against people of our race and the discrimination they face.

This leads to international media outlets shamelessly publishing articles headlined with variations of “Why is anti-Asian racism on the rise in the U.S.?”

But even worse, it causes the police to dismiss acts of violence as isolated incidents instead of facing what they truly are: manifestations of our society’s disbelief in racism, and particularly anti-Asian racism.

What really breaks my heart is this: what do you tell your community after the cops close an investigation into a series of assaults where the victims were all Asian and choose to deliberately ignore the fact that race was the one common tie between all these cases?

South Korean journalist SuChin Pak recently published a detailed account of the time a colleague of hers at MTV said, while watching her present the news in a room full of people, that Pak looked like a “‘me sucky sucky love you long time’ whore.”

For months, she fought to have this man removed, a scary and anxiety-inducing endeavour for a young journalist who wasn’t used to having to stand up to workplace discrimination. She stopped showing up to work and hired a lawyer, yet still faced pushback from the network’s administration, who tried to negotiate and get her to back down.

She didn’t. And after months, she was handed a letter from the man asking her one last time to reconsider.

“One last attempt was made,” she said, “to ask me to swallow my dignity, my identity, my rage to make a white man feel like he was still [okay], loved and respected … I was reminded once again, by the white male executive, that someone’s livelihood was on the line, that I was somehow responsible for that.”

I’m still dumbfounded by the lengths organizations go to protect the egos of people who clearly perpetuate toxic racism in the workplace. And every time, the very individuals who have been made to feel small and alienated are the ones who have to prove they are worthy of basic decency.

What I found especially relatable about Pak’s story is her mention that this experience didn’t make her feel strong or empowered or courageous. The whole time, she was filled with self-doubt and fear; the only thing that kept her going was the feeling that she needed to.

It’s scary to speak up. It’s scary to defend your honour. It’s scary to actively protest racist treatment in a society that gaslights Asian people into thinking they aren’t discriminated against and have no right to call out their oppression.

And it’s not an immediate process. It takes months, years for us to even see a glimmer of change. The Montgomery Bus Boycotts initiated by Rosa Parks’ refusal to give her seat up to a white person lasted 381 days. It took decades until the suffragette movement’s protests bore fruit and granted them the permission to vote, a struggle which dragged on even longer for women of colour.

These are issues that today are seen as blatant violations of human rights. So how long will we have to endure degrading treatment that is invisible to a majority of people? How long until anti-Asian hate crimes are finally considered legitimate enough for police to even consider as motives for violence? How many more Asian people are going to be assaulted and killed at the hands of the “model minority” label and the denial of Asian discrimination?

Changing a whole society’s mindset about race requires constant efforts by those who are negatively impacted by it. It’s tiring, time-consuming, and more importantly a huge privilege to have the education and resources to spend on being an activist — Pak even recognizes how lucky she was to have the leverage and the funds to hire a lawyer and see this battle through.

The white-passing appearance my mixed race heritage has “endowed” upon me hasn’t sheltered me from anti-Asian racism. But the reason I write, speak out, and protest against anti-Asian racism so fervently isn’t because of my personal encounters with it; it’s because I can’t stand knowing that my mom is unsafe in a country she came to with the hope of a better life.

 

Feature graphic by @the.beta.lab

A journalism student’s wake-up call: first time reporting about homelessness

… Or how NOT to be a journalist

During reading week, I spent my Wednesday afternoon at the Abri de la Rive-Sud (ARS), an emergency shelter for homeless persons based in Longueuil. To be clear, I wasn’t there as a volunteer, I was there to complete a photojournalism assignment.

At the end of the day, I came out of this experience with two conclusions:

  1. I am not ready to be a “real” journalist.
  2. I am an even worse person than I thought.

Don’t get me wrong, I learned a lot more than that during my visit. I have met great people and the ARS is an organization worthy of imitation. However, that is not what I am here to talk about.

On March 3, I did everything a professional journalist shouldn’t do.

For starters, I let social anxiety win and wasted way too much time thinking: how do I approach people without being invasive? Do I look like I’m taking myself too seriously? Do I look serious enough? What if I ask dumb questions? What if I do/say/think the wrong thing?

I was so scared of disturbing people that I shied away from asking more questions and ended up cutting corners. I even refrained from recording some interviews because I was afraid of asking people experiencing homelessness if I could put a microphone in their face. Thankfully, I only had to take pictures and gather enough information to write captions, but if I were to produce an extensive piece of journalism on the subject, there would be major holes in my story.

As an example, take Mr. A, who lost his job and his home due to COVID-19. Even though he did not seem to mind giving details about his life prior to the pandemic, I could not gather the courage to ask him: Why him, why now? What happened that made him unable to stay afloat, like many others did thanks to governmental support like the CERB or Employment Insurance?

Should I have pushed for more information?

At the end of the day, I talked to an employee at the ARS who made a comment that really made me regret not asking those questions to Mr. A. I don’t remember the exact words (always record your interviews, kids!), but the person said that, to become homeless — with no previous history — in the specific context of the pandemic, you almost “have to want it.” Referring to the government’s laxity in terms of monetary aid distribution, the employee told me that COVID-19 had actually made some of their clients better off.

“You have to want it” ???

I was so shocked by the comment that I froze. It was the last thing I thought I would hear from a social worker. I think they were able to read the disbelief in my eyebrows because they then took it upon themselves to specify that they were specifically referring to the current situation. At least, that’s what I understood… but instead of making sure that I had well interpreted the comment, I just stared in silence trying to process what had been said.

Whether it is because I didn’t want to be a burden for the employees who had “real” work to do or because I didn’t want to disrespect the few residents who were willing to talk to me, I shot myself in the foot by not digging deep enough for answers. By not addressing those missing pieces of truth, I threw the journalistic mandate in the trash and did not do justice to anyone who agreed to take part in this project.*

And here is another big no-no for all newbie journalists (and I guess people in general): I forgot to set aside any preconceived ideas.

I consider myself very open-minded, but as a person who was brought up in a very sheltered middle-class environment, I was never inclined to talk with people experiencing homelessness beyond the usual brief greetings.

At the ARS, I got to speak with Mr. B, who became homeless in 2014 and has been on and off the streets since then. He told me about his last psychotic episode and how different the situation is in Longueuil compared to Montreal. He was very articulate, perfectly lucid, and completely open when talking about his difficulties with substance abuse and schizophrenia.

Our exchange lasted a bit less than 25 minutes and let me tell you: it was the first normal conversation I have had with a stranger for a very long time. By “normal” I mean that I did not have to pretend to be someone I am not (i.e. a pseudo-reporter, a top student or a person who knows what they are doing). In fact, I was struck by how much Mr. B and I have in common, which ended up making me lose my journalist goggles. Obviously, I am not even close to knowing the same kind of struggles he did, but it only confirmed what I already knew: anyone could end up in this situation.

When I arrived on location, I had my main question ready and had prepared myself for the most plausible answer. Since the pandemic had made a lot of people lose their jobs and become isolated, I thought they would all say that COVID-19 had made the situation worse for people experiencing homelessness.

But my ignorant self had not thought of one thing: the homeless were already isolated. For many of them, nothing has changed. For many of them, things could not get much worse. When talking to Mr. B, I learned that most people in the homeless community did not spend their time worrying about the pandemic.

“An acquaintance of mine once told me that he had taken so many drugs in his life that COVID wouldn’t want to get into his body,” he said.

Under which privileged rock was I living to think that people without homes would experience the pandemic in the same way as everyone else?

In the end, a lot of the things I thought I knew about the issue were proven wrong when I visited the ARS. And all I can do about it is to tell all five people who will check out my not-so-thorough school project.

When I started working on it at the beginning of the semester, my intention was to achieve something truly meaningful. I agree; it was a bit delusional and I might have aimed a bit too high for a first-year student without any relevant experience.

Still, since I have started studying journalism, the same thought keeps lingering in my mind: maybe I am not made for journalism.

In two months, I visited two homeless outreach organizations and have been asked twice if I was a new volunteer or a recently employed social worker. Both times when I answered “no,” I was overwhelmed by the same feeling: guilt.  

If I cannot become a successful journalist, will I keep feeling bad for reporting on issues that I don’t have any real power to eradicate? If I wanted to change the world so much, shouldn’t I seek to actively help others instead of writing about things that I wish would change?

Putting that little existential crisis aside, I have to say that I am not ready to give up on journalism just yet. After all, I’ve only been studying in journalism for six months. Maybe this time I was not as good as professional journalist Christopher Curtis who’s been covering homelessnessness consistently for years, but facing these kinds of challenges so early in my student career only motivates me to do better. To be honest, I don’t think I will ever be able to grow into this groundbreaking investigative journalist I had envisioned myself becoming. But that doesn’t mean I should stop trying.

*This is why I decided not to mention my sources’ real names. They have signed a waiver regarding a specific assignment, but they were not informed that their story would be repurposed in this context. This article is about my own mistakes and “journey,” and until I am able to reach out to the persons involved, names will not be disclosed.

 

Feature photo by Christine Beaudoin

O Canada… Whose home and native land?

Canada is finally breaking the silence around anti-Asian racism

Ever since I’ve been old enough to recognize patterns of race and gender-based discrimination in society, my mother has denied being a victim of either of those things.

My Taiwanese mother immigrated here over 20 years ago. Single-handedly, after only a few years of living here, she had bought a house and started taking French classes offered by the Quebec government’s immigrant integration services — the fourth language she would be learning after Hokkien, Mandarin, and English.

I’ve witnessed her being talked down to by bureaucrats at government offices and had countless store employees turn to face me to answer a question she had asked, sometimes with a look on their face that was asking me to relate to their deliberate misunderstanding of her Chinese accent. As a teenager, I remember looking at my sister as we drove past someone who had just yelled out a racial slur and commented on our mom’s driving. I’ve never rolled up my window so fast. To this day, I’m still glad she didn’t hear it.

And yet, despite all this, my mom is probably the person I know who is the most optimistic about the social climate of Canada; she’s never let her optimism and gratitude towards the country be clouded by microaggressions and negativity.

I was on exchange in Singapore when COVID first hit, when the western world was busy making coronavirus memes instead of planning ahead for an inevitable pandemic. And one day, on a WhatsApp call with my mom, as I was telling her I was okay and was monitoring my temperature every day, she told me she didn’t want to go out too much because there were increasing reports of anti-Chinese violence in Chinatown. She told me there was a lot of racism around Montreal those days.

To say the least, that made me terrified.

East Asians are often dubbed the “model minority”: they have the benefit of a skin tone fairer than other ethnicities’. Some have even said they don’t fall into the “people of colour” category.

And the stereotypes associated with being East Asian, including academic excellence, obedience, bring really good at martial arts, and eating dogs are frankly not as harmful as being associated with inherent violence, terrorism, and drug addiction.

They also experience discrimination to a lesser degree than other visible minorities; Chinese people in Canada only earn 91 cents for every dollar a white person makes, which is far higher than for, say, Black people, for whom this number is 73 cents.

Yet, the model minority attribution becomes especially toxic when it comes as an excuse to dismiss anti-Asian racism on the belief that Asian people don’t stand up for themselves or fight back. It takes advantage of Asian stereotypes being associated with silence and endurance to double down on bullying, microaggressions, theft, and violence.

In my view, this is why we never heard about anti-Asian hate crimes until the numbers shot up by over 700 per cent in the past year, like the Vancouver Police Department has reported. In Canada alone, community-based groups have reported over 600 cases of racial aggression against Asian people since the start of the spread of COVID-19. In the first four months of 2020, 95 per cent of reported incidents happened in March and April, as the country entered lockdown.

Our generation is pretty good at recognizing and calling out discrimination when we see it, and especially taking a stand against it. But the state of anti-Asian racism in Canada has gotten so bad that even my mother, who has always had so much faith in this country, has noticed and become apprehensive because of it. For a second-generation immigrant, it’s almost worse than seeing your mom cry.

 

Graphic by Taylor Reddam

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On being bisexual

Exploring the issue of bi-erasure

I’ve known I was bisexual since the age of 14. I came out to my friends in high school and was met with mixed responses: I got everything from “that’s awesome,” to “I knew it,” to “well, as long as you don’t fall for me, it’s fine.” The way I came out to my family was during an argument, and I was met with quite a bit of disdain.

When I turned 17, however, I started to feel trapped into picking a different label. Since I knew that people thought my bisexuality was fake, I figured that I could choose to identify as a lesbian instead. The issue was that I knew I liked girls, not just guys, so I chose to identify as a lesbian because it would be easier to explain if I was ever dating a girl. Had I been able to embrace my bisexuality, it would have been less of an issue to bring a girl home.

Nine years later, I am married to a man, and we have a baby. My husband knows I am bisexual, and he accepts that. Yet, in the eyes of many, I am heterosexual. Of course, this is not the case. However, in many ways, I feel I have to justify my sexuality whenever it comes up.

Prior to meeting my husband, when I was in relationships, I would never tell people that I was bisexual. I would avoid my sexuality as a topic because I feared backlash. I even almost tried to not tell my husband, but I knew that was not a good idea. If I wanted the relationship to work, I had to be honest. I knew that in the long run, lying would hurt both of us.

While the person closest to me accepts my sexuality, a lot of people don’t, both in micro and macrospheres of my life. The thing I hear the most is that bisexuality is akin to confusion. It is usually followed by the idea that bisexuals are cowards because they just want to float in the middle. This assumption is so frustrating because it makes bisexuality seem like a copout, and I really don’t think that is true.

My family and I have engaged in many debates about bisexuality. One family member stated that they understood being gay or lesbian, but that being bisexual seemed fake. Again, this pushes forth the idea that bisexuality just doesn’t exist. If I am stating that I feel attraction toward both men and women, I don’t understand why that has to be debated.

There was a time in CEGEP where I was part of an LGBTQ club, and I remember feeling uncomfortable with trying to embrace my sexuality. I would hear comments about how bisexual people had an advantage because the dating pool is doubled compared to other people in the LGBTQ community. It was kind of crazy to me that within a group that was supposed to embrace different sexualities, I felt so ostracized.

I have dated women in the past who have said they could never date a bisexual person, and I felt like such a fraud. I would go along with the sentiment, and act like I wouldn’t date a bisexual person either. In retrospect, I realize that the issue was with the girls I was dating, and not with me.

Honestly, I find that my battle with the acceptance of bisexuality has been a bumpy one. In many ways, I know that some people are probably pleased with the fact that I am with a man and not a woman. Part of the reason for this is because it is deemed “easier” in society to be in a heterosexual relationship. Also, for many of my family members, biological children are a staple, and it was less difficult for me to have a child because I am with a man. Growing up in a primarily Italian household, heterosexuality is the norm, and by being with my husband, I am fitting the mould of being an Italian woman.  I also know that there are people who are upset that I, supposedly, chose to be with a man over a woman, because it comes across as me choosing heterosexuality.

I am frustrated with the lack of recognition of bisexuality as a legitimate sexuality. As someone who uses this label, I know it is real. The notion that bisexual people are taking the easy route is detrimental to our mental health, especially when it comes from people in the LGBTQ community. There needs to be an acknowledgment that my sexual orientation is real, and that everyone who is bisexual is valid.

 

Graphic by @the.beta.lab

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