CM . . .
. Volume IX Number 20. . . . June 6, 2003
Have you ever had to move to a new community? Why did you move? What was it like? How did people treat you?
Fleeing war torn Beirut, Saoussan's family starts a new life in Canada. Narrated in the first person, this video portrays the experiences of a child who cannot speak either official language. Life in Canada and the western culture is very strange to Saoussan. Isolated by a language barrier, she is unable to understand or participate in school. Friendships and physical needs and feelings are also impossible because of Saoussan's inability to communicate with her peers or teachers. Unfamiliar with Halloween customs, Saoussan believes that war has followed her to Canada when she sees a skeleton hanging in the girl's washroom at school. Saoussan tells the viewer that in a year's time she has made friends, and she is going to a Halloween party dressed as a cat.
Colour and size is extremely crucial to communicating the character's immigrant experience. From a child's point of view, the school is a frightening place. Saoussan is small in comparison to her father and the long, black hallway. The viewer has a sense of the child's inability to control the situation and her isolation and fear when her father leaves.
As an animated portrayal of the story, the artistic license also enhanced the feeling of vulnerability and exclusion that non-Anglophones or non-Francophones may feel when they come to Canada. Canadian children and teachers were portrayed as having mouths. They were able to communicate their needs and wants. They were able to participate in their community and exercise their political rights and freedoms. Unless she was crying or screaming, Saoussan was portrayed without a mouth. At the end of the story, after she had been in Canada a year, Saoussan is portrayed as having a mouth. This change could symbolize that she has adjusted to the new culture and language. It could also mean that others have begun to accept her as part of the community.
The reviewer felt that the lack of a mouth or voice could also portray non-official language speaking immigrants in general. It could portray the immigrants' reluctance to speak if they have experienced war, torture, or genocide in their country of origin. It could also portray the fact that immigrants must apply to become Canadian citizens before they are able to exercise all the responsibilities and benefits of being Canadian. Interestingly, Saoussan's father was portrayed as being able to communicate. He did have a mouth.
Teachers, parents, librarians or other instructors might want to lead discussions on how to welcome newcomers into the community, Halloween traditions, and voicing fears, as suggested in the video's packaging. Based on Robert Munsch's and Saoussan Askar's book by the same title, the reviewer felt that this video dramatically and effectively portrayed the experience of living in war and terrorism in juxtaposition to the peacefulness of Canadian society. In the climate of war, fear, and terrorism that currently prevails in the world, the ability to understand other ethnic groups is increasingly important. This vignette's subject may be a very timely for children and adults alike.
Denise Weir is a consultant with Manitoba Culture, Heritage and Tourism, Public Library Services.
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