Midpoint: a podcast


Rachel Chen

Hannah Fleischer


Rachel Chen  0:11  

This is Midpoint, a three-act podcast about meeting people halfway and generally figuring things out.

Hannah Fleisch  0:19  

Hi, I’m Hannah. 

Rachel Chen  0:20  

And I’m Rachel.

Hannah Fleisch  0:21  

In this episode, we’re exploring ideas around identity, diaspora, community, and the disconnect between these intersections.

Rachel Chen  0:29  

Contextualizing our conversations around our lived experiences, we’re exploring the things that support and bind us together at the very core of our being. 

Hannah Fleisch  0:38  

We’ll be exploring our perspectives and experiences around identity and diaspora and how these relate to the lives of our friends and the greater context of contemporary discourse on difference, multiculturalism, and diaspora within Canada.

Hannah Fleisch  0:38  

How do you feel about introductions? Because almost every single person who I talk to and I’m like, “introduce yourself.” Everyone hates that question.

Rachel Chen  1:11  

Because they don’t know what to say and identities in popular culture are stable, and they don’t move. Introductions feel static and stable and like once they’re put out into the world, they can’t be moved or changed. And so, in that sense I think it’s hard for people and difficult for people to talk about themselves when you just ask them, “Who are you? Tell me about yourself.”  Because whether or not we internally reduce ourselves, for whatever reason, whatever complex we have, we are multi-layered beings. And so how do you just put that into a couple sentences?

Hannah Fleisch  1:57  

Rachel and I were accidental roommates, finding ourselves living in a house of strangers after a scramble in the month before school started. I didn’t meet Rachel for the first month. I knew her primarily from the smell of good food being cooked in the kitchen. One of the first times we spoke was a couple of weeks into living there. I’d come home early to do some work, and we bonded instantly, figuring out that we were in the same program, Diaspora and Transnational Studies. I hadn’t met anyone outside of my classes who was in the program and I got really excited. She told me she had just transferred from McGill and offered me some of the eggplant lasagna she had just whipped up from ingredients lying around. I’ve never been more impressed. 

A lot of people you see and talk to and even if you just have conversations with them, there is so much under the surface, that is at their very core, you know their spine, which they have to kind of grapple with every day and you just don’t see those struggles or those structures that they have to navigate. I feel like there is the identity that people can make assessments on, immediately as they see you, and then there is the identity that you have to claim, because it is a part of your history, and it’s something that no one knows about, and so the only way you can actualize that as part of your identity is if you do the work and the research and the connections, and you make that community and you connect back to your culture. How did those two realms fit and weigh within your own identity and experience? 

Rachel Chen  3:32  

From my other side, which is Chinese Jamaican, there’s just more of an extended family here, within his side and within that community. So in that sense, I have understood that aspect of my identity in that diaspora more significantly than my mother, which is Italian, simply because there is just less of a presence of her family. Not Italian identity or community, but in terms of her family, contextualizing what it means to be Italian in Canada. That representation was not there for me. People quite literally can smell the Chinese Jamaican on me. I remember, I was walking down the street and this man was in a van, which is creepy on a lot of levels, he slowed down and he went “excuse me,” and I went “hi.” And he’s like, “Are you Chinese Jamaican?” I went, “Yes, how did you know?” and he goes “I could tell from a mile away.”

Hannah Fleisch  4:35  

I didn’t realize that Chinese Jamaican in and of itself was like…?

Rachel Chen  4:39  

It’s a group, a racial group. 

Hannah Fleisch  4:42  

So how do you feel relating to Chinese or Jamaican, or Chinese Jamaican? Do you make those distinctions at all?  

Rachel Chen 4:51  

It’s a distinction that other people like to make because they have trouble wrapping their heads around it which I find interesting, in and of itself, that people have difficulty with it. But I very much identify as Chinese Jamaican, truly hyphenated, because they are indistinguishable from the other. Yeah, so the history not a lot of people know about and also it being an intersecting identity, I think further complicates it for people who don’t really have an understanding of what that looks like, because multiracial identity in North America looks very different than it does around the world. 

Hannah Fleisch  5:30  

That’s what I found really interesting about diaspora, just to go back to the general. That it felt like the first time my anecdotes were validated, and they were treated as legitimate.

Rachel Chen  5:40  

Yeah. I also found that kind of catharsis in diaspora transnational studies, because it’s, oh, my personal experience is so real and so valid, it can be tangibly studied, and it can be embraced and examined by other people. 

Hannah Fleisch  5:54  

I remember what was like the most powerful thing for me last year was when we would learn about different diaspora and we did a reading with Cohen, who’s about the Jewish diaspora, but also other diasporas and what makes up a diaspora. That really was beautiful because I saw parts in that reading that seemed so academic, but I had seen those specifics within my own family. Yeah, so this is my fun, quirky anecdote. My dad is the Jewish one. He doesn’t believe in God and he’s not practicing. My mom was born Christian and went to Sunday school. Her experience with religion was much more cultural, because her parents were immigrant Germans to Canada. And so a Canadian embrace of things like Christmas felt like home to my grandparents as Germans who also had that kind of cultural embrace of Christmas. 

So she grew up always thinking of Christmas being a family holiday and not a religious one, which is why I still celebrate Christmas within my family. That’s one of the only Christian practices that we keep. So I grew up Reform. My mom is technically not Jewish, but she goes to shul or synagogue every Friday night. She loves retelling the stories and thinking about the practices and the community that’s created from it. My dad’s Jewish and that side of the family is where I get my Judaism and my cousins are Jewish. They’re Orthodox, whereas I’m Reform. I could escape from being Jewish any day I liked, pretty much. Occasionally, tests would get scheduled on religious holidays, but I could always get out of them. 

So it feels very weird to also come from a community that is known as historically, like the poster boy for diasporic experiences and marginalization, and yet be able to leave that behind very quickly and easily. This one thing that makes me different or part of a diaspora or a specific part of my identity is something I do not have to wear on my skin every day. 

Rachel Chen  8:24  

Growing up in predominantly white spaces, I just became very comfortable with knowing that I didn’t exist, if that makes sense. Yeah, I became very comfortable knowing that I didn’t exist in that I wasn’t represented in that I would never be represented and that was okay because I could be who I wanted to be and that it didn’t come with preconceptions. But as I got older, my body changed. I started to look a bit different. And so in that happening, my body just became associated with cultures and practices that I genuinely had no idea about, did not relate to. Yeah, I identify as half Italian and half Chinese Jamaican. That’s my family. Most people don’t know what Chinese Jamaican is, or they don’t believe that I’m Italian, or based off of my physical appearance, I think in their minds, they overestimate how much African is in me and how connected I am to being of African descent, or at least being a Black Canadian person, of which I don’t connect, because my family doesn’t look like that and hasn’t experienced those things. 

I think it’s hard for people to conceptualize how I look the way I do when I tell them what my racial identity is. That’s something my brother I think is also faced [with], my brother gets mistaken for being North African a lot, and Arab. Then I will often get misconstrued for being like a light-skinned Black woman, or biracial. But more so than being misconstrued for things, I think my brother and I, our bodies, are actually a question mark. You can guess, but you do not actually know what we are. So, because we look like a question mark to so many people of what our racial identities are, they’ll just project what they know. So it’s interesting to meet people and be that blank piece of paper they’ve chosen to write on and see what they write. Understanding that what they choose to write can be the difference between being allowed in a room. I said to you, I always have a picture on my phone of my family and stuff like that, because I think we all have a central fear, and I think it’s been brought up by other people in this podcast, of just being misunderstood. 

There’s this universal fear, especially in today’s climate, of having your story misunderstood. So it’s hard to talk about. I’ve never met a person who actually has experienced what it’s like to grow up and like be me, you know. Like there’s catharsis in meeting other people of colour, that is, Kevin spoke to that, that is really nice. But you never hear enough of anything to actually connect to people. I like to learn about other cultures and people. I find it endlessly fascinating because being a blend of everything, I think I lose a lot of things, especially growing up in the Canadian context and not valuing either part of my identity more. I haven’t been given the opportunity or really sought out the opportunity to do that cultural legwork because I don’t fully exist in any of those spaces. So I like hearing and speaking to my friends who, in so many ways, have a place to exist in and have some sort of catharsis because I feel like I’m living through them, so I like doing that.

Speaker  12:49  

Breaking is all about the stories of others. We got some of our friends Joey, Luba, Miriam, and Kevin, to talk with us about their experiences and opinions around identity, culture, and diaspora. We want to explore how our collective experiences are different or maybe even the same. Contextualizing these experiences around love food, language, and media. This episode uncovers the disconnect between when our experiences of ourselves end and other people’s perceptions of that self begin.

How would you describe your ethno-national identity?

Joey Shan  13:27  

I suppose I would say I’m ethnically Chinese and culturally Canadian. 

Hannah Fleisch  13:32  

That was Joey.

Marium Nur Vahed  13:34  

So in my family, my mom is Pakistani.

Speaker: This is Marium. 


So like Muslim, Shia. And then on my dad’s side, we are Indian South African. So there was — 

Hannah Fleisch  13:45  

This is Kevin. 

Kevin Yin  13:46  

Sure, I mean, I’m Chinese Canadian.

Luba Maslej  13:49  

Well, I think that’s pretty simple. Honestly, it’s just Ukrainian Canadian. 

Hannah Fleisch  13:53  

And that was Luba.

Speaker  13:55  

Okay, so how did you come to contextualize that identity? What made you realize that?

Joey Shan  14:02  

Well, I accepted being Chinese pretty early on. Still a bit hard to get around —

Kevin Yin  14:09  

So, Sherwood Park is, I think there’s like 120,000 people, and it is like 110,000 white people and then me, Luke, Chen, and Anna Zhang. And then, like, our parents.

Hannah Fleisch  14:24  

Did you ever have to reconcile with parts of your identity? 

Marium Nur Vahed  14:26  

Yeah, definitely. I mean, we talked about the concept of like third space and like having an identity that doesn’t necessarily fit into like ‘A’ or ‘B.’ It’s kind of in-between. And I’ve always been struggling with that in multiple ways. The Sunni-Shia split in my family, the Indians of African and Pakistani. It was kind of beautiful —

Luba Maslej  14:47  

It’s like, you know, there’s different types of Ukrainian and there’s different dialects of Ukrainian. I have had people point out that my language is different, that sometimes, I can’t understand you, sometimes like, the words you say are like different —

Speaker  14:59  

Do you speak Mandarin? 

Kevin Yin  15:02  

I do speak Mandarin. Yeah. 

Speaker  15:03  

Did you speak in it — do you speak at home? 

Kevin Yin  15:05  

I do speak Mandarin at home, usually. I mean, I try to, and my parents always like, made fun of me for not speaking it at home. 

Speaker  15:11  

Why didn’t you speak it at home?

Kevin Yin  15:13  

Well, sometimes, you know, if you go to school, you just get sort of socialized into — you lose the comfort with the language that you used to have. Because when I was younger, I was raised by my grandparents —

Speaker  15:26  

Has anyone ever questioned your identity?

Joey Shan  15:30  

Well it probably happened, like, just as much when I was younger, but I didn’t take notice until I was older, and I was like, hmm, that’s weird, you know. But also like, I didn’t — I guess I wasn’t comfortable, thinking about even my own difference. Being in Canada, like, I’m too Chinese for white kids, and in China I’m too white for Chinese kids. 

Speaker  15:55  

Hmm. Right. How has food been a bridge for you and connecting to other people? 

Joey Shan  15:58  

I feel like by eating another person’s food, you’re recognizing their culture, and that doesn’t happen in all cases. You think about racism in the States against people who are Latino, and like, a strange love of tacos. It doesn’t always happen that way, but for me at least, I think that it can be a bridge. So, like, living in Toronto I try my very best to eat from different cultural traditions and see the similarities, and you can often see them. Similarities between like — God, I don’t even know, like dumplings for example. You have some samosas for like Indians and Pakistanis, and like sambusas for people who are part of the African culture or — you know what I mean. You can see the similarities and that is beautiful.

Speaker 16:50  

You know, this is like a pretty regular example, but if I brought like food my mother had cooked to like school for lunch. People say “Oh, that smells weird, what is that?”

Luba Maslej  17:01  

Food is really a huge, huge, huge part of the culture, and sharing food, it’s always a great way to get together, and sort of — I almost want to say it’s sort of like you are reminded of your history, almost. In terms of food, it’s almost like a fun way to remember like, where things came from, and I remember I was watching this documentary on Netflix — or, it’s not a documentary; I don’t even know what it is — it’s called Chef’s Table, and there was one, I think in the [second] episode as his name was Dan Barber, I think he said, you know, the best kind of food or the best cuisine comes from desperation, often. So it almost speaks to the value of the sort of like, the journey that your ancestors sort of took to get to where they are. And, you know, the hardships that they had to face and the fact that they had to maybe, you know, use the tripe instead of, you know, whatever or you know, make the liver paté or something like that. I think food is a really important reminder of history.

Marium Nur Vahed  18:02  

So people have been like, oh, ‘modern Muslim,’ and that’s a really contentious term because it’s like, modernity has so many implications about hierarchy and temporality and being on this timeline of moving toward ‘modern’ and I’m like, well, I’m a Muslim. I mean, just leave it at that, right? Like, I’m a Muslim, this is who I am, even if I practice a little bit differently, that’s fine. So that misunderstanding happens a lot, even within the Muslim community — people who don’t understand the way that I approach faith, that occurs. There’s actually a really great show called Ramy. Have you heard of this? Okay, this show.

Yeah, he just won a Golden Globe for the show. So this guy named Ramy Youssef made a show that was about the Muslim diaspora in the States, and it’s kind of like wrestling with that Muslim who’s struggling. And I feel like that’s a lot of us like we’re kind of in two different places, like the Muslim household in the Western ethos of education and your workplace, and he wrestles with that, and he shows a struggle online and he breaks some of the, like, conventional rules. And that is really interesting and really validating for me because I’m like, you know, like, it’s possible to be that person who’s actively struggling, actively questioning, but also that needs to be normalized. So I have a lot of conversations with people who are both Muslim and non-Muslim about, like, there are different ways of practicing Islam, but it doesn’t necessarily connotate modernity or doesn’t necessarily connotate a moral judgment of good or bad.

Hannah Fleisch  19:39  

Is there any kind of, like, media that you would relate to in that same kind of experience?

Joey Shan  19:44  

I didn’t have a lot until recently. Crazy Rich Asians is a thing. Crazy Rich Asians is very, like, the culture and the protagonists’ culture and all the characters’ culture in regards to their Asianness is incredibly important for the plot of the story, for the location, for the costume design, for the set, for everything. Like, it’s just such an integral part of that — a lot of times, if we show different cultures here in movies or TV shows, it’s always like, “Oh, look at this thing that’s different.” Like, it’s cool, but it’s so different, you know? And Crazy Rich Asians doesn’t do that fully, I feel like, [it] embraces, and displays all of the best parts like the gorgeous parts of Asian culture and doesn’t apologize for the ways in which it is different than what we usually see. 

Kevin Yin  20:40  

You know, it doesn’t speak to any sort of the subtleties of the Asian-American experience. Not that the movie had to do any of those things. but you know, I didn’t enjoy it as much as The Farewell which is — it’s the only point of comparison I have, which I felt did do those things. Am I allowed to spoil this movie? I feel like I shouldn’t. 

Speaker: Spoil it! Spoil it! 

Kevin Yin 

So like, you at the time you think that she’s going to pass away, right? And the grandmother’s there and waving goodbye and it’s like, [this] North American thing of like seeing your family every Thanksgiving and like seeing all of them and just like having them help out and stuff is not something that like any Asian person knows, right? Because every time you see your grandparents genuinely might be the last time, and there’s never a goodbye that isn’t just like where everyone’s crying, right? Everyone is always crying at every goodbye because you don’t know, and that was an aspect of my life that I hadn’t even really reflected on until the movie showed that. So Crazy Rich Asians, yeah, it was okay. It was a step — The Farewell was like a genuinely good movie. 

Speaker  21:43  

How did those myths — fairy tales, right? How did those fairy tales help you understand and embrace being Ukrainian? 

Luba Maslej  21:52  

I don’t know. I didn’t really grow up around those kinds — well, I did read a bit, but we sort of — because I grew up in Canada, I would say I’m more so exposed to sort of the, American, you know, like, fairy tales. As much as, yeah, I would read the Ukrainian stories, it would just sort of be in passing; you know, I didn’t want to read Ukrainian, so I didn’t really pay attention, that sort of stuff. But as I got older, I sort of began to appreciate the absurdity of these stories, and it made me more interested in reading them, and it shows what is valued in the culture. And even though it’s sort of presented in absurd ways, it just sort of reminds you of like, what was valued at the time as this was written. I don’t know, it almost, it’s just like a funny part of Ukrainian culture that I always remember.

Hannah Fleisch  22:38  

Wait, where do you party, then? Just as like a point of the podcast, this is an intellectual question?

Kevin Yin  22:44  

Okay. Hmm. 

Hannah Fleisch  22:46  

What are, like, non-white spaces?

Kevin Yin  22:47  

Like, if I’m, like, trying to go clubbing? Well, it depends, like, sometimes I want like, a multi-racial club, scene, you know —

Speaker  22:55  

So where do you go? 

Kevin Yin  22:57  

Let’s see. Well, if there’s, like, a big, big event, like if you’re going, like, for like, techno music or something, you go to Cota. If there’s like a concert you go to Rebel. I go to the Fifth Social Club because on Friday nights, it’s Asian Night. I don’t know. I mean, sometimes, it’s — I think for the reasons that people just like being around people who look like them, right? It’s just being comfortable. Also, I like the attention that I get among Asians more than in other racial circles. So that’s like —

Speaker  23:29  

Care to elaborate?

Other speaker

What!? What attention do you get? 

Kevin Yin  23:31  

I don’t know if I want to elaborate —

It is a fact that like, there’s a sort of like, anti-Asian man and anti-Black woman prejudice and dating, right? Like that’s the case, the numbers back that up. And you do feel that sometimes, I don’t think I’ve ever been on a date in recent memory where like, my race wasn’t brought up. You know, at least mentioned as like, “Oh, I’ve never,” which is — you don’t want to hear that, or like, “Oh, like I never usually do this with, like your people” type of comments like, obviously not with those words, but that’s the sort of undertone, and so, it’s obviously nice to be in a space where that’s not going to be the case because Asians only hook up with Asians typically, right?

Joey Shan  24:17  

I remember having a conversation with one of my drama teachers, who is also East Asian, and we were just like, talking about our experiences as children growing up here, being Asian, and it was so interesting because I hadn’t really had that, and we were talking about things, and he was tapping into things that I had felt but never, like, been able to articulate. He was like, “When I was younger, there wasn’t — he also grew up in a very white school, I think, and he was saying that he never felt like it wasn’t that he thought he wasn’t attractive. It was that he thought, like there wasn’t — he was just never going to be attractive. It was just like he was in a different vein than someone who would be considered attractive. 

He was like, “Oh, it’s not that like, I’m like, particularly ugly, it’s just that like I’ve never been to be seen as attractive because I’m Asian.” And it’s not — it was a thing he just thought and accepted. He was like, “Oh, yeah, I won’t be thought of as a good looking person and it’s nothing about anything in particular about my face. It’s just that Asian people aren’t attractive.” And then it’s like, oh my God, I felt that exact same thing, but I’ve never thought it in words. I guess I wasn’t comfortable, thinking about even like my own difference until a certain age, and then, before then, probably up until like, I was like 13/14, it was like my relationship with my identity was like a blanket of shame, and like, I did not want to be connected with the part of me that was trying to use —

Hannah Fleisch  26:10  

In remaking, we ask what multiculturalism looks like within our friends’ lives as well as within our own space we call Toronto. In what ways does Canadian culture of policy work to bring us together? We gauge how effective these efforts have been, and what we hope our worlds can look like in the future.

Speaker 26:28  

It doesn’t matter which side the diaspora had come from. The Germany diaspora, the Chilean diaspora, the Chinese, Jamaican, Italian. Everybody went to university, right? Think about this too, we’re all fluent English speakers.

Rachel Chen  26:39  

This is my dad. My mom and dad met at university at a bar, started dating, and the rest is history. What I find interesting about my parents is that on paper, they come from very different cultures, but in real life, they have everything in common. Growing up, I saw through my parents and within my own experience, the ways that other people can connect through diaspora, food, clothing, culture, and education. And I think there’s something particular about the Canadian context that allows people to fall in love and meet just like my parents did.

Speaker 27:09  

Not one of the members of your family, even though English may not have been their first language, aren’t completely crazy fluent in English. So it’s a lot of stuff we did which through assimilation, religion, education, actually made it way easier, I think. That’s just me.

Kevin Yin  27:27  

Okay, do you feel, do you ever feel like a little bit weird when you’re in like an all white space, and you see, like the first other person who isn’t white, and you’re like, well, I don’t want to like immediately go up to them and start talking to them and bond over this like kind of, you know. It should be like a superficial thing in common, but at the same time, like it inevitably ends up happening, but I end up being friends with that person every time. 

Well, the question comes from a place of just like, it has always been weird, when like a situation like that arises but like, yeah, like, inevitably I end up gravitating toward that person, because I don’t know,you know and it’s more confusing when you’re not even like of the same cultural background and you still gravitate toward one another, right, because like the marginalization doesn’t come in the same. So the specifics are different and they come in different degrees for different cultures. So it’s always been confusing to me like, why just the fact of marginalization, whatever form it comes in, is enough to bond over.

Joey Shan  28:30  

I would say that I related to Rachel. This sounds like for her style. Even though we, I like — we definitely wouldn’t say we have the same ethno-national identity. We’ve grown up in culturally similar areas of Toronto. Our schooling has been culturally probably pretty similar. The moments in which you have probably felt like other are probably not the same or not in the same context.

Hannah Fleisch  29:03  

So I’m not from Canada. One of the things that my mom would always talk about, and talked about, Canadian politics, that she grew up with Pierre Trudeau, which was relevant because Trudeau is now our Prime Minister? Prime Minister. You don’t have presidents. Yeah. And like, the more I’ve been learning about Canadian politics, the more I’ve been seeing his impact within social spaces, especially with something we’re very interested about, which is this policy of multiculturalism and the rhetoric around that, which starts in the 60s. Can you tell me what you know about them?

Rachel Chen  29:43  

So from my high school history experience, the education system just speaks about Pierre Trudeau spearheading the omnibus bill, which, in Canadian Parliament, you can put smaller pieces of legislation within a larger piece of legislation, and it’s a great way to get things passed that you don’t want people to know about. So he more or less did that. But he did it for arguably good things in this ethos of multiculturalism and loosened a lot of immigration policy and retracted a lot of racist immigration policy that we had at the time. And that has allowed Canada to look the way it does today.

Luba Maslej  30:28  

Something we were talking about in my history class was that it was also good for, like a, from a commercial point of view because to market multiculturalism was really useful for like…. You’d be like, “Oh come experience these different cultures, it’s so like diverse, we’re so great about it”. But in sort of multiculturalism in Canada was often picking out parts of cultures that were the safest, like the most acceptable, like the least controversial, like clothing or like spicy food, like that kind of thing that was really easy to accept and just be like here, try this. This is so different and multicultural but not actually taking with that all the nuances of being a part of that culture and all the, all the  flies, all of the other problems with your own relationship with your culture while living in Canada, like it just didn’t take all the hardships. It took like the most convenient parts of the culture and marketed them.

Hannah Fleisch  31:34  

Your comment kind of makes it sound like the amount of diversity that Toronto has and the kind of interaction and social spaces that we get into makes us become stronger in our identity.

Luba Maslej  31:49  

I definitely feel the the issue of like, sort of our culture being diluted, I feel like that’s something that the Ukrainian community really feels. But I feel like that’s sort of, we’ve become aware of it. And that’s why we’re sort of trying to go in the opposite direction, like, since we are aware that, you know, the multiculturalism sort of like, makes us… our culture a little bit more diluted than we’d want it to be. We’re sort of — we recognize that and we are trying to make active efforts to sort of change that and to preserve the culture as well.

Hannah Fleisch  32:19  

What would you say in a couple sentences is multiculturalism?

Rachel Chen  32:26  

Multiculturalism in the Canadian context to me is the parallel existence of different kinds of people. Not necessarily their interaction, not necessarily a celebration of their differences, but a tolerance for a diverse array of experiences.

?  32:47  

Like this question is, like, a tough one anyway, so I’m still thinking about how to understand it. Yeah. Like I think as Canadians we need to, like, challenge the understanding of like, we as Canada are… we’re diverse, and that’s all fine, because it’s not true. So even when you look at just Toronto, for example, of how Toronto is becoming increasingly gentrified, you can see intersections of like, ethnicity and class and how, for example, with South Asian food, like you can’t really find great South Asian food in downtown Toronto, or I’ve struggled with that. And you find those more in the outskirts in areas that are more affordable to live in, in Scarborough and Mississauga and Brampton. 

So I think like, when you think about Canada, you have to also think about how there are structural barriers to diversity that makes certain spaces into like, wider affluent spaces and other spaces into like, quote, like the cultural space. But what does that mean? And does that also have a component of like, you know, like segregation to even that, or if it occurred through like a policy of like implicitness? Like there’s a lot of things to think about. I’m not fully settled on how to approach Canada as this diverse entity, but I think it’s like, highly contradictory, and there’s a lot to think about.

Hannah Fleisch  34:13  

Coming from South Africa, we’ve got our own rhetoric. And there’s a huge emphasis on the heritage and diversity and policies that we call the rainbow nation. In 1994, South Africa has its first democratic elections and it comes with very high stakes, because this is a nation that’s never had free and fair elections, in which one of the greatest systems of legislative oppression occurred to be followed by a liberation movement that was internationally renowned. After 1996, where we had the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, we have to put all of our suffering behind us and come together as a diverse nation and celebrate those differences within a greater South African identity. 

It’s just interesting to come from a knowledge of that history of the rainbow nation, which seems very similar to multiculturalism. The rhetoric around multiculturalism and Canada seemed to be involved very intimately with issues of erasure, and how everyone is Canadian. And we’re all Canadian together and mixed together, but no one is specified within that group. And that seemed very foreign, even to an idea of rainbow nation because there was no embracing of difference. It was a Canadianess despite difference.

Rachel Chen  35:48  

It really is, in many ways, a type of erasing of the beautiful things that make you different and are particular to your culture. So it’s even more interesting to see how different cultural groups respond to Canadian multiculturalism and that melting pot.

Hannah Fleisch  36:06  

I think it’s also interesting because I don’t want to outright reject multiculturalism. But it’s just so strange to me that we’re still using the rhetoric of the 60s, or even the 70s or 80s, because we’re in such a fundamentally different time and we’re still talking about multiculturalism as if we need to only relate to each other without difference. Well, that — that is how it happens. And I think it’s fair to say there are many interactions where we don’t pay attention to identity. And we’re able to have a Canadianess, that there are very many spaces where you can be Canadian. But I don’t think that that is the norm. 

I think the norm is that people love to relate to each other with difference. And that actually, some of the most visible interactions in everyday life are ones where people get invited into different spaces, and are able to relate to each other, embracing those different identities and cultures. And there’s such a disconnect between the way we think about Toronto and the way we think about multiculturalism being dominant, and how we actually relate to one another.

Rachel Chen  37:36  

Absolutely, I think, I think multiculturalism is a concept that absolutely needs critique. I can’t neglect the fact that even though it is a politicized term, its use and existence in our society allows us to collaborate and love each other because of our differences in a way that I do not see in the US, which we often compare ourselves to. I also sometimes need to give Canada its credit where it’s due, in that people know how and many people appreciate existing in the same space as people who are different than them in a way that I do not see in the US. And I don’t know if I ever will.

Hannah Fleisch  38:27  

I think what I kind of get from that is we can be optimistic for putting in the work to be good to people to make this lived space, realized in a way that benefits and listens to those who are marginalized, and maybe not as visible in a political discussion of multiculturalism. We start to see the way we actually interact, embrace that, and see how beautiful it can be. Then we get to better places where those differences are celebrated, and people in the margins get their own pages.

Well thanks, Rachel. 

Rachel Chen  39:17  

Thank you, Hannah. This has been really fun.

This has been a great experience.

Thanks, everyone, for listening to our podcast. Please let us know if you liked it and stay tuned for more.

Hannah Fleisch  39:35  

We’re always looking for interesting in between stories and ideas, so please feel free to reach out to us if this strikes a chord. Special thanks to The Varsity and Stephanie for their patience, belief in us, and microphones. Thanks to all the people who helped up with ideas for the pod and spoke to us about their experiences, especially Joey, Kevin, Miriam, and Luba.

Rachel Chen  39:56 

All the best, and we’ll see you again at the midpoint.

Visuals by Nathalie Whitten

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