CM . . .
. Volume XVI Number 35. . . .May 14, 2010
Piece by Piece: Stories About Fitting Into Canada.
Teresa Toten, ed.
Toronto, ON: Puffin Canada, 2010.
183 pp., hardcover, $20.00.
Authors, Canadian (English)-20th century-Biography-Juvenile literature.
Grades 7-12 / Ages 12-17.
Review by Kay Weisman.
Once the initial euphoria and sense of adventure begin to wear off, I reluctantly start to see that although Canada is more tolerant and open than Britain, there is still racism and xenophobia here, both overt and covert.
Reality slowly, slowly, starts to creep in.
I have advantages that many newcomers don't have—language isn't an issue as it is for some, and I have an in, having married a [Prince Edward] Islander.
There is the friend of my husband who tells us how his grandmother said she was so disappointed when she'd heard that my husband had married an Indian girl, but after she met me, she was so impressed.
Wow. Gee thanks.
There is the rumour that circulates back to us that my husband and I had an arranged marriage. We're dumbstruck by where that could possibly have originated.
There are other incidents, slights small and large.
But there are also funny moments. My husband's elderly grandmother, whom I enjoy greatly, blurts out one time, "Well, we're all the same colour in the dark." My husband and I crack up over this. It doesn't sting because I know she genuinely likes me.
This anthology—15 pieces written by distinguished Canadian authors who were born elsewhere—addresses immigrating to Canada and fitting in. Toten begins with her own story (she left Croatia as an infant with her mother), describing how her mother, widowed six months after her arrival in Canada, found it nearly impossible to cope in a harsh land without family, friends, or language. Although short narratives predominate, the offerings range from Svetlana Chmakova's comic to Boonaa Mohammed's spoken word poem and everything in between.
The authors make the point that English fluency does not necessarily guarantee a smooth transition to Canadian life. Indian-born Rachna Gilmore (quoted above) idolized the "Anne of Green Gables" books as a child and came to PEI after living in London for several years. Yet, even though she married an Islander, she found people noticed her brown skin first. By contrast, Richard Poplak describes coming to Canada as a white person from Apartheid-era South Africa; he recounts his early shock at seeing the races intermingling in his new land. And Linda Granfield, a Boston native, describes the anti-Americanism she encountered during the 1970s.
Not all of these immigrants came under easy circumstances: Marina Nemat was a political prisoner from Iran; Eva Wiseman escaped the Hungarian Revolution; and the Chinese Red Guard once detained Ting-Xing Ye. Although the circumstances for immigrating vary—as do the authors' ages, countries of origin, and genders—a common theme is the sense of otherness that these newcomers felt.
Canadian teens, whether native born or not, are likely to appreciate these stories for their perceptions of Canadian society as viewed by outsiders and the little details of daily life that first upset them: the color of Canadian maple leaves, Saskatoon's insane winters, and having to Anglicize one's name for work. Readers will also note the gradual stirrings of becoming Canadian experienced by each of these authors.
Kay Weisman is a Master of Arts in Children's Literature candidate at the University of British Columbia.
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