STRANGERS IN THE MIRROR: In and Out of the Mainstream of Culture in Canada. Essays, edited by Sanjay Talreja and Nurjehan Aziz. TSAR Publications. Paperback, 148 pages. $24.95. www.tsarbooks.com
In the introduction to these highly provocative essays, Sanjay Talreja ponders on the issue of immigrant identity and multicultural identity in Canada: “And yet when I look in the mirror that reflects Canada to itself and the world, I do not see myself. I see nothing. I don’t see my Punjabi taxi driver or my Somali neighbour … The radio rarely sounds like me or them … I am virtually absent unless there is bad news.”
It is this self-reflective, poignant opening that encourages us to read these essays written by Canadian writers, filmmakers, journalists, playwrights, who are unafraid to delve deeply into Canada’s paradoxical approach to its non-native populations. Talreja suggests that there is a “disconnect between reality and perception … Discussions about Zimbabwe’s history of white domination are overshadowed by the righteous barrage on Mugabe’s unjust targeting of white farmers; the so-called Shia-Sunni schism in Arab society is exaggerated in our press as if Arab nationalism did not exist …”
Arun Mukherjee, in her essay entitled “Some Lives Are More Important,” observes that the Canadian media uses different standards for “judging the actions of Western versus non-Western people.” She reminds us of how the actions of the Fallujah mob in the war on Iraq were described in the Canadian media as “barbaric,” “evil,” “brutal,” but that no Canadian citizen heard similar words to describe the warfare “unleashed on the Iraqi people” by the United States and their allies. She points out that the “self-righteous viewpoints” of these “instant experts” come across as “disrespectful of non-Western people’s humanity.”
Perhaps it is this quest for having our own identity reflected in the national mirror that makes us compassionate about other marginalized groups. Tarek Fatah in his essay entitled “Do Foes of Gay Marriages Simply Fear Joy?” recalls the opposition that he and his wife of 29 years faced many years ago. Both their families objected to the “daughter of a Shia Muslim of Gujarati ethnicity” marrying a “son of a Sunni Muslim of Punjabi ancestry.” Yet, they overcame this resistance, and Tarek Fatah found himself realizing that “we couldn’t help but feel sad for Canada’s gay and lesbian couples, who are being pilloried for seeking the same happiness.” Their suffering makes them compassionate and allows them to stand up for their gay friends’ rights. “Let us learn to live and let live,” he writes.
We hear voices who seek authentic visibility through the media and the arts. Chelva Kanaganayakam, in the concluding essay entitled “Youth, Diasporic Identity and Representation,” puts it clearly, “Instead of recognizing the multiple layering that is germane to immigrant identity, representation often flattens differences to project a vision that is binary, unequal and simplistic.”
If we are interested in learning how to create a truly multicultural vision, reading and then re-reading this collection of eloquent essays would be an important place to start.