Immigrant Reflections & 'The Black Experience Project'

I want to first name that 'Toronto has played host to no less than three distinct peoples (the Huron, the Haudenosaunee, and the Mississauga), two different cultures (Iroquoian and Algonquian), and was the site of many trade gatherings and inter-tribal ceremonies.' source I can't express my past immigrant experience without acknowledging that now I know that this land is Indigeneous and we all have a responsibility to work in solidarity with First Peoples for justice. 

When I was a little girl, I traveled across the ocean in my best dress from Port Of Spain, Trinidad to Toronto, Canada. I remember the environmental differences clearly, the color of the sky, the temperature, but particularly the smells. Gone were the sweet island scents of fruit and flowers cooled by ocean breezes and in its place was the smell of 'cold'. These were the easiest things to get used to, although I have never grown to love long and persistent winters. What was most difficult was understanding who I was in this new place. For any immigrant, the process of settling in a new country is complex, requiring both a lot of courage and humility. I came from a country where Shadeism had a strong hold, but where Black, Indigenous & People Of Colour were the majority and where diversity was expected. This diversity was reflected in the sheer number of islands of the Carribbean & nearby South America and the innumberable amount of ethno-cultural mixings of the people you encountered.

In Toronto, I became aware of how different I was by the questions I was met with. Most frequently, people who were not from richly diverse places would always ask, "So you are from Jamaica, right? or "Why is your accent so funny?" I have so much love for all the islands, but any one of us could tell you that we are distinctly different. Our difference is a great source of pride, from our food to the music, it was insulting that I was reduced to stereotype of the one place in Carribbean people had heard of. As an adult, I would have the perfect retort, but as a shy little girl these encounters forced me to quickly submerge my accent. I searched for reflections of me everywhere. As a librarians daughter, I had access to so much knowledge and media and I still couldn't find anything. There was no place where there were a diversity of Black Toronto stories and perspectives, not for me or for all the other people who didn't know that my home existed. 

That is why for me, the work of the Black Experience Project is so compelling. I think about how significant it would have been for me as a young girl to know that there was a substantial Caribbean and specifically Trinidadian population in Toronto as well as all the other Black people coming from every corner of the world. I am reminded of the words of Junot Diaz.

"You guys know about vampires?" Diaz asked.  "You know, vampires have no reflections in a mirror? There's this idea that monsters don't have reflections in a mirror.  And what I've always thought isn't that monsters don't have reflections in a mirror. It's that if you want to make a human being into a monster, deny them, at the cultural level, any reflection of themselves. And growing up, I felt like a monster in some ways. I didn't see myself reflected at all. I was like, "Yo, is something wrong with me? That the whole society seems to think that people like me don't exist? And part of what inspired me, was this deep desire that before I died, I would make a couple of mirrors. That I would make some mirrors so that kids like me might seem themselves reflected back and might not feel so monstrous for it."

 

The Black Experience Project is a groundbreaking research study of the "lived experience" of individuals across the Greater Toronto Area who self-identify as Black or of African heritage.

The study focuses on the contributions, successes, experiences and challenges of the people from this diverse set of communities. The research will provide valuable direction in identifying policies and other initiatives that will contribute to the health and vibrancy of the Black community, and by doing so, the health and vibrancy of the entire GTA community. 

The study will consist of in-depth one-on-one confidential interviews with a representative sample of individuals across the GTA. The survey is now underway and will continue through May 2015. They are seeking input from all people and are reaching out to the LGBTQ* community to give their perspectives in the Greater Toronto Area.