Montreal: a city as racially divisive as any other

Cinema Politica screened Dear Jackie, a telling film about Montreal’s Black history

Dear Jackie is organized as a letter to Jackie Robinson, the first African American professional baseball player. This letter serves as a narration of the context of the film, over images of the city. 

Though Robinson’s story is that of success, his storyline is only a pretext to talk about the broader context of discrimination against Black folks in Canada, and specifically Montreal. 

Director Henri Pardo noted during the Q&A session:

“My intent was not to talk about certain things that I am personally tired of talking about. I didn’t want to talk about racism, I wanted to find out about the people in the neighbourhood”. 

Black people were resigned to only settling in a single neighborhood of Montreal in the 1940s, that of Little Burgundy. It was coined the “Harlem of the North.” 

This film depicts the injustices faced by Black people in Montreal and the changing architectural landscape of Little Burgundy, and how it has changed up to today. 

In the 1960s, when the government built a highway cutting off parts of the neighbourhood, they razed over 400 Black homes, leaving hundreds of people in the streets. 

Today, Little Burgundy is one of the most gentrified neighbourhoods in Montreal. 

Pardo wanted to raise awareness of the little-known history of Black struggles in Quebec, as a call to action.

The film was in black-and-white, which served as a ground for the universalization of experience, where colour could not be understood as a means for separation. 

From a journalist’s perspective, there were clear visual obstacles. The story in of itself, though historically valuable, had an odd angle. 

There was very little archival footage of Little Burgundy and the medium of narration through epistolary form felt forced and almost out of place, as few images of Robinson concretely appeared on screen. 

It would have been interesting to centre interviews of people who lived in Little Burgundy, rather than minimal archival footage that has very little connection to the area. 

The community centre NCC kept on coming up, but there was next to no archival footage of it. People’s spoken words dit not fit the images that were displayed on screen, which made the film at times hard to watch. 

Cinema Politica seeks to not only screen important political films but to also relate community organizations in Montreal that advocate for the causes demonstrated in their films. Representative of organizations such as Brick by Brick and one of their sub-groups Plan Accueil discussed their work in trying to make housing more accessible. 

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


Does Formula 1 really #RaceAsOne?

The new race in Saudi Arabia raises questions about the new Formula 1 initiative

Formula 1 (F1) announced their provisional calendar for the 2021 season on Nov. 10, which includes a new race in Saudi Arabia that sparked controversy.

When F1 launched their #WeRaceAsOne initiative back in June in the midst of international Black Lives Matter protests, fans were pleasantly surprised that the sport was taking a stand on the issue.

It is no surprise to long-time followers of F1 that the sport has showcased predominantly white drivers from privileged backgrounds. This new initiative was, according to F1, “aimed at tackling the biggest issues facing our sport and global communities.”

Lewis Hamilton, the first and only Black driver to race in the sport so far, fully supported the initiative and took it upon himself to use his platform to raise awareness on racial discrimination.

At a race this season in Mugello, Italy, the seven-time world champion wore a T-shirt on the podium drawing attention to the Breonna Taylor case. Taylor was shot and killed in her bed by Louisville police officers back in March. The shirt read: “Arrest the cops who killed Breonna Taylor.”

The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA) responded to his statement with a new rule stating that, for the duration of the post-race interviews and podium ceremony, “The driver may only wear their racing suit, which is fastened to the neck and not on their waist.”

The FIA made it clear they did not want to mix politics with the sport, and Hamilton argued his statement was one of human rights and not politics.

This decision left the fans divided, as some agreed that Hamilton’s statement on the podium was of political nature and others were left confused as to where the sport situates itself regarding human rights.

With the unveiling of the 2021 provisional calendar, however, some fans had their answers.

This next season will welcome a new Grand Prix in Saudi Arabia, the 33rd country to host a round of the world championship. The city of Jeddah will be hosting the event, which will potentially be a night race.

As stated by F1, “The final track design has not been decided, but organizers say it will feature a good flow of long straights and tight corners, with no equivalent track on the calendar.”

The hefty deal of $900 million that race organizers agreed on was the subject of controversy.

Amidst the announcement, human rights organization Amnesty International even accused Saudi Arabia of “sportswashing,” a term used to refer to the practice of hosting a sporting event as a means for a country to better their reputation.

Amnesty International said that Saudi Arabia violates its citizens’ human rights by using torture as a form of punishment; being the world’s top executioners; criminalizing public gatherings such as demonstrations; and keeping many outspoken activists behind bars, violating their rights to free speech.

F1 believes, however, that this new deal with Saudi Arabia will help cross borders in terms of sharing a common passion.

“[F1] has worked hard [to] be a positive force everywhere it races, including economic, social, and cultural benefits,” the release said. “Sports like [F1] are uniquely positioned to cross borders and cultures to bring countries and communities together to share the passion and excitement of incredible competition and achievement.”

The 2021 season will start in Australia and end in Abu Dhabi with a total of 23 races, a jump from the current 17 races the revised 2020 calendar had due to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year’s revised calendar made F1 teams stay in Europe for most of their races and revisit some old fan-favourite circuits such as Germany’s Nürburgring and Italy’s Mugello and Imola.

Contrary to fans wanting these tracks back on the permanent calendar, F1 decided to go a different route and keep the usual big budget Grand Prix races that usually appear on the calendar.

With the unfolding of the 2020 season and the many controversies it brought, many are left to wonder if F1 does #RaceAsOne.


Graphic by Laura Douglas


My skin colour does not determine my ethnicity.

In sociology, racial passing is a term defined as ‘’the ability of a person to be regarded as a member of a combination of sociological groups other than his or her own,’’ according to Enacademic.

Racial passing means passing as white. And that includes a lot of systematic privilege, especially when living in a country like Canada. But it also means part of your identity is removed. There’s a problem with people who assign a specific look, skin colour or whatever description they’ve been fed, to an entire people that is actually diverse.

It wasn’t until I was told by a close friend of mine told me about racial passing as a phenomenon that I realized that it was my life story summed up. I had unknowingly been passing as white, particularly since moving to Montreal 14 years ago. As a Venezuelan with white skin, growing up in Montreal, I can recall the surprise on people’s faces when I would speak in French with no stereotypical accent, and then speak in Spanish to my parents. People couldn’t believe that I spoke Spanish; I had to explain that I was born in Venezuela and that we had immigrated here to live a better life.

Explaining our immigration story results in a wave of unwanted questions and comments:

‘’Wow, but you’re so pale!’’

‘’How do you still know how to speak Spanish?’’

‘’Tell me something in Spanish!’’

‘’Your father’s skin is darker than yours, were you adopted?’’

and the most famous of all: ‘’oh, I could definitely tell!’’

No. You could not tell — if you could, why were you so surprised in the first place? 

The official language of Venezuela is Spanish; it’s my mother tongue. Venezuela, like much of Latin America, has a number of varying races that share the same ethnicity. This means Black and White Venezuelans alike, are simply Venezuelan, and speak Spanish. In fact, Venezuela’s population is so diverse that a graph from Britannica states that 63.7 per cent of the population is mestizo – a person with both European and Indigenous ancestry – 20 per cent is local white and 10 per cent is local black. When I lived  there, people didn’t regularly comment on skin colours, and no one was shocked to see someone with pale skin speaking Spanish. But outside of that community, from my experience, people are so immersed in their idea of what a latin person looks like, they forget there’s no one-way.

Due to my light skin tone, I can never identify myself as being a member of the latinx community without having someone scoff and bring up the fact that I am white. It’s racist to assume that only specific races belong to a specific ethnicity.

My white-skin doesn’t make me less Latina. It’s exhausting to have my identity questioned because I don’t fit some people’s idea of what a latin person looks like. It’s frankly outdated.

The fact that appearances carry such importance in our society is something that has always frustrated me, especially when my parents’ ethnicity was never doubted because their skin is a little darker than mine. Appearances are not a sole factor in determining what makes an ethnicity and nationality.

I deal with microaggressions in the form of people’s blatantly racist and ignorant comments often, which chip away at my feelings of belonging  within the hispanic community.

All minorities suffer enough racism and discrimination as it is. Let’s not divide our communities further with ignorance.

I may not be exotic or Latina enough for some people’s narrow concept of the Hispanic community, but I am Latina. 

Before asking someone who’s different than you to speak their language, or question why they look a certain way, try to get to know them as a person and treat them kindly and with respect. Just because someone doesn’t fit the mould of what an ethnicity may look like to you, doesn’t mean  they’re not part of their culture, honouring it. It’s time to stop projecting your perceived ideas and respect the person who’s from a different place when they tell you they’re from there.


Photo/Graphic collab: Brittany Clarke, @sundaeghost


Don’t touch my hair, don’t speak on my behalf

We must avoid generalizing and include specific people in discussions about race

“Can I touch your hair?”

I don’t think I’ve ever asked anyone that question in my life, and I have a very hard time imagining a situation where I would. I’ve never walked up to a total stranger or someone I barely knew in a bar, at school, or at the water cooler at work, and asked them if I could touch the hair on their head, with my fingers eagerly stretched outwards.

It sounds absolutely disgusting to me, yet it is a question I am asked a minimum of once a week, and that’s just because I wear a toque most of the time.

Yes, as you must have guessed, I am black, with long, beautiful, natural hair. Locs to be exact (not dreadlocks, because there is nothing dreadful about them), and yes, the people requesting to touch them are typically white. After politely saying no, I am usually asked insulting, but amusing questions like: “So you don’t wash your hair to get it like that, right?” Or, “Do you have any weed?”

Black people’s hair has always seemed to be a fascination for some white people. Some seem amused, and others puzzled by it: wanting to touch it, asking questions about it, and even sometimes attempting to emulate it. And some seem to fear it: wanting us to shave it off, cover it, or straighten it, wanting it to mimic theirs so that they feel more comfortable when we’re around.

Luckily, in Canada, we don’t seem to hear as many stories of discrimination against natural black hairstyles like in the United States, where their justice system found it legal for Catastrophe Management Solutions to rescind Chastity Jones’s job offer because she didn’t comply to their grooming policy, which is supposedly “unrelated to race,” by having locs. Or, where recently, Andrew Johnson, a high school varsity athlete, was forced to cut off his locs or forfeit a wrestling match.

Last month, a comedian was told he couldn’t perform at a comedy bar ironically titled “Snowflake Comedy Club.” He also couldn’t perform at another event held at the Coop Les Récoltes, a bar and solidarity co-operative operated by Université du Québec à Montréal’s Group de Rechercher d’Intérêt Public, because he has locs.

Well, actually because he’s white, and has locs.

In an extremely long message posted on their Facebook page, the Coop defended their decision to ban Zach Poitras from performing at their establishment. Essentially, they explained that they operate what they call a safe space exempt of oppression, in which no discrimination or harassment of any kind will be tolerated. They stated that they consider a white person with locs to be a form of cultural appropriation, which they describe on their post as: “the fact that a person from a dominant culture appropriates symbols, clothes or hairstyles of people from historically dominated cultures.”

They continued by saying that: “It is a privilege to be able to wear dreads as a white person and to be seen as fashionable, or as being edgy, while a black person will be denied access to job opportunities or spaces (housing, schools, parties, sports competitions, etc.).” Are white people with locs, like Poitras, racist, cultural appropriators? I don’t know––the few interactions I’ve had with them, I usually just sign for my package, and they ride off on their bicycles. I’ve never felt oppressed.

The incident and the message posted by the Coop has sparked a nationwide conversation on cultural appropriation and racism over the last few weeks. Well, a conversation that’s had mostly among white people, in my opinion.

Journal de Montréal columnist, Richard Martineau, ridiculed the matter, stating that this situation has opened his eyes, and he will no longer use numbers because they were invented by Arabs, and the fact that lithium batteries were created by a Moroccan man will cause him to stop using his cellphone, because he now realizes that would also be a form of cultural appropriation.

On Twitter, many debated the matter, like user @LavenderBlume who posed the question: “Why is #CulturalAppropriation so hard for people to understand?” Alongside a meme asking: “What if America loved black people as much as black culture?” This was then answered by user @thurnuz, who claims Poitras is innocent of what he is accused of, stating that locs “have been found depicted in frescoes from Mioa over 3,500 years ago, and were worn in ancient Greece and Sparta.” Therefore, a white person wearing locs is not appropriating black culture, the user argued.

Yes, I do believe a conversation should be had on the matter, but as Poitras himself said in a statement obtained by Radio Canada, “I do not think it’s up to whites to decide what is racist, or cultural appropriation.” This is not a conversation white people should be having alone. Not only should minorities be involved in the discussion being had about their cultures, I believe they should be leading them.

In a second message, posted to Facebook a few days later, the Coop attempted to further explain their decision not to let Poitras perform. They stated that they wished to clarify that they didn’t speak on behalf of all “marginalized” populations, and they never intended to suggest that the comedian was racist. But they reiterated their belief that his presence would not have been in accordance with their “inclusivity” policy. A policy, which along with their previous post, they now claim was written by “racialized” people.

The word “racialize” is defined in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as the act of giving racial character to something, or someone. I know what “racialized” means, but I looked it up because I would like to know exactly what the Coop meant by “racialized.” I may be reading too much into it, but it sounds a little condescending to me. It appears to me as if they are speaking of defenseless victims, or fragile creatures who have been made victims of their own race.

I hope the Coop is referring to particular people, in their particular group, because as a black person, I only speak for myself. I would feel pretty insulted if they are insinuating that Poitras wasn’t allowed to perform in their space on my behalf, as well as by being called “racialized.”

Personally, my concerns when it comes to cultural appropriation are less about whether or not Poitras can have locs, but whether or not the “genuine” red, gold, and green Rasta hat he might hold them in was bought from real Rastafarians, or from an American company that also sells sombreros, dashikis and chopsticks.

It’s the context of the hairstyle that might hurt, or anger me, not the hairstyle itself. If we are going to accuse him of appropriating Rastafarian culture, examples of real issues for me would be if his comedy routine consisted of him being a caricature of that culture; if he was claiming ownership of its rituals and practices; if he was trying to rewrite its history. If he was trying to commercialize it, presenting a whitened, watered down, or cartoonish version of it to consumers, or if he was trying to profit off of it by misrepresenting it as a dangerous culture of violence and drugs––then, I’d be upset.

Although the social justice warriors at the Coop may have had good intentions, I believe they should consult more sources than just the “racialized” people in their social justice circles. They should consult people other than Greg Robinson, the UQAM professor specializing in black immigration in Canada, who appears to have been quoted in all the articles I’ve read on the matter, and seems to claim that white people with locs equates to white people wearing blackface, or using the n-word. I’m hoping he was misquoted, because I don’t feel like going on to explain how those are completely different things.

In my opinion, the Coop’s actions created an opportunity for detractors of real racial oppression to downplay the notion of cultural appropriation, and for those unaware of it until this situation, to believe it is a topic of no merit. Again, they might have had the right idea, but they must be wary of the battles they pick, and on whose behalf they are supposedly fighting them. Because, as philosopher and writer J.P. Satre said, “When the rich wage war, it’s the poor who die.” Or, in this case, the “racialized,” I guess.

Graphic by Ana Bilokin

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