By Vivian Fung
Concept by Paola Duran
A majority of the world spent this last winter in lockdown, making it lonelier than ever. Vivian's photos aim to represent the loneliness of last winter, and how we sought to find comfort during those times.
Vivian Fung is a young photographer based in Toronto. Check out her work on Instagram at @lumilis!
By Muna Ahmed
I used to take comfort in my laptop
On days where I had it hard
Days where I thought life would be the end of me
I saw my laptop as my saviour
I see my laptop as nothing but a burden
As I must sit here hour after hour
Staring at my screen
Listening to lessons
that go through one ear and leave through the other
Oh how times have changed
How school has become my enemy
And sleep has become a way of passing time
I miss the way things used to be
When I would wake up with a purpose
Other than to check if any assignments have been posted
I miss when my laptop wasn’t the place where I spent all my day
When learning made me excited
And I had a reason to wake up every day
By Furqan Mohamed
Editor - Saif Khan
By now, you have probably heard about all the fallout from Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's sit-down with Oprah Winfrey. Millions tuned in to watch, and many shared their reactions live on social media. It has been hard to escape the story for so many reasons. Black History Month is naturally followed by Women's History Month, and the March 7th interview seemingly confirmed what many Black women and women of colour seemed to know in their gut for years now. Meghan, one of the most talked-about Black women globally, was treated horribly by the media and not protected by the institution she signed up to represent.
Firstly, Oprah is very good at what she does. During the interview, she was the perfect substitute for all of us watching at home. Her palpable shock is our palpable shock. Her confusion is our confusion. She is a talented interviewer, and the programming was a masterclass in questioning. But there is one thing that is difficult to overlook as we watched Meghan and Harry spill their guts to one of the most talented orators in American television history. We watched a well-connected billionaire sit down with two other wealthy and well-connected people at a picturesque estate, discuss mental health and safety during a pandemic where many have slipped below the poverty line. We watched two people essentially discuss their experience fleeing a toxic work environment during a time where workers worldwide are struggling to unionize— workers who cannot phone Tyler Perry to borrow his mansion if they leave their jobs.
Since representation has become a popular metric for people's politics, any sympathy for Meghan is regarded as sympathy for all Black women. It is praxis by proxy and an expression of social justice without any serious consideration for the context in which Meghan exists: as a member of a colonial institution. Using her as a tool to explain or even defend Black womanhood without first conceding this fact is not only ignorant, it's harmful. Yes, on some level, representation matters, but what kind?
In the second half of the interview, the Prince refers to Meghan as a potential "asset" to the Royals. Several took to Twitter to remark the same thing: Meghan could have been a great gift to this institution, and they dropped the ball by treating her poorly. Since the Monarchy is technically a job (a strange fact that is worth addressing separately), it makes perfect sense that people would point out how qualified she is to tour the Commonwealth and serve as a charity patron. She is a well-spoken woman who had a career and passions of her own before her high-profile marriage. But it's important to note that what many are referring to when they express that Meghan could have helped the Monarchy is not her professional qualifications but with Blackness. As it currently stands, the Royal Family is a more aesthetically pleasing shell of a violent institution that once ruled over the world, destroying and pillaging the African and Asian continent and utilizing slavery for resources like sugar and diamonds. Members of the Royal Family still parade around former British colonies, being received by large crowds of Black and brown people, Indigenous ceremonies, and world leaders. It's an entirely romantic and ahistorical affair. You could never guess that these people, with their beautiful clothes and charitable smiles, are the descendants and successors of an imperial force. The wealth the institution of the Monarchy enjoys could have been multiplied ten-fold if its newest member, who resembles the colonized more than the colonizers, was welcomed and given the same degree of pageantry.
Meghan's status as a person of colour is a bonus for the Royal Family because it supposedly signals "progress" and revitalizes an increasingly irrelevant institution. Many businesses today use the language of diversity and inclusion while damaging the environment. Some universities tout their equity training while ignoring actionable steps that could help students and staff. Even weapons contractors cannot wait to tell you that their board members are female while bombing other countries into the stone-age. The politics of more female war-lords and more Black-owned prions! So why should one of the oldest institutions in the world miss out on the magic of the neoliberal age? Why commit to reparations or abolish oppressive systems when one could just fill them up with racialized bodies and demand that people celebrate how far they have come? For those who cannot possibly imagine a world beyond empires and colonial regimes, having a Black president, princess, or even a Black police chief not only marks progress but is fulfilling.
Meghan Markle is a biracial African American woman who often introduces herself as a person of colour. Not too long ago, there was something called a "one-drop rule," which in the American south meant that "a single drop of "black blood" makes a person a black." For the bigoted British tabloids and newspapers, this was enough, seemingly warranting comments about her son's skin colour, too. But here is the kicker: Meghan is a thin, conventionally attractive woman who wears her hair straight and is at most a Fenty 230. She has endured many of the stereotyping Black women face, from being designated "ghetto" to being called "bossy" and "threatening." Yet, the abuse maintained solely for dark-skinned Black and brown women in popular culture does not hit her as a very light-skinned woman. These things are true at the same time. As many Black writers have pointed out, you cannot talk about how Meghan was treated without talking about colourism, which, just like the “one-drop rule,” has its roots in white supremacy. We must reckon with the most uncomfortable aspect of this entire fiasco, the quiet part that many know deep down. Meghan Markle is the most socially acceptable version of a Black woman. Even so, she was not good enough for the horrific institution known as the Crown and the media that aids in its reproduction.
The problem is not in discussing Meghan or her plights, but lies in the ways we discuss her and them. Public conversations about the intersections of sexism and racism are incredibly important. However, it feels as though much of the popular conversations around her, and the questions that have been raised, are very shallow. It seems we are avoiding the much more complex conversations about the value of having "Black faces in high places," or if there is even any value at all. We live in a culture that adores love stories, strong female leads, and the glamour of wealth and Meghan's story contains all of these elements. But her story is a singular one, now intimately intertwined with millions of people who have suffered at the hands of the British Empire, and who continue to live in the shadow of colonialism and its effects. Their lives can never be honoured by having someone who looks like them share a title with those who tried to erase them.
No one should downplay the couple's experience or the racism and microaggressions Meghan has continued to face. In fact, we can observe how Meghan was hurt and apply what we have learned to organize against harm faced by Black women regarding employment, housing, and the police. Our commitments should be to pursue more holistic and liberating systems rather than reproduce more violent ones and the "representation as liberation" ideology in hopes that it will cure centuries-old traumas. Several essays can be written about the lessons to be drawn from this small piece of history, each requiring time and nuance. For now, perhaps the task is to examine if what Meghan Markle represents improves the lives of the disenfranchised or is simply doing PR for a billion-dollar family business that has ravaged and robbed more countries than you could count on one hand.
By Noor Gouda
Editor - Michael Gillardo
*Disclaimer: Before I start sharing with you a milestone in my own personal journey, I feel it is important to disclaim that this literary piece will include the Muslim faith. As a young Muslim woman, I have the religious obligation to state that I am NOT a Muslim scholar. If you have any questions, please research and/or ask any local Muslim clerics on your own time, along with moderate and trusted sources. Essentially this essay is my own personal journey as a Muslim, so please do NOT generalize the religion nor the multiple different Muslim communities and/or Muslim individuals around the world based on this one journey. Again, if you are interested in Islam please reach out to the proper and trusted sources, such as Al-Azhar University (world renowned Islamic institute and university). Also, the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the magazine, nor all/any of its members, that is publishing this piece. As well, I would like to thank TOP magazine for allowing me to use their platform to share my journey and to discuss the religious aspect of it – especially with today, religion being more so one of the extremely complex matters in society.
“Tell me about yourself?” “Who are you?” “Describe yourself in x amount of words.” Yada, yada, yada.
You’ve probably been asked this question in the form of the above, or in another. The question about who you are. You can go about answering what on surface value is simple but packs within it the most complex, difficult, social, and even political of answers, in many ways.
On paper you can list all the different personality traits that in your perspective make you, you. You can share with the one who asks, the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. On paper, you can “objectively” list down your age, physical attributes, your background, and such. But if you’re anything like me, nine out of ten times that very same question about who you are, your whole life, your identity, is asked and answered by someone else within the matter of seconds; usually answered on the basis of that one thing that makes you stand out, and not fit the perfect little box of society. Luckily today, even though at least ninety percent of the time people will come to a presumption that does not fit you in the least bit, ninety percent of the time those very same people are willing to give you a chance – despite not doing anything that implies that you somehow lost that “first” chance, and instead you’re receiving that “second” chance. If you’re anything like me –
I guess I should explain what those words mean.
Allow me to properly introduce myself, on paper – literally, since you’re reading this, albeit on that blue screen of your device. On paper, I’m your average Canadian nineteen-year-old girl, who happens to be currently completing an undergraduate degree in English literature. That is it. That’s the only thing that makes me your average Canadian woman: that I’m nineteen and studying English literature. However, the rest of me is not average, or it simply just doesn’t fit with “the” Canadian image – which itself brings up the interesting question of identity and Canada, but that’s a whole different story for a different day. If I continue listing all that makes me, me on paper, and if you continue to read that paper, you’ll come to find that a) I’m an immigrant, b) I’m Arab and c) I’m Muslim. I think I don’t have to elaborate any further the idea that in most of the societies and communities I “belong” to, I’m on the sidelines, one way or another.
You never want any unique quality of yours to become a reason for society to shun you. I’ve got three big ones, but out of those three, two I can hide – well actually, those two I would be able to hide if it weren’t for the world’s association with the other one to them. You see, if you ever met me, you’d immediately register that elegantly and skillfully wrapped around my head is my cloth crown, aka my hijab. Even though I was born to two Muslim parents, who have passed unto me their values and views, in this age and point in my life, it is completely up to me to not only uphold these religious values, but to accept them as my own. And I’ve proudly made the decision to be identified as a Muslim not because I was born into a Muslim family, but because I truly do believe in this faith. It is this choice of mine, to believe in and practice the values and ideologies of this faith because it simply makes sense to me, which adds to the “darkness” of the shadow. But here is the “problem,” people nowadays shouldn’t see me as “just” Muslim, correct? I was recently watching a clip from the Black-ish spin-off show, Mixed-ish in which Alicia, one of the main characters, brings up an issue still relevant today. In this clip she talks about how she “doesn’t want to be seen as just a Black woman.” But what if I am happy being completely seen and identified as “just that?” What if I’m completely happy being identified as just Muslim? Nothing more, nothing less, just a Muslim.
You see, over the course of the past couple of years, I found that an absolute abyss of darkness had started to take shape inside of my mind, swallowing my heart, and eventually filling me to the brim with negativity and sadness. And as more time passed, I found that I was not only being swallowed by the ocean of darkness that had surrounded me, I also found myself giving into it. Even though the darkness stemmed from an isolation, and constant self-criticism, I finally acknowledged that my darkness stemmed from my distance from God. At this point I remembered how my faith had essentially lifted me up out of that hole in the ground. Countless times I have come out of prayer feeling lighter than air and happier than ever. Though, it wasn’t until recently that I finally took that first step in reconciling with my faith and essentially removing that blinding veil which covered my perspective. And I’m happy because now I know how I can achieve my life’s purpose.
Now comes the big question that you probably developed while reading this story. Why in the world would I want to be identified as just Muslim? Especially since there’s a lot more to me that makes me the very one-of-kind, unique person that I am today. Simple. Everything good about me, every achievement I have achieved, every dream I hope and plan to turn into reality, and most importantly my happiness, all of it finds a connection in my faith. Like I said, my faith has been and continues to be my key with dealing all of my difficulties, turning my weaknesses into strengths. Simply put, I’m happiest most when I pray, I’m happiest most when I read religious scripture, I’m in constant amazement when learning the grand rich depths of my faith. I’m happiest most when I’m connected to Islam.
Before I finish off with the final period, I have to make sure that you dear reader understand this one important thing. I and only I, Noor Gouda, I’m happy being seen as just a Muslim. If you’re going to take anything from this story of mine, and I hope you, please do not take this as me preaching that there is only one way to live life, and please do not generalize all the different Muslims of the world based off of this one specific account. If anything, take the message that falling down is part of life, and it is possible, despite being extremely hard most times, to take that first step to get up and get healed. To put it into one short and simple sentence, we all have different paths that essentially lead to the one ultimate goal of being happy – and even that is different for everyone. Being comfortable in, happy, and most important being proud of my identity as a Muslim woman, is simply my own path to being happy.
By Teresa Nicole
Editor - Paola Duran
Imagine this, it is January 8th of 2020, the start of a new year. Living in a country free of the coronavirus, walking around 6 feet closer to loved ones, you get a notification from Twitter stating that a comeback map has been posted for BTS’ upcoming album Map of the Soul : 7. Following that day, music videos, art galleries and teaser photos were to be released in accordance to the schedule. Every single day BTS fans (known as "ARMY’s") from around the world anticipated BTS’ biggest comeback to date.
The comeback schedule began with the release of ‘’Shadow’’, and many can recall the memories tied to the release of the song. It was imposing a new era amongst BTS’ musical journey, and a new start for fans all over the world. The following weeks would bring new content to bring attention to this highly anticipated album.
January 21st rolled around and a tour announcement was released. At that time, devoted fans seemed to be charged with excitement as the biggest boy band in the world was set to have a world tour. The trending page on Twitter filled with hashtags anticipating these dates. Communities within these cities were bound together by a collective eagerness to see BTS. The mere thought of cancellation was not to be spoken of. Such an idea was never even meant to exist.
For many, these promotions bring memories of those final months before the world was pushed into an unfamiliar state. The words ‘lockdown’ and ‘pandemic’ were unfamiliar to our daily vocabulary. It was a world in which we could embrace loved ones with no fear of contracting a deathly virus, it was one filled with excitement.
For BTS this album represents a collection of stories after being together for seven years, but for ARMY it represents those last few weeks of total normalcy. My story is merely one of many, but personally, this album brings me back to bussing home in the winter with my best friends. It was something I took for granted. These bus rides were about more than getting home, it was a time to converse about what had happened at school or what was happening in the realm of KPOP. These rides were a means of connecting, and although I was bundled up in layers of winter clothing, the warmth of this album paired with the company of my friends brings back memories I wish to relive. As for those concert tickets, the level of excitement I felt receiving that email confirming my pre-sale code has never been matched. My best friend and I ended up leaving school early to purchase tickets in the middle of winter, but it was a decision I will never regret. We were so eager to witness live performances of an album that was yet to be released, but that money was definitely well spent.
Fast forward to February 21st of 2020, Map of the Soul : 7 was finally released. However this was the beginning of an end. The virus had started to take a rise on the global stage and it was spreading at a rapid pace. The world was slowly sinking into a lockdown, one that everybody seemed to deny. A few weeks later on March 11th of 2020, the WHO declared the coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic.
An inevitable tour postponement announcement was released which left many fans all over the world in a state of utter disappointment. What was supposed to be a year filled with uncontainable excitement was later contained in the walls of our bedrooms. Nights passed and people continuously pondered over one word: ‘when.’ When were we going to witness these songs be performed live? When would we finally get to meet our online friends? When will this be over? Questions like these ran through the minds of people of all ages internationally, but one listen to Map of the Soul : 7 had the ability to take all these worries away. It became a means of escaping back to those last few weeks before lockdown. Nostalgic memories filled the minds of those who took comfort in this album. It was a source of healing in a world where life had taken an unexpected turn.
In the end, an online concert was held for BTS to finally showcase what had been stolen away during the pandemic. Nothing would be able to match the energy that an in-person concert could give, but this was the only way. BTS MAP OF THE SOUL ON:E was held on October 10th of 2020 and millions of fans joined in from around the world to witness these missed performances. Fortunately enough, I was able to watch this concert with my best friends, but it was bittersweet. I felt as if I was missing out on what ‘could have been’. This tour was at my fingertips and yet it slipped right through. Each performance exceeded my expectations and I was left in awe of how BTS was able to bring these songs to life.
Although the Map of the Soul era is conceptually over, ARMY’s continue to resonate with this album in relation to the coronavirus pandemic. In the title track ‘’ON’’, BTS proudly sing “bring the pain on”. The world may seem to be in a state of eternal suffering but we have to persevere. There are concerts to be attended, albums to be heard, and songs to be loved. We cannot give up due to temporary pain.
*ARMY - fans of the Korean boy band BTS
By Isabel Rodriguez
Editor - Michael Gillardo
2020 brought the most unexpected obstacles and guilty joy. This year’s stillness was everlasting, yet any persistence for normality was met with patience. As 2020 was the year no one foresaw, it’ll be the year we will surely never forget.
The beginning part of my year was my normal. I went to amusement parks, concerts, baseball games, and even traveled, my blissful ignorance led me to take all that for granted. Like many, looking back, I regret not understanding how my normal could be gone in an instant.
COVID-19 shut down the world. Canceled plans and virtual hangouts were beginning to be my new normal. Although COVID-19 paused some lives, my life included, some continued to live as everything was normal and that took me a long time to accept. Not everyone seemed to care about the greater good and “the right thing to do” did not mean the same thing. On March 13th, I decided I care about the collective, and unlike many, I did not lie to myself about it and post something else on social media. My normal was gone.
I did not leave my house for weeks on end. Former President Barack Obama gave my commencement speech and I watched from my living room couch. I turned 18 alone. I entered college in my childhood home. I celebrated thanksgiving and Christmas without my family, just my household. My year was surrounded by so much sacrifice and to think that the years of other Americans did not look the same pains me more than anything. In 2020, it felt like I was doing a group project alone.
The choice I made to stop the spread of living in the most ravaged county in America was a choice that I did not think I would be making alone. As we struggle to get people to simply cover their face, residents of New Zealand are living my desired normal. While I would do anything for my normal to come back, 2020 has taught me that normal is out of my control.
As I looked for hope in orange fire smoked skies and watched CNN for hours on end, 2020 was a reality I needed to see, as it was one that required emotion. Life was always moving so fast that before now no one stopped to feel their feelings and act on them. Everyone took being alive for granted.
2020 taught me that if life gives you lemons, you thank life for giving you those lemons and then make lemonade. I am grateful for all the opportunities I had this year. All the zoom calls, all the new friends, all the new music, even all the new Trader Joe foods. Which leads me to think that true gratitude and kindness was only learned this year. As life was always on the move, pausing to remember who you are and what you have was rare before 2020, helping people through mutual aid funds and listening to your community was merely performative. Now, as everything around us collapses or does not go our way, gratitude will bring us hope.
In the end, all hope is not lost. Goodbye, 2020. While you did show us the worst in humanity, you reminded all of us what it means to be human.
By Teresa Nicole
Editor - Ashleena Bilal
Four days after its initial release, Olivia Rodrigo’s bittersweet pop ballad, otherwise known as “driver's license”, had topped charts internationally. According to Billboard, the growth of popularity rose within a limited number of days, “it's currently No. 1 on the U.S. daily charts for both Apple Music and Spotify, with its new high of nearly 5.7 million daily plays on the latter service.” To put it into perspective, a 17-year-old with her first debut single broke Ariana Grande’s Spotify record with “thank you, next”. Rodrigo has become the first Asian-American artist to achieve this accomplishment, and it has been celebrated amongst Asian communities.
During Asian Pacific American Heritage Month in 2017, Rodrigo was featured in a short Disney channel video discussing her cultural roots. She has wholeheartedly embraced the Filipino culture saying “I’m Olivia Rodrigo, I’m a Filipina, I’m a lumpia fan, I’m a daughter and a granddaughter and a great-granddaughter, I’m an American, I’m an Asian Pacific Islander.”
However, many have pushed her cultural identity to the sidelines. With her Spanish last name, many people have assumed Rodrigo to be a Latina-American. South-East Asians have always had their identities put off to the side for not being East Asian enough or South Asian enough. Rodrigo’s Filipino heritage was rarely addressed or celebrated when bringing up her breakthrough in the music industry.
It has become a well-known fact that Asian artists breaking into the American music scene has never been an easy barrier to break through, yet the odds played in Rodrigo’s favour. Career options have always been so limited within Asian families, (with professions concerning science and math being highly praised) so the music industry has felt out of reach for so many. Seeing a Filipino-American prosper in such a competitive field may leave Asian families open-minded to the successions of music while bringing hope to young people with aspirations of making it big in America.
As an Asian living in North America, the media I consumed was infiltrated with people who looked nothing like me. Diversity within representation is important as well, as a Southeast Asian, the only Hollywood representation I could identify with was East Asian singers and actresses, it was uncommon to see other regions of Asia being represented here in the west. Other SEA’s like myself had to comply with what was given, then again, representation at all was already such a big accomplishment. Olivia Rodrigo breaking this record means so much to both me and others who grew up with a loss of identity due to the media we consumed.
The lack of Asian representation within mainstream media still has a long way to go before it is considered fully inclusive but musicians like Rodrigo have opened up opportunities that would have not otherwise been dreamed of, and from here on accomplishments will keep being made.
By Isabel Rodriguez
Editor - Ashleena Bilal
It is time we stop saying the actions that took place on January 6th, 2021, are not “American” because they are. The truth is, the deadly conflict on Capitol Hill stands as a reminder of how fragile our democratic constitutional republic is when we do not value words. It exposed the government framework that is tied to white supremacy and extremist hate. On Wednesday, racism, bigotry, xenophobia, and privilege won. This is who we are. “A more perfect union” was a lie from the start.
Like many Americans, I have difficulty putting into words the emotions I feel about the extremist act that our former president helped to conspire. The words of some exploited hatred we knew was always there. America was doomed to repeat our history because we never learned from it.
It is time we all stop. We shall make no more excuses for the inaction or failure of police (cops are their friends, not foe), or play the blame game (we know who is responsible), and no more yelling about how this modern-day of infamy could have been deadlier if there were Black and Brown people in attendance. It is time we all stop. Every U.S. lawmaker, governing body, and federal agent takes responsibility for what happened, as it has been years in the making and the result of allowing misinformation and lies to spread and not fixing systemic failure. The GOP and President are not the only ones at fault here. They are just the loudest. Holding them accountable will not work this time, we must explicitly demand it or move to impeach.
Our country resolves issues in a Black and white mindset, literally and figuratively.
While we know Black lives matter protests were met with rubber bullets and tear gas, it is incredibly toxic and harmful to suggest that any Black life would be dead on the Capitol steps if they attempted hate extremists’ actions. The statements comparing the movements of alt-right fascist loving racist bigots to peaceful human right fighters are oxymorons. I will not ask you to “imagine how Black and Brown people would feel about hearing those statements.” I will ask you to recognize your implicit bias and tone-deafness and realize what we witnessed. Police treated violent criminal bigots with respect they did not deserve; why is the government only understanding and believing Black people’s perils now?
Confederates flew their flag on Capitol Hill 159 years after the civil war, and our President encouraged it. The sad reality is that this action was years in the making and went unnoticed and dismissed. BIPOC community members were shouting, screaming to be heard that white supremacy is not a thing of the past but currently thriving in our society. The white majority only recognized it eight months ago and forgot about it after their black square social media post.
Neo-Nazis walked into the most sacred space for our democratic practice with anti-Semitic hate merch. Charlottesville warned us but we did not listen. The first-ever Jewish senator from Georgia was elected on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Nazi flags were flown on the steps of capitol hill. How can we be making any “progressive” change when hate and violence are prevalent and being encouraged by top officials? Yet, no one is listening to the voices of the Jewish community and ignoring their existence in responses.
White privilege and power destructively marched for fascism, and their leaders cowered in fear upon realization they incited violence. 7 GOP senators changed their minds after they caused a hateful unpatriotic attack, and it will be noted that it took death, destruction, and madness for them to do so. To the GOP, White supremacy is only a “protest,” and Black lives matter is a “riot.” The rhetoric is strict for accountability, reform, and progressive change, but the entire dictionary is allowed for white supremacy, racism, and lies.
The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.
- Audre Lorde.
Language is often taken for granted. In life, we say things in the heat when we do not mean it, or we mean every word we say in a well-developed speech; both scenarios evoke emotions that can never be changed and always leave a mark. “...Stand back and stand by”, “Law and Order,” “...Very fine people, on both sides..” For four years, the carelessness of our President’s words allowed for this event to happen. The culmination of words that gave validity to Q-Anon members, the Proud Boys, Nazi’s, and other alt-right groups. Poor leadership is what led to the “war” cry “We won’t back down b****” written in Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s office. So, when describing January 6th, history will note everyone’s poor choice of words in the name of the first amendment. Wednesday was not a “protest” or “demonstration”, it was an insurrection and domestic terrorism. Not just Trump supporters stormed the Capitol; alt-right racist nazis did as well.
Wednesday’s attack was a symptom of a larger disease that needs no vaccination plan. Hate has a cure, but only some use the right words to treat it. True leaders heal through words, disgraceful leaders divide with hate speech, and authentic leaders unify through rhetoric, so it is up to us to decide whether this day will be one of many or be condemned and never repeated. This failed coup d'etat must be met with real consequences, and fundamental changes or disgrace will take power. Activism did not stop on election day; it only began.
Daniela is a 17 year-old artist based in Brampton, Ontario.
This piece is dedicated to my mother, and her everchanging feelings surrounding her home country. It depicts the confusion that comes with immigrating from your mother country, and experiencing homesickness while knowing that you don't wish to return again.
The piece is an abstraction of her home. The fading quality of the acrylic conveys the fading of memories and the disconnect that comes with immigrating to a different country.
By Furqan Mohamed
Editor - Paola Duran
Upon stumbling across Tara Monfaredi's book on Instagram, I knew straight away that I had to pick her brain. She is a young woman of colour, whose prose is relevant and moving. Tara is a self-described writer, editor, researcher, and storyteller. Her collection of short stories, Seeds is a memoir published by Life Rattle Press. Canadian literature, especially in the genre of nonfiction, has struggled to reflect the rich diversity of this country and the deep ocean of talent available to us. In recent years, especially thanks to small and independent publishers like Life Rattle, there has been a rise in books that our culture is missing. These are the stories we deserve to hear, the ones that celebrate our unique cultural differences and highlight what we have in common.
Where are you from? (What culture do you belong to?) Where’s home for you?
I’m from Toronto, Ontario. I was born to an English mother and an Iranian father at Mount Sinai Hospital. I currently live in Brampton.
Your book, Seeds, a collection of short stories, explores "family, identity, and layered, intricate love". What do you mean by that?
All the stories in Seeds focus on people and my relationship with them. The first chapter is centered around my friend of fourteen years, Vanessa. The remainder of the stories are rooted in my biological family. I explore identity in the story “Hybridic Identity” in which I write about being a Canadian woman who is also half English and half Persian. I feel I have been socialized to be Western but there is still Iranian influence in who I am. My identity is often called into question because I don’t “look” Iranian and I don’t speak Farsi but being of Iranian descent is important to me and my identity.
I write about “layered, intricate love” by showing familial love. I write about grief and how love is at the basis of such an emotional state. Vanessa lost her father to gun violence and I write about visiting the mausoleum with her. I also write about visiting England when my Nanna died. Love is woven through all the stories and it comes through in subtle ways.
Does your family history and/or culture influence you? How?
Of course. I think about the odds of my existence being so slim. My father came to Canada to study and was forced to stay here because of the Revolution and the Iran-Iraq War. He had no intention of staying in Canada. My mother came here to be a nanny. She didn’t have plans on staying here either. But my parents met each other, got married and had four children: me and my siblings. I feel I am headstrong because of my father. I have a great sense of right and wrong and duty to my family. Many lessons from my childhood my father taught me from his upbringing and his experience of being a diasporic person. I feel this has seeped into me and influenced who I am today.
What stories about your identity do you ever feel uncomfortable sharing (if ever)? Which are the ones you are most excited to share with readers?
I am a rather open person. You have to be, in order to be the kind of writer I am. I primarily write nonfiction about my life but there are darker aspects about my life that I have not yet shared. I lived under precarious circumstances as a child and my parents went through a lengthy divorce in which the courts were involved. The stories in Seeds do not tell the whole story. Perhaps my next book will cover the darker years. I am most excited to share stories that I think many people can relate to. I love hearing that readers connected to my work and reminded them of moments from their own life. Nostalgia is a powerful thing.
Which writers do you admire most? What books would you say shaped you/your writing style?
I admire Cormac McCarthy. The bare language he uses, it’s stripped down and beautiful. My style is rather simple. I show the story as it happened and do little to embellish it.
What are you reading right now?
I’m currently reading Boys in Zinc. It’s an oral history of the Russian-Afghanistan War. I’m preparing to apply for my master’s at the Centre for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies.
What drew you to writing? When did you know it was something you wanted to pursue professionally?
I have been writing since I was a pre-teen. I would write little poems and share them with my friends. I knew I wanted to be a writer after I had my first poem published in the school newspaper in high school. I was always drawn to it and always felt I had something to say.
Do you ever deal with imposter syndrome/the idea that your writing is not important or will not be received well? If so, how do you cope? What gives you the confidence to put your work out there?
Of course I do! I’m a writer! Having a great support system in my personal life helps. And having supporters of my work. I know I have a unique voice that no other writer has. It’s my stamp. It’s what makes me and my writing mine. There are many writers that I admire who I think their talent outweighs mine but I can’t compare myself to them. I just have to keep writing, reading, and working at it and one day maybe I can be among them.
What is the most difficult part about publishing a book? What is the most rewarding aspect?
The most difficult part about publishing a book is finding stories that fit together and are harmonious. I had a great body of stories and had to go through them and find not just the best ones, but the ones that made the most sense together.
The most rewarding part is having that physical, tangible copy in your hands for the first time. That’s the moment it really sinks in, I’m an author!
Is there any advice you would give to your younger self?
I would tell myself to read more. Read everything you can get your hands on. All great writers are avid readers.
What would you say to young writers who want to publish a book?
I would say read a lot and read the kind of work you want to write and publish. Get a good editor or two! They’re paramount. You can hire me if you’d like! And be prepared to work for it.
What writing would you like to do next?
I would like to write another book about the darker aspects of my life: living in government housing and my parent’s divorce, and my struggle with substance abuse. I would also like to write a novel. I have a few ideas in the works!
You can learn more about Tara Monfaredi at taramonfaredi.com