Roxana Parsa is an Iranian-Canadian illustrator and writer based out of Toronto; she has worked with the McGill Daily and is currently on staff with Shameless magazine.
By Lisa Charleyboy
“Half-breed is an historic term used to describe anyone who is of mixed Native American (especially North American) and white European parentage. Métis is a more general French term for mixed race, which has generally referred to a person of descent from two different major ethnic groups, such as European and African, European and Native American, or European and Asian.”—Wikipedia, the first Google hit for “half-breed.”
Despite the fact that there are nearly 80,000 Aboriginal people in the GTA, Indigenous people are nearly invisible to the average Toronto resident. When Native people visit from cities like Edmonton and Winnipeg, where the Aboriginal population is highly visible, they are often confused as to where all the Native people are.
This invisibility often means that immigrants who come to Canada have little education about the history or current reality of Indigenous people whose land they are settling on. Outside of Canada, the North American “Indian” is usually known by tired stereotypes—like the Noble Savage, Pocahontas, or the Drunken, Dirty Half-breed.
For those who don’t know, the “Drunken, Dirty Half-breed” was, until last August, the name of a hamburger at Holy Chuck Burger, near Yonge and St. Clair. Also on the menu was a burger named the “Half-Breed,” and both had been menu staples since 2011.
By Karen K. Ho
I am five feet, eight inches. I am also Chinese. Surprising but true: not all Chinese women are short, skinny and small-footed. I suspect this perception and outdated stereotype comes from a period when nearly all Chinese people were very poor and had rice-heavy diets. Many Chinese women are still short and skinny, but my guess is that that’s less about genetics, and more due to a modern obsession with thin-ness and a lower prevalence of fast-food outside major city centres.
Growing up in north Scarborough, I always felt like my head was in-between two cultures, Chinese and Canadian. I only just realized my body reflects that in-between status too. There are parts of me that are completely (stereotypically) Chinese, and there are parts that are much more Canadian (or, maybe, north American).
In this top-down, completely unscientific survey, I’ve tried to figure out once and for all if my physical makeup is more reflective of my parents and ancestry, or whether I’m a product of Canada, the only land I’ve known my entire life.
It’s black, straight, thick. The kind seen on the heads of many Chinese, Filipinos and other East Asians and Pacific Islanders. To me, my hair lacks personality, and over the years I’ve attempted to perm it and/or dye it unnatural colours like blue, purple and red. This doesn’t exactly make me more Canadian, just an angsty 20-something. People all over the world chemically alter their hair. What grows out of my head is very Chinese.
My stomach might be racist. I’m not certain yet, but I arrived at this concern when I asked myself an honest question—is The Burger’s Priest weird?
I mean, they serve burgers. That in itself is not weird. But it’s also a Christian-themed restaurant, with Christian-themed menu items, a Christian name, Christian scripture written on the wall and a strict Sunday policy that closes the joint down so the owners can ostensibly go to church.
Whenever I’m standing in one of the Priest’s notoriously long queues, staring at the church collection pan that serves as a tip container, reading bible verses on the wall, then eventually ordering a Noah’s Ark, it all seems like a mild novelty that I can tune out. But this place isn’t being ironic. It’s actually owned by evangelical Christians.
Which is fine!
Alls I wonder is how much my willingness to turn a blind-eye to overt meal/religion line-blurring has to do with tasty burgers, and how much has to do with my varying levels of cultural acceptance and comfort regarding race and religion.
The most obvious thought exercise would be to imagine a burger place with another religion as a theme. So let’s close our eyes and think real hard about other potential religious fast food joints and whether they’d be quite as lauded at the Priest.
I know, Buddha Dog exists already, and is relatively successful. In general, I think our culture finds Buddhism and anything zen or exotically east Asian quite acceptable. Buddhists are harmless. Like they’re literally non-violent, aren’t they? Even if the place was overtly trying to market Buddhism to you, it’d be acceptable because they’d be totally chill about it. Also, the decor of this place would be amazingly Pier One chic.
Verdict: Guaranteed smash amongst the vegan crowd. Less mainstream foodie appeal. The hot dog dudes need to get on this already.
No bacon. That’s the first thing that comes to mind when I think of a Jewish themed burger. This might be kind of an issue with hamburger snobs. On the other hand, I personally find Kosher beef to be tastier than its unclean comparable. Maybe it’s all in my head but whatever.
Here the religious aspects start to get dicey though. Sure, we go to Jewish delis but they aren’t trying to impose religion on us—these are just places owned by members of the Jewish community. How amenable I might be of an establishment that had all the information about how to ritually convert to Judaism painted on the wall really depends —mostly on if that information is presented in an entertaining manner. Comic book form? No problem!
The decor may also be an issue. Reclaimed church pews and collection plates are kind of trendy for some reason, while antique menorahs may never be Globe Life cool. Strange, how that is.
Verdict: Decent chance of success. It might depend on how tongue-in-cheek the theme is executed, but I’m assuming we’re playing things relatively straight here. It also seems slightly more exotic to people who know what a priest is, but what the hell is a gabbai? Finally, would unfamiliarity with religious iconography make the decor less palatable to customers despite equally tasty food?
Ok, lets just be honest. If a dude from my local mosque opened a burger shop that was Islamic themed, featuring religious iconography in the interior design and had scriptures from the Qur’an on the wall, I would probably find it weird. I don’t know a whole lot about Islam. It isn’t something I think most people know about unless you make a point to know about it, unlike Christianity which is entrenched as part of North America’s cultural fabric.
Also, I’d be like—why did you open a burger joint? That might be an ignorant question, but also one I don’t think would require a lot of defending.
Inevitably, this place would get labelled a “Middle Eastern Burger Place” even if they served normal burgers. Like “Lebanese Pizza”. Which I learned is often, in Toronto at least, just cheap regular pizza.
Verdict: Outlook uncertain. Good food is good food, so hipsters would love this place. It would quite literally be the anti-Burger’s Priest. Midtown families may not be as enthusiastic. I don’t know what that says about midtown families or my completely arbitrary opinions of them, but that’s what I think. I’m also not convinced people would drive across the city to eat here, but it could become a pretty popular local joint.
So basically, no. No other religion could pull off what the Burger’s Priest does except MAYBE Buddhism. But those burgers would probably be terrible. Did I miss anything? I ran out of alliterative world religion restaurant names after three.
As for my original question: is the Burger’s Priest weird? Only inasmuch as most people don’t seem to find it weird at all. And if we’re being honest, isn’t that a little weird?
It doesn’t matter though, I probably won’t be back to the Priest for a while. Not because I find it offensive—I just really hate long lines.
By Nina Boccia
Confused and nervous, I swung around and stared at my mother, who was standing at the foot of our driveway on a quiet cul de sac in Toronto’s west end. I had no idea what the kids standing in front of me were saying. Sensing my panic, she rushed over to take the post as translator. I was three years old and I didn’t speak a lick of English.
Up until then, my parents and I had communicated entirely in Italian. My father Bruno, the son of postwar immigrants, and my mother Violante, an immigrant who docked at Halifax’s Pier 21 in March 1964, decided that as soon I started speaking, it would be in Italian. It also pleased both sets of Nonnis (grandparents named Genesio, Pina, Gino and Angela), whose broken English – Italiese – had not been fixed despite nearly 30 years of residency and moderate assimilation. Nudged by the incident with the neighbourhood kids and the looming start of kindergarten, my parents figured it was time I learned Canada’s official language.
I went to Catholic elementary school, where the curriculum included a daily Italian lesson. I can still recite the Our Father and Hail Mary prayers. I can sing Fratelli d’Italia – Italy’s national anthem – and I can watch the evening news on OMNI without subtitles. I can properly pronounce the names of every single Italian woman Silvio Berlusconi has allegedly slept with and I can translate each issue of Corriere Canadese, the “Canadian Italian Daily News.”
By Bhairavi Thanki
Indian food is the best kind of food.
These aren’t my words but those of my mother. All my life, as I substituted salads for her cooking in an attempt to lose weight, she’d convince everyone at the table that I would never achieve my desired results until I started eating Indian food for every meal, every day. So, I rebelled, completely ditching my diet. I asked my dad, who was more open to a multicultural palette, if we could eat somewhere non-Indian.
I took my parents to eat some Thai, which has slightly similar flavours to Indian. My mum said she could make it at home. I took my parents to Chili’s to have some nachos. My mum said she could make it at home. I took my parents out for pasta at the best Italian restaurant in town. My mum said she could make it at home. I snapped. I challenged my mum to forego her regular schedule of cooking daal and rice to baking a batch of nachos. What happened next blew my mind.
Holiday cheer + hot sauce, coming atcha:
Renee Sylvestre-Williams demonstrates how to make a Trinidadian treat, pastelles.
Denise Balkissoon wishes she wasn’t so tortured about Christmas, but she is. “My Muslim relatives began to make the religious pilgrimage to Mecca. They became much more devout, and there went half my presents. Meanwhile, my Christian, Hindu and agnostic relatives realized that the size of our family was bankrupting everyone. There went the other half….Soon, putting up the (fake) tree just seemed like work. One year, we decorated a plant in the hallway instead.”
A half-Jewish Jew, Justine Purcell Cowell just wants in. “How I marveled at the sweaters and make-up that emerged from their magical trees. (And oh, how I borrowed those sweaters, how I shared in the joy of that make-up!)….Hanukkah is not Christmas. It’s the compensatory holiday that Jewish parents give to their children. “
Also in is Navneet Alang. He’s going to kick back and enjoy a white Christmas. “Mad rushing to get presents? Check. Grand Christmas feast with a turkey and all the trimmings? Check. Indulging in icewine and gorgonzola in front of the fire like they do on those Food TV specials? Super-gluttonous, you-best-believe-it check. Yeah, when it comes to late December, we are the Christmasiest Punjabis this side of a… Gurdwara at the North Pole?”
“I don’t blame my parents for not lying to me. How were they to know that was what parents here did? Who would assume the truth — that the population of an entire continent could knowingly be partaking in a conspiratorial deception employed to manipulate the mass psyche of their very own offspring?” Shed a tear for Simon Yau, whose parents never encouraged him to believe in Santa Claus.
Kelli Korducki highlights the Christmas differences between Gringo and non-Gringo Catholics. “At my maternal grandparents’ house…another dozen or so relatives insisted we eat yet again, open more presents, and watch Spanish-language Christmas specials that inevitably featured some combination of music and buxom dancers dressed as either sexy Santas or naughty elves. A couple of hours later, my brothers and I would be ripped away from Telemundo‘s hypnotic gyrations and herded into my parents’ minivan—overtired and sugar crashed—to get to the church in time for midnight Mass.”
Last year about this time, I went to visit a friend with a new baby. It was a visit that has scarred me for life. First, I called the baby by the wrong name. Then, I said what I was getting my partner for Christmas in that voice that means “and what are you getting your partner for Christmas?” My friend told me what she got him for Hanukkah because, like, they’re Jewish. After years—nay, decades—of resisting Christmas assimilation, I had fallen prey to its insidious tentacles. I was mortified.
I wish I wasn’t so tortured by Christmas, but I am. My family has always played fast and loose with the holiday. Meet Raggedy Anne, who I got when I was four. My dad’s job had taken my family to Saudi Arabia, which is not a place known for sales of Christmas wrapping paper; I found Anne behind the curtains in the living room. Back in Canada, most of my 20 aunts and 19 uncles (crazy, right?) gave out presents, but I had 50 or so first cousins (totally crazy, right?) who also needed something to unwrap. My haul was big, but fairly budget.
Romantic nostalgia for the 905? Yes indeed, via Chantal Braganza: “Want to watch 25-year-olds live out their 2001 dreams of The Fast and the Furious in neon-lit cars with wire spoilers? Wendy’s, Hurontario and Britannia. Or some helmeted daredevil stand on the handles of a motorcycle as he (or she, never found out) rips down Dundas at 140 km/h? Tim Hortons, Dundas and Winston Churchill. Make-out point? Wherever you could park a car.” Continue reading
We’re percolating a Suburbs vs. Downtown issue, and it’s going to be hot. In the meantime, Denise Balkissoon muses on Toronto Life’s recent Exodus to the Suburbs piece.