Ontario Oreo: Court the Ethnic Vote, Keep the Centre White

Paikin's non-indian tweetBy Desmond Cole

How do you court the approval of white voters while trying to make everyone else feel included? In Ontario, you do it very carefully. Our province is home to a large percentage of Canada’s visible minority population, and has received the biggest share of immigrants to Canada for the last 10 years and beyond. But you wouldn’t know it by following our political campaigns.

As Ryerson professor Myer Siemiatycki pointed out in a recent Toronto Star piece, white voters need to believe they are at the centre of political conversations. Politicians seen as giving too much attention to immigrants and people of colour face potential backlash. Immigrants and people of colour are disproportionately struggling in today’s economy, but saying so during an election is risky because it may make white people feel left out. When party leaders do talk about immigrants, the piece illustrates, it is most often to celebrate their vague potential value to the economy.

This dynamic is real, and it only works in one direction. There can never be too much focus on issues that appear to impact middle-class white voters—especially since such voters are rarely named and scrutinized as a group.

Politicians dare not campaign on the health of Ontario’s immigrants, even though many of them are being denied basic health care. They can say little about the disproportionate numbers of black and aboriginal people incarcerated in provincial jails. Our politicians refuse to address these issues directly–they seemingly prefer to pose for selfies with people with dark skin, or turbans, or exotic flags.

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Lessons from an ‘Ethnic’ Wedding

By Helen Mo


Ok, but why did Rachel’s wedding have an “Indian” theme again?

Thanks to a tidal wave of Millennials hitting marriageable age, who among us hasn’t scrambled for a wedding gift or flicked through a score of Facebook engagement shots lately? In my own demographic, the flurry of matrimonial undertakings seems have generated a real ambivalence. On one hand, most weddings are inherently joyous affairs. Two people starting a life together with a public declaration of love and a big party – what’s not to love? On the other hand, a public declaration of love and a big party in an age of heady materialism and narcissism – what such event could escape a firestorm of judgment and participant fatigue?

There’s already a well established backlash against the standard wedding, that tulle-enshrouded extravaganza now homogenized into a pastiche of emotionally loaded and frequently expensive conventions. And although indie weddings may have been conceived as the hip, artisanal repudiation of uninspired weddings, once DIY brides and blogging aesthetes realized that rustic stylings are eminently photogenic, the choice between a flower crown and a tiara soon reflected mostly differences in taste rather than actual values.

In the midst of this fraught landscape, I propose taking a few lessons from an unlikely source: so-called ethnic weddings. It seems – in some slices of Canadian society, anyway – “ethnic weddings” get something of a free pass, particularly from those outside the ethnic community in question:

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My Big Fat Non-Traditional Wedding

By Bhairavi Thanki

Screen shot 2013-07-17 at 2.14.17 PMI went to my first traditional Indian wedding when I was 13. The whole experience was harrowing. It wasn’t the fact that this wedding went on for five days, that there were about 500 people there, or that I had to sleep on the floor of a crowded house filled with relatives I didn’t even know. It was how uncomfortable the bride and groom seemed, sitting by the mandap, looking confused about what exactly was happening. The whole ceremony went on for what seemed like hours with the priest going on and on in Sanskrit about God and union (probably). The only question running through my young teen brain was “why”? The traditions felt hollow to me.

Now I’m 25 and in a relationship that’s cozy and just right. I go to a lot of weddings these days, thanks to the fact that almost everyone I know is getting married. I take my boyfriend along, and he doesn’t hesitate to join in while I check off things that we absolutely should not do at our own wedding. And I finally came to the conclusion that I don’t want any of my own ethnic traditions in my wedding. None whatsoever.

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Authenticity at Jane and Finch: African Dutch Wax Fabrics

A pile of Vlisco prints at a Jane and Wilson shop

By Adwoa Afful

During my early childhood, my Ghanaian immigrant parents decided to move our family to the north Toronto neighbourhood of Jane and Finch. Jane and Finch hosts one of the largest Ghanaian communities in the city, so I became quite accustomed to seeing small parades of women (and occasionally their spouses and children) covered head to toe in African print fabrics.

While we lived there, I barely took notice of these women or the beautiful multicoloured and intricately patterned textiles they dressed themselves in. I also grew up in a household where what seemed like small mountains of similar fabrics were haphazardly arranged in cardboard boxes and large Rubbermaid bins and stored in the basement. Usually they would sit there for years. During epic bouts of spring cleaning, I would mentally label them as “Ghana Stuff,” and then put them back where I had found them.

I mostly took these fabrics for granted, and rarely thought of their potential cultural significance. I was equally apathetic about their origins and history. In my mind, the fabrics were sent to us in big brown airmail packages from relatives in Ghana, and so were Ghanaian. Then, last year, I read Eccentric Yoruba’s excellent post “African Fabrics: The History of Dutch Wax Prints” on the blog Beyond Victoriana: a multicultural perspective on Steampunk. It seems that the fabrics that I had thoughtlessly labeled as “Ghana Stuff,” were actually the products of an interwoven (pun intended) history of the West African, Indonesian, and Dutch textile manufacturing industries.

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My Big Banana Body

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.

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Tricked Into Catholicism?

By Heather Li

That I grew up Roman Catholic strikes me as absurd. I am an obvious Chinese woman whose parents were born and raised in a marginalized Chinese community in Calcutta, India (now, Kolkata). Aren’t Catholics supposed to be Italian grandmas with wooden crosses in their kitchens? Or pale Irish schoolchildren lining up nervously outside church? I can’t tell if other people think my Catholic roots are strange too and they’re just being polite. Maybe the fact that seven in 10 Canadians identify as Roman Catholic or Protestant means that an Asian person claiming Christianity in multi-everything Toronto is simply ordinary.

For a long time it felt extremely ordinary to me. I was born in Toronto, attended two Catholic elementary schools in North York, and spent four years at an infamous all-girls Catholic high school in Willowdale: St. Joseph’s Morrow Park, more affectionately known as “St. Ho’s.” (Compared with what I later heard public students did in junior high, the majority of us in our hiked-up kilts were far from sexually obsessed hos.) Continue reading