A Way of Death

Heather Li's grandparents' grave in Scarborough

Heather Li’s grandparents’ grave in Scarborough

By Heather Li

My family and I visit the cemetery twice a year, once in spring and again in autumn. In front of my paternal grandparents’ tombstone, we lay out a whole steamed chicken, roast pork, oranges, candies and tea on a wood board wrapped in a red cloth. We burn incense, bow three times then do it again two rows over, at my eldest aunt’s grave. Afterwards, my cousins and I catch up, tease one another and complain about how it always rains when we visit (it does). Meanwhile our aunts and uncles burn fake money (bills marked up to $10,000,000) in a metal barrel punched with holes, to allow oxygen to fuel the fire. Later, everyone comes back to my dad’s house after to eat the food offerings and hang out.

It’s a really fun day.

I’ve grown up visiting the cemetery, since my grandmother died before I was born, my aunt a few months after my birth and my grandfather when I was five. All of my Chinese friends with dead relatives buried in the city do the same around the same time every year. “What are you doing this weekend?,” I ask a close Chinese friend. “I gotta go to the cemetery,” she replies nonchalantly. “Oh yeah. I think we’re doing that next weekend,” I say.

As a child, I also spent a lot of time in funeral homes. My dad has a lot of cousins, a lot of friends and someone (who I usually didn’t know) was always dying. I was more stressed out saying hello to unfamiliar living adults than peeking at the dressed-up corpse at the front of the room. We have photo albums of family friends standing next to open caskets, posing for the camera. My older sister thinks it’s odd, morbid even, but I think I get it. We sent these pictures overseas to the people who couldn’t travel to Toronto and pay their respects. It’s a direct link to their community.

Death isn’t tragedy. And it isn’t something to fear. In Chinese culture, when someone dies, we grieve, we are sad but we also celebrate, we come together as family and friends and we understand the reality of life.


Blast From the Past: “Negro Excluded”


See that teeny, tiny story at the bottom of the second column from the left? From the April 29, 1954 edition of the Globe and Mail, a story on the union at Avro Canada Ltd. cancelling its annual golf tournament because the Lakeview Club wouldn’t let a “negro” employee play. Way to go, Local 717.

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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400 Types of Drunkenness: Pulque, the Mexican Moonshine

imgresBy Chantal Braganza

I’m not up on my Aztec mythology, but one thing I’ve always remembered are the Centzon Totochtin, 400 rabbits that liked to drink and party and each represented a particular type of intoxication. They were the gods of good times, and their mom, Mayahuel, provided the booze: a thick, milky sap called pulque that was once one of the more popular alcohols in Mexico.

If you tasted it now, this would be hard to believe. It has the consistency of saliva and looks a bit like translucent milk. It bubbles a bit sometimes. It’s made from agave, largely the same kind of plant you get mezcal from, only the sap is uncooked (tequila comes from a specific species only—blue agave). In Mesoamerican times, it was enjoyed only by priests, the pregnant, the elderly and sacrifice victims in need of a pick-me-up. When the Spanish came around and messed things up a bit, everyone started drinking the stuff.

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Irish Pride

By Lucas Costello

The first time my dad died, I was five. He was standing at the top of the staircase, proclaiming “the Chinaman kept giving me tequilas.” Then he fell flat on his face. The rest is haze: me in a room reading a Walt Disney activity book with “Kiki”, my Filipina nanny, while my Filipina mother, bawling, called the ambulance, and tall men in uniforms with stripes down their pant legs showed up to save the day.

My father didn’t actually die that night. In the end it was cancer, not directly alcohol-related, that brought him into the black. The years in-between are spotted with memories: him fighting with my mother on a night that she dumped out all of his expensive scotch; me, still a child, waking up to find out that he had driven our TransAm into a ditch. Our big alcoholic-and-son bonding moment was a night in Mexico. My mom took off after Dad refused to not drink x amounts of tequila. He ended up unable to walk, so I helped him back to the hotel room. It was Angela’s Ashes meets Wall Street, with Lionel Richie as the soundtrack. Luckily for all of us, Dad was a gentle drunk; our family didn’t have to deal with the trauma of physical abuse that so often haunts families with alcoholic parents.

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Theresa, for Chief Theresa Spence

Melody McKiver is a young Ojibwe multi-instrumentalist, improviser, and academic that splits her time between Ottawa and Toronto. As a solo performer, she explores the range of the viola’s possibilities, spanning from minimalist to danceable, sometimes incorporating laptop processing and looping. Melody’s musical practice spans across viola/violin, drums and percussion, and guitar, drawing upon a broad set of influences that includes hip-hop, electronic, global bass, contemporary classical, jazz, and blues. Melody also records and produces digital media under the pseudonym Gitochige, which is the Anishinaabemowin word for “s/he plays an instrument.

The Past, Present and Future of Racism in Toronto

The only photo of the 1933 riot in Christie Pits

This week at the Ethnic Aisle, we’re exploring the past, present and future of racism in Toronto. Racism was and is part of Toronto. Moreover, our racism is evolving. This isn’t a value judgment so much as an observation: as the city changes, so too do our experiences with prejudice, both systemic and personal.

These posts aren’t a referendum on whether each successive generation is getting any better or worse at being racist (we’re saving that for a March Madness-styled tournament post. Haha, just kidding! Maybe). Rather, think of this as crib notes on issues that often get forgotten amongst the greater narrative of Toronto the Good, with a side of self-reflection on our progressive city’s decidedly less-progressive moments.By looking at Toronto’s racism in greater contextual scope, we hope to get the ball rolling on some conversations about how we’re all getting along and where we all hope to end up.

To get things started, we look back at The Past.

Renee Sylvestre-Williams presents a timeline of Canada’s more egregious racist decisions. For example, remember that time our first Prime Minister didn’t believe Asian or First Nations folks should have the right to vote? No? Well read all about it here.

Chantal Braganza gets municipal, exploring how Toronto’s by-laws have been slightly less than accommodating over the years (hint: very passive aggressively. How totally us, right?).

Then, we address the reality of racism in The Present.

Kelli Korducki talks to the Migrant Workers Alliance for Change, and learns some harsh truths about the way Canada treats the racialized internationals who work on our farms.

Lisa Charleyboy dissects last August’s Holy Chuck Burger scandal, when the Toronto restaurant thought it was ok to have a sandwich named the “Drunken, Dirty Half-Breed” on its menu.

Illustrator Roxana Parsa shares her graphic take on the GTA’s downtown/suburban divide.

Sam Tecle show, in stark numbers, how racialization of poverty leaves many non-white Torontonians in substandard housing. 

Navneet Alang on paying lip-service to diversity in a city where the media, cultural institutions and wealth are mostly white.

Anupa Mistry talks toLiza Paul and Bahia Watson, the playwrights and actors behind the hilarious Pomme is French for Apple.

And finally, our writers move on to The Future.

Denise Balkissoon argues for purposeful, perhaps policy-based, integration as the key to a less racist future.

Jef Catapang asks the experts: Canadian science fiction writers share their ideas on what “race” is, and where prejudice is going.

and Septembre Anderson wonders if racial profiling by police will always be part of Toronto.

Comment, tweet, write a response post! We’d love if you joined in the conversation.