The Woyingi Blog

Do Black Votes Matter? A Young Black Woman’s Reflections on Ottawa’s Municipal Election

I will be voting on Monday but frankly, I am not even sure it matters. I feel awful saying this as someone who works at encouraging members of my low-income housing project to become more civically engaged. But as a young Black woman, I really don’t think my vote matters to politicians and despite the fact that I come from one of the largest visible minority communities in Ottawa, I also come from one of the poorest and throughout this election I have heard politicians talking to those with wealth, those who own houses, those who earn enough disposable income to invest in their campaigns. Not people like me. But one positive aspect of this election has been the number of Black candidates who are running.

Read the rest of my post on rabble.ca

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Black Canadian Profile: Hamdi Mohamed

Hamdi Mohamed is currently the Executive Director of the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO). She is also a historian, feminist, mother, and “institution” here in the City of Ottawa.

But Hamdi, like so many of her generation, was raised to be a leader within the elite of her homeland of Somalia. At 24, Hamdi had graduated from the Somali National University with an Honours Degree in Education. However, as a refugee in Ottawa, Canada Hamdi had to struggle not only with the trauma of a civil war that tore apart so many extended Somali families as well as the country, she also had to take on rebuilding a sense of community and belonging within the Somali Diaspora in the West. While studying for her Masters Degree in International Diplomacy at the University of Ottawa, Hamdi, along with a group of other hardworking and talented women and men, began the difficult task of helping their fellow Somalis resettle in Canada while contending with a country that had never seen such large numbers of African refugees, particularly Muslim refugees, and a city that was, at the time, not very multicultural.

Hamdi was up for the task. She worked with several local community health centres and organizations and was involved in founding the now defunct Somali Centre for Youth, Women and Development. At the height of this centre’s achievements, Hamdi became a key spokesperson for the Somali community in Ottawa. While Program Manager at the Somali Centre, Hamdi spoke out against the Federal Government’s proposal to stop recognizing the Somali passport as legal identification. In a 1999 Ottawa Citizen interview, Hamdi stated“From the community perspective, this is a very racist piece of legislation and we think it’s the way of curbing Somalis from coming into the country.”

When Canadian filmmaker Helen Klodawsky, writer and director of the film Family Motel,  decided that she wanted to look at the issue of homelessness among Ottawa’s Somali community, she went to Hamdi. According to Klowdawsky:

Hamdi Mohamed was our first contact in the community. She’s a brilliant woman and her contribution has been vital. Hamdi posed a number of key questions. Who owns this story? she wanted to know. And I really appreciated that discussion. It helped to focus the story. She also insisted that our protagonist not be presented as victim, that she be a resilient and resourceful character.

Hamdi refuses to be a victim. During an event on Parliment Hill for diverse high school students to which Hamdi was invited by Sentator Vivienne Poy, Hamdi gave this advice to the students:

I learned that you are never a victim unless you accept victimization. You always have the power to choose the path for your life. While I have experienced the legacies of colonialism and have been victimized by sexism, racism etc throughout my life, I never thought of myself as a victim.

Hamdi Mohamed, Photo by Julie Oliver for the Ottawa Citizen

Hamdi went on to complete her Ph.D in History at the University of Ottawa and lectured on human rights issues at the School of Social Work and the Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies at Carleton University for five years. She served as the Executive Director of the Ottawa Rape Crisis Centre where she gave priority to developping the organization’s cultural competency.

In 2000, Hamdi became the proud mother of a son, Adam. In a 2009 interview with the Ottawa Citizen, Hamdi admitted that although feeling that life was good at the time, she became overwhelmed with saddness a few days after her son’s birth. She said:

I suddenly became consciously aware of the fact that I couldn’t show my son where I had lived, the trees I had climbed, the sand I had played in, the friends I had had. I wanted to share these things with my son and I couldn’t.

This is the plight of the exile who finds herself in a foreign land and who has no choice but to make a new home for her children. Hamdi is committed to making her new home a welcoming place for refugees and immigrants. She is now the Executive Director of the Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization (OCISO). In this capacity, she has focused on expanding Ottawa’s oldest newcomer serving agency’s mission. According to the Ottawa Citizen:

…since she took the job four years ago, Mohamed and her team have been crafting an expanded mission, one that reflects what they see every day: building a new life means more than finding a job and getting a roof over your head, it means feeling accepted in a new home while having the freedom to mourn the old.

Hamdi believes that immigrant issues should not be just a concern of the immigration sector but of the entire community. According to Hamdi:

…in Ottawa, the notion of being diverse is still new. We’re generally kind and generous people but when it comes to difference, we hesitate. But now, the numbers are pushing us to ask, ‘Who are we now?’

Further Reading:

Profile of Hamdi Mohamed available online

Resistance strategies: Somali women’s struggles to reconstruct their lives in Canada by Hamdi Mohamed (essay available online)

“The Somali refugee women’s experience in Kenyan refugee camps and their plight in Canada.” by Hamdi Mohamed In Mending rips in the sky : options for Somali communities in the 21st centry, ed. by Hussein M. Adam and Richard Ford (1997)

Ottawa Community Immigrant Services Organization’s Website

Black Canadian Profile: Opiyo Oloya

Opiyo Oloya

Opiyo Oloya is a Ugandan Canadian educator, journalist, and African music enthusiast and radio show host living in Toronto, Canada. 

He is the subject of Voice of Freedom, a documentary in the series A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada about immigrants to Canada. 

I first came across Opiyo Oloya when I was doing research about the Canadian-based organization GuluWalk

Opiyo Oloya describes Gulu Walk as follows

The Gulu Walk is organized by two young Canadians Adrian Bradbury, 35, and his friend Kieran Hayward, 30. The immediate objective of the walk is to highlight the plight of Acholi children who trek each night for personal security to town centers in Gulu, Kitgum and Pader districts in northern Uganda. 

The children are afraid of staying in the villages less they become victims to abductions by Lord Resistance Army rebels (LRA), rapes and wanton murder by lawless individuals. To draw the attention of Canadians to the “night commuters”, Mr. Bradbury and Mr. Hayward will walk 13 km. every day in July. 

Along with supporters, they don a bright orange t-shirt with the Guluwalk emblem at the front and stroll along the busy Danforth Avenue, to Yonge Street and finally to Nathan Philip Square in front of Toronto City Hall. 

Every night they are joined by large groups including members of the Uganda community. The final goal is that the Guluwalk will become a worldwide event, putting pressure on the government of Uganda to seek permanent peace so that the children of northern Uganda will not have to walk to town any more in order to find security. 

Gulu Walk has been key in raising Canadians’ awareness about the plight of children in the war-torn areas of Northern Uganda. It is no surprise that Oloya would be involved with the organization and try to promote its work to his fellow Ugandans. Oloya himself is an Acholi from Gulu Town. 

Opiyo Oloya  works as the principal of Divine Mercy Catholic School, an elementary school in Vaughn, Ontario. To my knowledge, there are not many Black school principals in Ontario, so being able to become a school principal both as a Black man and a refugee is something of a feat in and of itself. He also writes a weekly column for New Vision, one of Uganda’s national newspapers, is the founder of International Resources for Deaf and Blind Children as well as the Acholi Diaspora Association of Toronto. He started Karibuni, an African music show on CIUT 89.5 FM. 

Oloya grew up on the savannah of Gulu where he played with cows and goats. It was also in Gulu that developed his love of music. He writes

My interests in music started at an early age. In fact, I can’t remember a day when music was not a part of my life. I remember how we would wake up to one or the other of my brothers whistling in the brisk morning wind. Later in the day, as she pounded millet or grounded simsim paste, my mother would be humming a tune. 

It was his student activism that eventually led to his decision to flee to Canada in exile. Oloya attended Makerere University from 1979 to 1981 as a political science student. This was a pivotal time in Uganda’s history. 1979 saw the exile of Idi Amin and the return to power of Obote. Ugandans had hoped that this would be the end of dictatorship but this was not to be. Opiyo Oloya was elected as the President of the Makerere University Students’ Guild. Although, one might not think of student politics as of any importance here in Canada (although this is a misconception as most student politicians I know have gone on to work for political parties) in many developing nations, student politics can be quite influential and therefore are seen as threatening to repressive political regimes. Oloya’s presidency was overruled by a veritable “coup” in 1981. He subsequently fled to Kenya from where he applied for refugee status in Canada. He states that among his many reasons for fleeing Uganda was a fear that the Obote government was trying to promote ethnic divisions in the country, something which Oloya deeply opposed having been raised by a father who, he states, “never saw Baganda or Acholi”. While in Canada, he continued his studies at Queen’s University, graduating with a political science degree in 1986. He went on to attain his Master’s of Education at the University of Ottawa. 

Oloya has helped to bring African music to Canadian ears as host of Karibuni on CIUT 89.5 FM. This is fitting as it was the radio that exposed him to the beat of Africa. He writes

African pop music first came to me through the radio, which we used to carry around everywhere, even when we working in the fields. Radio Kinshasha and Bunya (both in Zaire) were our favourite stations. This is how I first learned names like Zaiko Langa Langa, Empire Bakuba, Lipua Lipua and Bella Bella, all upstart groups in the 70s. Franco and Rochereau were already big in the 60s on Radio Uganda. 

Opiyo Oloya came to Canada with the name Joseph, but decided to return to his Acholi first name while here. When asked why he gave up his “religious” name in a 2010 Interview, Oloya replied: 

I am a Catholic and we go to church every Sunday. One of our children, Oceng, serves as an altar boy. We don’t use Christian names because we feel that it’s not important to be Christians with Christian names. 

 Oloya stumbled upon teaching as a career unintentionally. He states

Making it as a teacher was one of the best experiences I’ve had. It was a turning point because I never knew I was going to become a teacher. I was doing graduate work when I discovered that I am passionate about teaching. 

I was a replacement teacher for a day at a school in Ottawa. I told the children a story with a sad part and pretended to be very sad. They all came and fell over me and I felt panic stricken because I thought I was going to suffocate under this mountain of kids. But I found that teaching is something I love doing and I was completely at home with. 

Oloya went on to become the principal of Divine Mercy Catholic School. One of his students, Hannah Godefa, an Ethiopian-Canadian, who while in Grade 4 decided to organize Pencil Mountain, a supply drive to collect 20,000 pencils to send to Ethiopian students. On a family visit to her homeland, Hannah had been shocked by the country’s poverty and the fact that many Ethiopian children did not have such basic school supplies as pencils. Hannah sought her principal’s help to bring her idea to fruition. Oloya was initially hesitant to support Hannah’s idea because of her young age and the fact that he wasn’t sure how serious she was. But Hannah’s persistence won him over. Hannah worked with local businesses in Vaughn to help with the “pencil-raising” and with her fellow Divine Mercy students to sort and package the pencils. She was able to raise 25,000 pencils which she delivered to students in Ethiopia. To learn more about Hannah Godefa’s activism visit her website

Oloya had this to say about Hannah

“I have never encountered anybody in Grade 4 who has come up with some idea to save the world,” he said. “She’s very committed and very focused.” Mr. Oloya describes Hannah as a smart girl whose understanding of poverty has a lot to do with her recent trip. “She saw the difference between the life she was leading here and the life of children her age there,” he said. “She realized she should be able to do something because she is a lot better off.” 

Along with being an educator here in Canada, Oloya tries to educate his fellow Ugandans through his weekly column in New Vision, one of Uganda’s national newspapers.  I have always disagreed with the idea that immigrants to Canada should cut all ties with their homelands out of sense of loyalty to Canada. When people accuse immigrants of not “letting go of their baggage” because they try to raise awareness here in Canada about issues facing people in their countries of origin, people who could very well be their own family members, I am appalled. But I hear this quite frequently, even from immigrants themselves. I agree that one should not continue conflicts here in Canada but it would be a missed opportunity to not try to enlighten one’s fellow Canadians about these conflicts, even from a biased perspective. I feel this is doubly important for immigrants, and anyone of African descent. The image of Africa is so obscured here that it is important to have African voices trying to educate both Africans and non-Africans about what is going on. I have found Oloya’s articles, along written with a Ugandan audience in mind, very useful for me as a Canadian of African descent trying to understand what is going in on the continent. 

Oloya’s articles discuss a variety of topics from genetically modified foods, to the use and abuse of Ugandan workers by Security corporations in Iraq, to Uganda’s involvement in Somalia’s civil war, to the Ugandan government’s treatment of homosexuals. It is on the last two subjects that I would like to discuss Oloya’s writing in some depth. 

Uganda’s involvement in Somalia 

Oloya actually went to Somalia this year to write about the conditions there and even had an opportunity to meet the current President. Uganda, along with Burundi, currently supply the bulk of the troops sustaining the US backed African Union’s Somali Mission. It is for this reason that Uganda was targeted by the Somali terrorist group Al Shabaab for retaliation on July 11, 2010. During a gathering of large crowds at a local restaurant and a local Rugby Club to watching the final match of the FIFA World Cup this year in Kampala, Uganda, three explosions went off killing over 74 Ugandans and injuring 70. Oloya had expressed his concern about such possible retaliation by Al Shabaab in earlier articles. He also has been quite to point out the following

It would be counter intuitive to start clamping and harassing peaceful law-abiding locals of Somali heritage living within the country, say in Kampala or Bujumbura. They are the eyes and the ears to first alert authorities on suspicious individuals and events. 

This is an important point as there are many Somali people living in diaspora in East African countries like Uganda. One would also hope to hear this from a Ugandan Canadian who is active in Toronto’s African communities seeing as the Somali make up the largest communities of African descent in Canada. 

In his 2010 article, Miracle in Mogadishu, Oloya writes about the doctors working with the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to treat women who suffer from obstetric fistula. He recounts the story of Fatumah Sheik Hassan as follows

Hassan’s problem began with the birth of her first child, now 14 years old. The birth was difficult because the baby would not come out, and had to be coaxed out by the midwives. The baby lived, but Hassan began to have problem controlling her rectum. With each birth, the problem grew until became intolerable to those around her. Nobody wanted to talk about it because of the shame associated with it, and Hassan became a leper in her village, avoided by neighbours and laughed at by children. 

As luck would have it, Hassan’s sister came to Mogadishu for a visit and heard rumours from other Somali women about the miracle “daktari Amisol” who could cure women. Although the sister could not believe it at first, she met a woman who claimed she had been cured. 

She rushed back to Baidoah to tell Hassan who wanted to leave the very next day for Mogadishu except she did not have money for transport. She had to cool her heels for a month to raise funds which she did by selling four goats for about $100. 

On July 20, 2010, Fatumah Sheik Hassan was “liberated” by AMISOM doctors who operated on her, and fixed the problem she had lived with for almost two decades. According to Commandant Dr. Evariste Nintunga, a surgeon with the Burundi contingent, and who operates alongside Col. Dr. Kiyengo on women with Fistula, Hassan will not have any side effect. “She should have a normal life when she returns to her village”, he said. 

It appears that the purpose of articles like this is to reassure Ugandans that their involvement in the African Union Mission in Somalia is welcomed by its people and actually proving successful. 

Uganda’s Treatment of Homosexuals 

Beginning in 2009, Uganda made international headlines not because of the plight of communities living in Northern Uganda but because of proposed legislation to sentence Ugandan homosexuals to life imprisonment, as well as sentences for people who rented to known homosexuals and knew homosexuals and didn’t report them to police. Although homophobia in Africa has been known to be prevalent this proposed bill appeared extreme to say the least. Oloya had written about the issue of treatment of homosexuals much earlier. In 2005, Oloya wrote a letter to the then Commissioner of Special Education, Guidance and Counseling, Martin Omagol, expressing his concern about Omagol’s urging of head teachers to do whatever it takes to stop the spread of homosexuality in Ugandan schools. Oloya presents a voice of reason, making two very important points. He writes

Two issues arise from your statement. First, your statement suggests that homosexuality is like the common cold that is passed on from one person to another. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. Though debate about the cause of homosexuality continues, scientists and social theorists tend to agree that nobody chooses to be homosexual. Available data from the US, Canada, Australia, and elsewhere in Europe tend to place the homosexual population between 3-8% of the total population. Here, in North America where gays live and work alongside heterosexuals, the gay population remains steady. You don’t see young people suddenly catching the “homosexual disease” simply by interacting with homosexuals. In other words, without data that suggest increase of homosexuality in Uganda schools, you are merely fanning homophobia. 

Secondly, by crying that the sky is falling and we must do something about it, you are perpetuating the stereotypical notion of homosexuals as social deviants who must be stamped out. 

In 2009, Oloya wrote a letter to Ugandan Parliamentarians, outlining his concerns about the proposed “Anti-Homosexuality” Bill. He makes a very important distinction between homosexuality and the rape of children by adults of the same sex, which is pedophilia. However, the bill considers pedophilia by members of the same sex as “aggravated homosexuality”. It appears clear that there has been and on-going panic in Uganda about the rape of children by homosexuals as well as their “recruitment” to homosexuality. However, Ugandans do not seem to be equally concerned about the rape of young girls by men. As Oloya writes

….by using the term “aggravated homosexuality”, Bill 18 gives the appearance that a homosexual man raping a boy has committed a far more serious crime than a heterosexual man raping a little girl. In reality, whether a male pedophile rapes a girl or a boy, the consequences of these heinous crimes are the same; the child is scarred for life.  The low life criminals in both cases are pedophiles who must be punished to the fullest extent of Uganda’s law. 

First, look at rape as rape, and then look at homosexuality as a stand alone issue.  Once you have separated the two issues, keep in mind that just as only a tiny minority of heterosexuals rape girls and women, only a tiny minority of homosexuals rape boys or adult men. Should you choose to make homosexual rape of a boy punishable by death, then you also have a duty to make heterosexual rape of a girl punishable by death.  Both are victims of rape who deserve to see their molesters face the same justice.  It is that simple. 

Oloya is a practising Roman Catholic who is sensitive to African cultural and religious sensibilities towards homosexuality; however he time and again reminds those in government that Uganda is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He understands rightly that if you erode the human rights of one group it is only a matter of time before other groups will be attacked as well. In a country grappling with ethnic conflict and poverty as well as coming to terms with a history of dictatorships, opening the door to such stark violations of human rights could be opening a floodgate. I personally found Oloya’s articles on this subject comforting as my discussions with Africans and Ugandans in particular had been very unsettling due to the level of paranoia they expressed about a global “conspiracy” organized by human rights organizations and homosexuals to “recruit” African children to homosexuality. Who is telling them this?Many Africans I spoke to seemed more concerned and knowledgable about this “conspiracy” then they were about the conflicts in their region, the state of their country’s economy, or even their country’s literature. Focusing on such a half-baked conspiracy theory seems to be a distraction from addressing the real life and death issues affecting the continent. 

Opiyo Oloya is both a committed Ugandan journalist and dedicated Canadian educator. One need not give up one identity in order to properly fulfill the other. I am sure that Oloya is performing both roles just fine. 

Further Reading: 

Profile on Roots World available online 

Profile from A Scattering of Seeds: The Creation of Canada Voice of Freedom Documentary available online 

Interview (2010) with Opiyo Oloya by Elizabeth Namazzi available online 

Webpage for Karibuni on CIUT 89.5 FM, this program is available to be listened to online 

Oloya’s Articles on Ugandans working for Security Corporations in Iraq available online: 

Do Africans Recruited for Security Jobs Get Compensation for Injury or Death? (2005) 

Did Askar Security Lie about Recruits for Iraq? (2005) 

Others on the subject: 

Hundreds Seek Work as Guards in Iraq by Daniel Wallis (2005 article from Reuters available online) 

Oloya’s Articles in about the treatment of homosexuals in Uganda available online: 

Gay Bill should be about crime first, then morality (2009) 

A Letter to Education on Homosexuality (2005) 

Others on the subject: 

The U.S. Christian Right and the Attack on Gays in Africa by Kapya Kaoma (article available online) 

Homosexuality and HIV/AIDS in Uganda by Victor Mukasa (article available online) 

Oloya’s Articles on genetically modified foods in Africa available online: 

Norah, tell Europeans what they are not used to hearing (2009) 

Monsanto Had Their Agenda (2003) 

Others on the subject: 

Uganda’s Position on GMOs: Whose Position? Reflections on Uganda’s Policy Making Process on GMOs by R. Naluwairo and G. Tumushabe (ACODE Policy Briefing Paper available online) 

Interviews with African musicians by Oloya available online: 

Interview (1996) with Salif Keita from Mali 

Interview with Geoffrey Oryema from Uganda

Documentary Review: Seules by Bashir Bensaddek

Seules (Women Alone) is a French-language documentary directed by Emmy Award-winning Algerian Canadian director Bachir Bensaddek. Seules follows the lives of two Algerian women, Hafida and Fatiha, who chose to leave Algeria during the civil war in the hopes of finding a better life for their children in Montreal, Quebec.

However, by the end of the film, both have left Canada. Why?

Hip Hop Artist Rabah Ait Ouyahia shopping with his mother Hafida in Montreal

The film is narrated by hip hop artist Rabah Ait Ouyahia who is the son of Hafida.

Segments of the film are divided up along of Maslow’s Hierarchy Needs: The Need for the Basics of Life (Food, Air, etc), The Need for Security and Safety, the Need to be Loved and Belong, Self-Esteem, and Self-Actualization.

Because their need for security was not being met many Algerians chose to leave Algeria during the Algerian Civil War which began in 1991 when the Algerian government cancelled elections fearing that an Islamist party, the Islamic Salvation Front, was becoming too popular. A military coop and armed conflict with Islamist groups soon followed. Many educated Algerians chose to come to Quebec because they already spoke fluent French. But they found it difficult to find jobs in their fields as their previous education and experience were not recognized in Quebec.

Fatiha, a nurse and widow, chose to leave Algeria with her children because she feared for their safety. In her late forties, she decided to return to university in order to restudy nursing. But in Montreal she could only find part-time nursing jobs. At the end of the film, we see that she has been recruited by a Swiss agency to work in a hospital in Lausanne. She now works full-time and is well paid. She doesn’t regret having come to Canada because it gave her the opportunity to improve her nursing skills and get a well-paying job…in Switzerland!

However, Fatiha mentions earlier in the film that she feels like she has lost her children because while she was in Canada she didn’t have the ability to spend much time with them. She was too busy working and studying to even cook meals for them so during that time they mostly lived on take-out. We know that by the end of the film Fatiha’s need for self-esteem and self-actualization have been met but we wonder about her need to be loved and feel that she belongs.

For Hafida, immigrating to Canada eventually cost her her marriage. Her husband couldn’t find work in his field, became depressed and frustrated and eventually returned to Algeria and divorced Hafida, leaving her behind with their three children, Rabah, Siham and Mohamed. Hafida, who although educated and a fluent speaker of French had lived most of her life as a housewife, had to go to work to support herself and her children. She eventually became a qualified childcare worker and ran a daycare out of her home. 

By the end of the film, Hafida has returned to Algeria where she says she has time to live, something she didn’t have in Canada. She deeply regrets having immigrated to Canada. Two of her children, her daughter Siham and her son Mohamed (who does the music for the film), have decided to stay in Montreal.

In a fascinating discussion with her daughter Siham, in which Hafida tries to convince Siham that life would be fine for her in Algeria, Siham says that she wants to stay in Montreal because she wants to work and be a “business woman” something she believes is only possible for women in Algeria if they come from rich and well-connected families, whereas in Canada, a woman can come from nothing and still become a success: “You can come from Saint Michel (an ethnically diverse and lower-income neighbourhood in Montreal notorious for its street gangs…but also the home of Cirque Du Soleil) and end up in Westmount (a rich neighbourhood in Montreal),” she says. Siham tells her mother that she is so adamant about being financially independent of any man because she saw how Hafida suffered because she was financially dependant on her father.

We learn at the end of the film that Hafida’s son Rabah has decided to move back to Algeria. The film closes with Hafida presiding over Rabah’s wedding.

I would recommend the documentary Seules to anyone who wants to better understand the myriad ways in which Canada’s immigration system is failing immigrants and their families.

Rabah’s new life in Algeria should be a subject of a documentary on its own.

Rabah is a hip hop artist (under the stage name El Winner) and his group Latitude Nord is a child of the Montreal Hip Hop music scene. Their track Young Gun Killers (2002), in reference to the Columbine High School shootings, is a classic of Quebecois Hip Hop.

I first saw Rabah Ait Ouyahia in the 2001 Quebecois film Tar Angel (L´ange de goudron) directed by Denis Chouinard. Tar Angel is about an Algerian immigrant named Ahmed Kasmi (played by Zinedine Soualem) whose family fled the civil war in Algeria in order to make a better life in Montreal. The remarkable Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass, who has starred in such films as Paradise Now, The Nativity Story, and The Visitor, plays Ahmed’s wife. The family is finally about to get Canadian citizenship but Ahmed’s teenage son Hafid, played by Rabah Ait Ouyahia, goes into hiding because the police are searching for him after he’s been caught on tape freeing illegal immigrants who were about to be deported. Ahmed discovers that his son has become involved in a militant activist group and the only way to find him is with the help of Hafid’s Quebecois tattoo-artist girlfriend Hugette. At one point in the film, Ahmed is forced to drink alcohol by the atheist leader of the militant group Hafid is involved with in order to get information about his son’s whereabouts.

Further Reading:

Review of the film Tar Angel in The Globe and Mail

Documentary Review: Where I Belong by Arinze Eze

I watched the documentary Where I Belong by Arinze Eze. The documentary was funded by the Reel  Diversity Program of the National Film Board of Canada (NFB), which gives young Canadian filmmakers the opportunity to make a film that reflects on Canada’s ethnic, cultural, and religious diversity. (The documentary Me and the Mosque  by Little Mosque on the Prairie creator Zarqa Nawaz was funded by this program).

Check out a promo for Eze’s  film.

Arinze Eze is a young Nigerian of Ibo descent who has been living in Winnipeg, Manitoba for the last nine years since leaving his family in Nigeria in order to work in Canada. He’s lucky because he was born in Canada (It appears that his parents lived in Edmonton, Alberta for some time) and so is legally a Canadian citizen although he was mostly raised in Nigeria. The film, “Where I Belong”, focuses on Eze’s worries that his parents won’t accept the life he has made for himself in Canada, particularly his Jewish girlfriend of 5 years, Tina. During his visits to Nigeria, he’s kept most of his personal life a secret. His parents will be coming to visit him for the first time and he will have to finally be honest with them about what he’s really been up to the last nine years. Arinze hasn’t told his parents that he’s given up engineering to be an artist (music, painting, theatre, and filmmaking). This is a real worry because he knows his father worked hard to put him through school so that he could eventually make a good living in the West and support the family. He is not going to be able to do that as an artist. Also, Arinze’s mother wants him to marry someone the family has chosen for him. She is also a born-again Christian so he doesn’t think she will be very accepting of his Jewish girlfriend.

Arinze and his girlfriend Tina end up breaking up just before his mother comes to stay with him. It appears that Arinze believes they are just too different. He is very concerned about what identity conflicts his children with Tina would have: Would they be Nigerian? Canadian? Both? Neither? He also mentions that he might want to retire to Nigeria.

Arinze has difficulty getting his parents to Canada because their visas are rejected. This is pretty common for Africans wanting to bring their family members here to Canada just to visit. The fear is that they will never want to leave.

Arinze's parents at a hockey game

Arinze's parents at a hockey game

Eventually, Arinze’s parents’ visas are approved. His mother comes first. I really liked Arinze’s mother. She was so elegant, almost regal in her bearing. Although she began by saying that she didn’t approve of mixed race marriages because the children would end up being confused, after learning about how much Tina has taken care of her son while he’s been living in Canada, she decides she wants to meet her. Tina and Arinze’s mother meet and Arinze’s mother thanks Tina for taking care of her son. She admits that she didn’t know white people could be so nice given her past experiences with racism while living in Edmonton. Tina ends up crying during much of this meeting while Arinze’s mother remains coldy composed (but I think that’s just the way she is).

Arinze’s dad proves to me more emotional, even something of a romantic. He has no problem that his son is an artist. Actually, he says he always knew Arinze would become an artist. He also thinks Arinze should get back with Tina because “everyone needs someone to love”. It’s pretty obvious that Arinze’s own parents are still very fond of each other. When Arinze asks his father if it is too late for him to so dramatically change his career path (from engineering to arts) his father reassures him with an Ibo proverb: “When you wake up, that’s your morning”. I’m definitely going to be using that one.

So, in the end, most of Arinze’s concerns were in his own head. He gets back with Tina and feels more grounded now that his parents know the truth about his life in Canada.

I enjoyed watching the documentary particularly as I am a “confused” half-Nigerian child of a mixed race couple…the kind of creature Arinze’s mother dreads he will produce. The truth is it is a confusing experience to be of mixed race but probably not any more confusing than being second generation. Acceptance, both by your parents, and the world outside is what we all long for. Having to live a lie isn’t good for anyone but far too often second-generation children do this because they feel they have to. Sometimes they really do have to and sometimes their worries are really of their own creation, because they have misjudged their parents.

Check out a music video by Arinze Eze