M. Edwards, M. Tecozautla, P. Garrow, and D. Tso.

M. Edwards, M. Tecozautla, P. Garrow, and D. Tso.

I had the honour of doing the production stills for “The Taxi Project” for PEN-Canada last week (my photos were used in the Toronto Star, NOW magazine, and SingTao Daily). I went to see the show this afternoon, and it really was a moving and inspirational work.

Not only was it able to portray the stories of exiles in Canada that was specific to four cultures—and yet inclusive of the stories of others from around the globe—but it left me questioning my own sense of identity and place in the Canadian fabric.

M. Tecozautla and P. Garrow

M. Tecozautla and P. Garrow

The story is about a Bosnian, Chinese, Ethiopian, and Mexican in exile and struggling to create a new life for themselves, with flashbacks to what brought them to this country. It is written by four PEN writers (Emma Beltran, Martha Kuwee Kumsa, Sheng Xue, and Goran Simic) that actually experienced the events portrayed onstage.

I highly recommend the piece and think that everyone would benefit from seeing it (if you saw it this week some of my human rights in the Phils photos were on display in the hall).

It left me thinking about my own people, and our situation both at home and here in Canada.

I was born in the Philippines, but came to Canada when I was a toddler so my childhood memories are all from here. I didn’t have the chance to return until I was an adult of twenty-six in 2001, and have since spent over a year there in multiple visits.

In the play they clearly depict the sense of alienation when one arrives in this country. While I cannot pretend to understand what this must be like for an adult to be forced to migrate, I do understand the oddness of this society after having spent months living abroad.

Diane Tso and Patrick Garrow

Diane Tso and Patrick Garrow

Rather than culture shock in the Phils, I always feel culture shock upon returning to Toronto. Popular entertainment and advertising show a lifestyle of excess as if it were normal. And the problems of the world relegated by most as ‘their’ problem—as if the world was not interconnected.

It all seems to demand that I choose my allegiances.

‘You’re in Canada now, you should be happy and grateful.’

Miranda Edwards

Miranda Edwards

In the play, there is a scene where a Canadian introduces Seeyee Sera, the Ethiopian refugee to the audience as someone who escaped suffering and has made a home here. The expectation, it seemed to me, was that she should praise Canada and be happy that it was here to save her. This type of situation always seemed perverse to me.

Why should the exiled be happy to be here? They’ve lost so much and, let’s face it, the rich Western world had a hand in it.

These situations always seemed like a way for us in the West to pat ourselves on the back while doing nothing to improve the real conditions in the majority of the world.

I look at my own people (the people that I see in the mirror, not the label on my passport) and I cry. We are here not because we want so very much to lose our culture, history, language, and land. We are here because our homeland gives us little opportunity, jails, ‘disappears,’ or kills those of us who care.

And here “Canadians” only expect us to rejoice for the bounty they have given us.

It’s odd. I grew up here, so I proudly wore the “Canadian” label for a long time. I really was proud of that. Maybe it’s a cynical phase, but that label is starting to slip off.

It began with the realization that as much as I may call myself Canadian, “Canadians” still ask me where I’m from (and get confused by the answer ‘Toronto’). But much more than that I’ve seen too much of what this country and countries like it are doing abroad.

I’ve seen the factories making the things TV says we need. I’ve lived in squatter neighbourhoods in urban Manila where the rats live better than the people. I’ve spent time in poor villages in the path of Canadian multinational mining companies. I’ve seen how Canadian development funds have been used to fund companies like this.

I’ve listened to a British Consul tell an audience at a private function in Ecuador about how they brought ‘civilization’ to that country. I’ve had an Australian Ambassador to the Phils ask me where the proof was that Aussie mining was causing the death of fish-stocks—and people—around the sites. I’ve heard a Canadian politician tell a crowd of Filipinos to be proud Canadians—at a picnic themed towards the plight of live-in caregivers, during the time a caregiver was going to be deported solely because her terminal cancer was deemed a burden on the healthcare system.

In the end though, I always try to check these thoughts. Yes things could be so much better with this country I live in, but I remind myself that despite it all, I do have more opportunities here, all I have done and experienced was possible partially because of Canada.

And I was also reminded of how dissent is handled in other nations by an announcement before the show: co-writer of The Taxi Project, Sheng Xue, was arrested in China earlier today trying to enter the country for the Olympics.

It’s all an odd tug of war in my mind.

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Update (12 august): Maybe it’s just coincidence, but just days after I wrote this I read the letters to the editor page of the Toronto Star (Canada’s largest newspaper) and found exactly the sentiment above (ie. hey immigrants: be happy and grateful) expressed over and over again.  Read about it here:  https://alexfelipe.wordpress.com/2008/08/12/assimilate-with-white-canada-or-else/

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Diane Tso and Patrick Garrow

Diane Tso and Patrick Garrow

The Taxi Project info below is from the PEN website:

The TAXI Project – Exploring Freedom of Expression, Exile, and Home

The TAXI Project – an initiative of PEN Canada and the Art for Real Change Collective – is an original play exploring issues of freedom of expression and the complex realities of living in exile.

Written by four members of PEN Canada’s Writers in Exile Program (Emma Beltran, Martha Kuwee Kumsa, Sheng Xue, and Goran Simic) the play follows four characters forced to leave their home countries and the struggle to create a new life in Canada.

Following the play will be a reading and discussion with members of the Writers in exile Program.

RSVP to Josh Bloch 416-703-8448 x23 or jbloch@pencanada.ca. And please spread the word.

Daytime performances will be accompanied by an interactive workshop and will be attended predominantly by youth.


PERFORMANCE DATE: July 28th – August 9th

Monday, July 28 to Thursday July 31 at 2:00pm
Friday, August 1 at 7:30pm
Saturday, August 2 at 7:30pm
Tuesday, August 5 at 2:00pm
Wednesday, August 6 at 2:00pm
Thursday, August 7 at 2:00pm and 7:30pm
Friday, August 8 at 7:30pm
Saturday, August 9 at 2:00pm and 7:30pm

LOCATION: The Alchemy Theatre, 133 Tecumseth
(One block South of Queen and West of Bathurst)

co-writer Emma Beltran (and Josh Bloch's forehead)