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_

One Eye Sees, the Other Feels: A Conversation with Doc Photographer Fong-Chia

By Aniqa Rahman

Over the next few months, we will be featuring articles and conversations from our Behind the Dust Visual Series Mediamakers. This is the sixth in the series.

Born and raised in Taiwan, Fong-Chia-Ho is a Toronto-based artist with an insatiable passion for documentary photography. I first met Fong at Centennial College where she was announced as one of the winners for 2018 CLIX Photo Competition at the Story Arts Campus. Fong has had an interest in photography since childhood, and before arriving to Canada she studied film at the Wenzao Ursuline University. She started as a photo assistant under photographer Jason Lee, who became her mentor. This apprenticeship helped her find her love of documentary photography and develop her storytelling eye.

Photo courtesy of Fong Chia-Ho

“The initial purpose of taking this photo was that I friend asked me to photograph for her at the festival, but when I clicked, I saw there were something more than just an ordinary photo. I realised that the person who was in the frame was also photographing me.” — Fong H.

As a budding photographer, I couldn’t resist exploring her brilliant portfolio and was instantly drawn to her captures of street life. Her touch of black and white imagery with lurking shadows made her photos more dramatic.

“Although I love colour and black and white photos, most of my photos are in black and white because I like the gradience which gives the pictures more sense and power. However, I also love colour photo especially contrast, complementary colours because they make a photo more compelling and intriguing in a sense.”  — Fong H.

Photo courtesy of Fong Chia-Ho

What ultimately drew me to Fong’s work was her captures of the Taiwan’s marketplaces– in particular, of women taking ownership of the marketplace. This is a stark contrast to what I see back in my home country, Bangladesh, where I can’t recall seeing any women in charge of butcher shops. Street culture can speak a lot about how a community operates, the stereotypical roles that people are assigned to, and how we as individuals enable those views/behaviour.

Having said that, there is another looming disparity seen in Bangladesh’s malls and marketplaces: the division of socioeconomic classes. While marketplaces and bazaars are open to all, malls on the other hand, are targeted exclusively for middle to higher class consumers.

Mainstream malls, from what I see, are considered to be progressive spaces which sells as well as advertises the latest innovation and luxury goods, whereas marketplaces are viewed as one-stop shop for “low-quality”, traditional handmade or homemade goods. In Bangladesh, many marketplaces are associated with poverty and violence, female shoppers are prone to go missing or experience sexual violence in these spaces, which is why you will encounter fewer female business owners operating at these markets.

I asked Fong her reasoning behind photographing the street markets. He responded that she found these amenities to be unique. “I have travelled to many different countries, and whenever I look back at my home country, I realised how unique it is,” she explained  Every vendor is approachable; every price can be bargained depending on the relationship between the seller and the buyer. Fong continued,  “In addition to that, in a market, some vendors are an inheritance from generation to generation, and this is I rarely can see this from other countries, especially western countries.”

Photo courtesy of Fong Chia-Ho

For Fong, her memories of growing up in her hometown and being surrounded by marketplaces are entrenched in her heart and in her mind. She believes that these places which were once buzzing with people, are now disappearing due to growing lifestyle changes and younger generations choosing to move to cities for work.  Capturing images of street markets is what Fong believes will help preserve these memories. She hopes to share these photographs with her family and relatives to remember the tradition. These photographs can indeed serve as a greater narrative for folks who are also keen on learning the history of street life or culture in Taiwan. Fong hopes that viewers who see her documentary photographs are able to relate to the same feeling of adventure or beauty that she sees in the street markets.

You can check out more of Fong’s work on her Instagram or website.

Aniqa Rahman is a recent University of Toronto graduate, where she earned her Honours Bachelor’s degree in Psychology. She owes much of her success in life to not only her family, friends, and mentors, but also to Community Arts which has been an integral part of her healing process as well as growth towards her individuality. Raised in a diverse neighbourhood in Scarborough, Aniqa has been immersed in the Arts since 2013. She has participated in ArtStarts’ Sew What?!, East Music and Project Management with Scarborough Arts, We are Lawrence Avenue with Cultural Hotspot, UforChange photography classes and Collecting Personal Archives by Truth & Dare Project.


Conversations: How Food and Storytelling Can Bring You Home

By Soko Negash

Over the next few months, we will be featuring articles and conversations from our Behind the Dust Visual Series Mediamakers. This is the first in the series.

I first connected with Lily Hu by way of Angry Asian Feminist Gang, a Facebook group created by Amy Wong for self-identifying Asian Feminists with an interest in art and cultural production. We later discovered that both of our families (her parents, my mother’s side) are from Taishan, a small-ish city in southwestern China. We also unknowingly grew up on the same street, and even shared some of the same childhood friends, but we had somehow never really met — until very recently.

About a month ago, she invited me over for dinner. Before I even saw her for the first time, I smelled her cooking. “I hope you like trotters,” she yelled from the kitchen stove. I didn’t know then that trotters are the culinary term for pig’s feet. She moved seamlessly through the kitchen, tasting and adding things in between talks we had about intergenerational traumas, the ways we connect and don’t connect to aspects of our culture, and forgiveness. I left that night with a full heart and stomach.

When Lily was young, her parents opened the doors to a family-run Chinese restaurant. Her dad handled all the cooking and her mom managed the front-of-house. As a child, Lily found herself fascinated with her dad’s methodical routine and would peer over his shoulder, constantly; observing and studying the craft.

Now, at 26, Lily freelances as a chef and has worked at some of Toronto’s top restaurants, like Scaramouche and Momofuku. When she’s not thriving in the heat of high-end kitchens, she runs Cook ‘n Grow, a kids community program based in Regent Park, which she created with her friends Natalie and Karrin, in collaboration with Green Thumbs. Lily has also started sharing her stories through writing. She recently penned a piece for Cherry Bombe about her experience with sexual harassment and Stockholm syndrome while working in the industry.

Today, she cooked something new and we discussed authenticity, storytelling through food, and what home tastes like – amongst other truths.

The menu: Homemade ricotta-stuffed ravioli, tossed in brown butter sauce, served on a bed of roasted sweet potato, arugula, and radicchio.

Lily described the flavour as agrodolce, an Italian word meaning the application of sweet and sour. For the dessert, she made her own take on soot lai tong – a soup traditionally made with asian pear. Her instincts told her to add cinnamon and vanilla as she poached the pears, and the addition of sweet rice balls with black sesame filling. The rice balls, more accurately known as tang yuan, are generally eaten around Chinese New Year to signify the celebration of ‘something special’.


Soko Negash: Food can mean such different things to different people, from survival to self-care and healing to memory… What does food represent to you?

Lily Hu: I like the idea that it’s this challenge of finding new ways to use ingredients. Maybe it stems from using up what is in the fridge, as a means of survival to some degree. Not having the luxury of buying things all the time forces you to be creative with what you already have. That is a good way to describe what I like about food. I think learning to cook from a young age instilled a sense of independence and an ability to take care of myself. If I were to ever move somewhere else, I could be self-sufficient because I can cook for myself. That’s a big part of having that skill.

Soko Negash: I think there’s a real strength in that.

Lily Hu: Yeah. My parents used to work a lot so me and my sisters would be at home. My parents did not always have the ability to cook something before they went to work, and if they ended work late, then, it’s like, what do we know how to do? What do I know how to make? It started with my parents assigning us the task of cooking the rice for dinner, even if it was just a basic lesson. Then, you can add a plate of eggs to sit in the rice cooker and it steams while the rice cooks. It started with the basics, and then building on top of that.

When people talk about “Chinese food” as a blanket statement, it is over-generalizing because, in reality, it is so regional and there are so many different types of Chinese food. That is a thing I try to educate people about.

SN: Were there any specific challenges that you or your family faced while running the family restaurant?

LH: I think there were a few instances when people would call on the phone and mock a Chinese accent, and I remember, feeling really bad if my mom was the one who picked up the phone and had to hear that. In a way, me and my sisters were some sort of buffer for them because we’ve always had to be their translator with lots of things, whether it’s just documents or while shopping, or things like that. I think I just felt an obligation to take care of them in a way. I didn’t want them to have to face people who were discriminatory because they didn’t speak English. I was always there to ask “Is there a problem?” or “Can I clear this up?” if someone was being disrespectful, so I always feel like I have that on my shoulders to just protect them.

The most dominating thing is that it’s emotional cooking for me. It’s a reflection of where I am, who I am at that time, what I’ve learned, and how I’m feeling.

SN: I think that’s something a lot of children of immigrants can relate to.

LH: Some people who don’t grow up with a second language don’t understand that it just takes patience to figure out what the message is that’s being communicated. It just takes time and a different way of talking to someone, and it doesn’t mean that people are stupid, it just means that they don’t have that access or channel to use.

SN: English is the assumed language, but that’s only because of colonization.

LH: And that’s oppressive.

SN: People can say oh, go back to your country or you need to learn the language, but the real question is, do you speak Cree?

LH: Right.

SN: What does it mean for you to be authentic in your approach to cooking?

LH: I think authenticity is something I’m always trying to tie into my identity because I think we are always changing as people and trying to figure out who we are, what our background is, and what being genuine means. But authenticity and food is interesting because I have a Chinese background, but I am also moving through new spaces as a Canadian and as a young person working in the industry. The kitchens I am in are often very eurocentric, so the idea of coping and trying to assimilate with the dominant culture is a tricky game because it means survival as well. It doesn’t really limit the type of cooking I do, but I just have a deeper understanding of Chinese food that I can pull from.

When people talk about “Chinese food” as a blanket statement, it is over-generalizing because, in reality, it is so regional and there are so many different types of Chinese food. That is a thing I try to educate people about.

SN: Can you tell me a little about the program you run in Regent?

LH: The program is called Cook ‘n Grow. It’s an after-school program for kids aged ten to eleven. We collaborate with the kids and talk to them about what they want to eat, and what they want to make, and discuss their cultural backgrounds so it can be shared amongst the other kids who have maybe never had that type of food before. Last week, we made Vietnamese banh mi. Part of the reason why I started the program was because I wanted to feel more connected to my community through food. And I love kids, so just talking to friends who do or don’t know how to cook for themselves made me realize that not everyone has the food literacy or skills to be independent. With many parents working full-time, it doesn’t give them the luxury of having somebody to cook for them at home all the time. So, they have to take care of themselves.

SN: How would you describe your cooking style?

LH: The most dominating thing is that it’s emotional cooking for me. It’s a reflection of where I am, who I am at that time, what I’ve learned, and how I’m feeling.

If I’m feeling really energetic, I would lean towards some bright, acidic, fun flavors. If I’m feeling down, I’m going to cater to that emotional need. I think I do a lot of emotional eating in the sense that I eat what would make me feel good and what matches my energy levels… and what’s available depending on the season. If it’s winter, then we’re going to have rootier, richer things. Because I’m always learning and experimenting and looking for new ingredients to try and incorporate, then the constant theme is: how do I feel?

SN: Do you see it as a form of storytelling?

LH: I sometimes get strokes of inspiration from people that I’ve come into contact with. For example, if a past lover inspired me to use saffron and coffee together, I would think about how I would use that in a dessert. I think it’s a memory of them in some way. That’s almost how I like to tell stories because they are often inspired by people and places. And you can always tell the story about it after you make it because the idea still lives on and you can share that [story and food] with other people.

SN: What does home taste like to you?

LH: I remember growing up and eating a lot of steamed meatballs and steamed dumplings. The memories of making dumplings with a bowl of ground meat and cilantro with other ingredients is a very vivid memory of what feeling loved tastes like and looks like. I will eat dumplings forever because it’s just a comfort thing. It’s so embedded in an act of love.

SN: The fact that you are a woman working in a high-end kitchen, but then also adding the layer of being Chinese-Canadian… what does that mean to you?

LH: I always try to prove people wrong because I am aware of my physical perceptions. Oh, she’s a Chinese girl coming into this very macho kitchen, so they think you will be subservient and soft. I kind of enjoy sussing out the space and seeing if they feel comfortable saying some crazy s***  in front of me because they think that I don’t speak up for myself, and they think they can take advantage of me because of my stature or whatever. A lot of the time, it’s like, well, I’ll just do that thing that I do best… but I don’t know what the alternative is because I can never walk through that space being a white man to know the comparison.

SN: I think a lot about the ways that women’s work has gone undervalued for centuries and how now it’s a lot of men that get a certain type of praise for their cooking and their work in the food industry, in particularly white men –

LH: It almost feels like until a white man came along and gave the other guy a pat on the back, it wasn’t validated as ‘good work’. Whereas women have been labourers and caretakers all along and they were never validated for this type of work. It never got the accolades.

SN: And it’s praised as genius only when certain people do it.


I want it to be this empowering, team-focused, collaborative idea rather than just me being the person standing on that podium.

LH: They bring each other up as powerful men. When it was just things that had to be done, it was never looked at as something remarkable. I always think about the things I’m doing and the type of attention or validation that I get, compared to if a white dude did that thing. Now, it’s nice enough just to have my own community… a circle of friends full of mostly strong women who appreciate me and my work and that’s the audience that I tend to care more about. But that’s also hard because then it means I’m not climbing up that ladder and fighting to represent myself. That’s really never been my game though. I don’t really play this game of competition, of trying to be the best “whatever” because for the kitchens at the top, you work, like, 18-hour days and then you are burnt out and that’s the end game. And I don’t want that to be my end game. I want it to be this empowering, team-focused, collaborative idea rather than just me being the person standing on that podium.

That doesn’t really appeal to me. How did it impact the people around me? How did I create a better community? How do I step aside and make people care about something?

Soko: Those are the things that are important to you.

Lily: Yup.

Soko Negash is one of the artists from our Behind the Dust series, a year-long mentorship project for emerging visual storytellers. Soko is a Toronto-born artist of Chinese-Eritrean descent, who grew up making things on the floor of her parents’ arts studio. Soko currently divides her time between working as a Talent Producer at a documentary production company and working on her own personal photo projects. Her focus is telling stories of under- or misrepresented communities in all parts of the world through a lens of authenticity and truth.