Diaspora and Shame: Stories Under my Tongue

By Anne-Audrey Remarais

my tongue

moving in different ways




left, right

the way it moves around

dances around, in my mouth

the choreography initiated by you


sustained by me

under the umbrella of shame

shame building stages where my tongue can dance,

where my tongue can be showcased,

outside of me.

there is no chain tying up my tongue.

at my own mercy,

i carry this shame in my tongue,

in the way it moves to please you,

in the way it awkwardly dances in my mother tongue,

in the way i stop the dance when the lights are on,

lit by my mother,

lit by my father.

how hurtful is it to see the pain in your eyes when our tongues don’t move at the same rhythm.

how hurtful is it to see the pride in your eyes when our tongues move at the same rhythm.

Caribbean Sea. The Ayiti they don’t showcase. View from the 500 steps in Koto.

Growing up in Montreal, when I was a teenager, I would always feel at home with friends of colour, especially Haitian friends, with whom I felt I could relate even deeper. We would laugh at some of our parents mannerisms. When we spoke French, we would throw in Kreyol words. When I would return to my parents’ house, I would hide that side of me. Responding to my parents in French only, ashamed my tongue would twist in the wrong ways. I felt in between worlds, not Canadian enough, not Haitian enough. Internally struggling as I proudly said I was Haitian, only out of my home. I was looking for my place.

My parents immigrated to Canada for different reasons. My mom came from Haiti as a teenager for better educational opportunities while my father came as a young adult to escape the Haitian Duvalier dictatorship at the time. They left behind their homeland, families, friends, culture and lifestyles. They had to start fresh, relearn everything, and face new forms of racism.

Road in between my dad’s family house and my sister’s house, in Kanperen, Ayiti.

I say all this because I carry their stories within me as I navigate this world to create my own stories. My dad would tell me how as a young adult he never knew if he would be able to come back home as a lot of young folks were getting arrested, kidnapped, or killed by soldiers. He never realized how his life was holding on to a thread until he stepped foot in Canada. My mom actually never went back, after 44 years, feeling the pressure of the shame to have abandoned her country and the trauma to come back to a homeland that doesn’t feel like home anymore. My interests have an origin. An origin of struggle. As a child of diaspora, navigating my identity has never been easy. Always on a search to define who I am and who I am not, caught in-between two worlds, and sometimes more. Going against whoever comes to bash Haiti and its beautiful people. Stuttering when people ask me where are you from? No but, really?

I went to Haiti last summer for the second time, accompanied by my father. The purpose of the trip was to learn about Haitian drumming, research locals’ beliefs and practices around Voodoo spirituality, and reconnect with the land and the people, especially family members. The challenges that surfaced on this trip shed light on how I was romanticizing Haiti and my connection to it. I was thinking about all the beautiful moments I would living without any obstacle; the food, the music, the conversations. But trying to fit in my ancestors’ homeland is a process that takes time, and the privileges I hold as a Canadian-born body blur my identity. When a family conflict happened in Haiti, I knew I had a ticket to leave and go back to Canada eventually. I have the privilege of mobility. Another struggle was also questioning, and being ashamed of questioning, relationships; wondering if they’re sincere or if people are simply expecting gifts, an access to migrate to Canada, or money, in exchange. Heartbreaking. I don’t blame them, nor myself, I blame all the –isms, the systems exploiting our land, people and resources. Migration, whether forced or chosen, always has some deeper implications relating to colonialism, imperialism, racism, capitalism, and/or all other oppressive –isms.

Avocado tree in my family’s backyard planted by my grandfather I never met. It is over 50 years old, having provided avocados to 3 generations and counting.

I didn’t choose where I was born, I didn’t physically migrate from one place to another, but my ancestors did, my parents did. This movement is in my blood. Carrying their stories, also means carrying their trauma. Even when it manifests in different ways. Ashamed of the way my tongue dances between languages, the journey continues. I leave shame behind, as I commit to compassionately allow myself to use the language that was so beautifully crafted by my ancestors.

Family of chickens living freely in my family’s backyard.

Throughout my stay in Haiti, I realized what drew my attention a lot was nature, whether it was the actual land, animals, the sky or families of chickens, banana trees, kabrits, and the list goes on. This attraction taught me a lot about my search for connection, with my own people, whatever that looks like, and with the land of my ancestors which links me to a deeper aspect of my identity. Becoming aware of this longing, I see now how it translates to all aspects of my life; the friendships that became the extended family I never had access to, my community and art interests. For me, it’s seeing how existential questions relate to my communities, where I create & sustain safer spaces for/with my communities, exploring roots and traumas, and always wanting to learn about the stories that make up someone’s life. What stories hold the foundation of the ground on which you stand?


Anne-Audrey is a black queer woman of Haitian descent, 2nd generation. The layers of her identity are explored through the art that she creates and the community she strives to be a part of and build. The main themes being diaspora identity, healing, land, queerness, trauma, and migration, and how they all interact with one another. She loves creating, whether it be theatre, djembe drumming, poetry, or cooking; trying to break the boxes she was taught to exist in. Channeling her self-discovery journey is a healing and revolutionary act where she reclaims the power of authoring her own narrative. Currently based in Montreal, she studies Performance Creation at Concordia University, and facilitates i woc up like dis: self-discovery, a workshop series for women of color, using theatre and photography for healing and transformation. @findinglyfe_

Get to Know: Maya Annik Bedward, The Filmmaker Behind “The Haircut”

In advance of This is Worldtown’s One Year Anniversary Event ARCHV RMX, we chatted with guest panelist Maya Annik Bedward about using humour as a tool for storytelling, embracing vulnerability in Jamaican culture and reliving the past through reenactments.

Maya Annik Bedward is a Jamaican-Québecoise filmmaker based in Toronto. In 2005, she launched Third Culture Media with support from the Michaëlle Jean Foundation. Her films have screened at festivals across North America and Europe and sold to Air Canada and the CBC. Maya is a recipient of the WIFT-T Business of Broadcasting Mentorship and a fellow of the RIDM Talent Lab. She recently completed The Haircut with CBC Short Docs and is currently in development on her first feature, Black Zombie through the DOC Breakthrough program.

Still from The Haircut (2018)

What are some of the things that inspired you to tell the stories that you do?

In most of my work, I deal with themes of belonging and isolation, and I use humour to talk about these things. It’s connected to my personal experience. Growing up, I lived in many different cultures, but I never felt a part of one. I was always trying to understand where I fit in. It’s something I play a lot with in my work.

Why did you choose film as a format?

I have always loved film. Ever since I can remember, I wanted to be a filmmaker. I even went to acting school at the age of 7 to learn how to direct actors. I think that there’s so much power in combining moving images with dialogue and music to create a world where you can be completely immersed. I think it’s a great way to learn about ourselves and the world.

What pushed you to tell this story?

When I moved to Toronto from Ottawa, where I was raised, I was exposed to a much larger Jamaican community and a lot of my peers had a very different family immigration story. My grandfather came to Canada in the 1940s, a time when very few Black people were allowed to immigrate to Canada. He eventually settled in Ottawa, where there was no Black community. When he brought his family over in the early 50s, they had to find their own way. It was difficult for them to rent property and to find work. They faced a lot of prejudice, and learned very quickly how to navigate around it. It’s something they don’t feel comfortable talking about, but I know it had a huge impact on the way my family is today. We just don’t talk about racism, or difference. So I wanted to open up that discussion in my family, and I knew the only way to do it was through humour.

In my family culture, and Jamaican culture in general, humour is a very important coping mechanism. It’s also a great storytelling tool. I knew if I approached the documentary by asking my family what it was like to experience racism in Ottawa in the 1950s, they would close up and not want to talk about it. But if I approached it through the humour of my dad’s disdain for getting haircuts, they would laugh and open up more.

Still from The Haircut (2018)

Why the focus on your dad?

When I approached my dad and told him that I wanted to do this, he was very reluctant at first. He doesn’t like to be the centre of attention. But he’s someone I’ve looked up to my entire life, and even though we have very different viewpoints on many things, we’ve had very similar experiences. I know many other people have as well so I thought his story, although quite specific, would resonate with others.

What issues do you hope to change / address through this film?

There’s definitely a way society teaches men, especially Black men, how to behave and gain respect. They have to be strong, not show emotion, and be resilient. But when I was growing up and would occasionally see my father get emotional, I actually felt comforted. It normalized the emotions I was feeling. Children need to see vulnerability in their parents because that’s how we learn how to deal with life. So I wanted to highlight that feeling and the idea that not always knowing how to handle difficult situations is okay.

Can you describe how you used different visual storytelling methods (re-enactments, family archive photos) to tell this story?

When I started working on this film, I wanted to talk about a specific time and place. I thought it was important to use more than just photos, so that I could bring the film to life. I always knew that there was going to be some type of reenactment. When I found the barbershop where my father had his hair cut as a child, still in tact from the 50s, I knew I had to use it. I really loved the process of weaving the old photos with the re-enacted footage to create a seamless account of history, my family’s history.

Still from The Haircut (2018)

Can you speak to the importance of reclaiming narratives about diaspora communities?    

The level to which colonial narratives have informed the way we understand everything is insane. When I was young in school, we would only ever learn about British or French history. But I was curious about other histories. I wanted to learn about the histories of Indigenous people from this land beyond colonial wars, and I wanted to learn about my history, Black history. But teachers would constantly tell me we didn’t have time for that, or it wasn’t in our textbooks, so we couldn’t cover it. It made me so angry growing up. But now, there’s this resistance happening against these colonial tellings of history. We’re not only changing the way we see the past but how we understand ourselves and our potential for the future. It’s such an exciting time, and I’m really happy to be a part of this change.

What are some of the most important ways people can support work by female and non-binary artists of color?

Learn who we are. Find us, find our work.There’s more and more platforms that are featuring us. And make a point to share our work and encourage people to check it out. The best type of promotion is by word of mouth, so if you see work you love, share it. Share our stories, share our creations. We need that support.

Watch The Haircut online via CBC Short Docs.