hough every immigrant's journey has its own unique mix of challenges and victories, there is something common about the yearning for a better life and the struggle to achieve it that unites them.

The Stories of Us, a new anthology written by and for immigrants, provides a glimpse into these journeys and the brave humans that endeavour in them.

"When you go through something difficult, it can feel like you're the only one going through it," said Sarah Haque, one of the 60 authors featured in The Stories of Us and a former journalist from Bangladesh. "But when you read someone else's story of struggle and the challenges that they faced as an immigrant, that can give you a lot of strength."

The anthology tells over 60 immigrants' stories who were at various stages of learning the language while the book was put together over the last few years, and translated by volunteer translators into 15 languages. 

Haque, who arrived in Canada in 2012, said her story is a personal exploration of her ever-evolving identity while learning how to have "love for yourself."

"As an immigrant, you don't have just one single identity… It does not define you. You are so many other things besides being an immigrant," she said. "That was the journey that I talked about: really liking yourself and liking who you've become after all of the hardships, and really having love for yourself."

Sarah Haque, a journalist from Bangladesh, contributed to Stories of Us. Photo by Fernando Arce

The result has left her feeling grateful and empowered by the opportunity to share her journey and, in the process, help others. "I take great comfort in knowing that when they read my story, they’ll know that they are not alone," she said. "That's a very powerful feeling." 

A Work of Passion 

The Stories of Us is a self-published work of passion brought to life by the Department of Imaginary Affairs [DIA], a national non profit organization that uses storytelling to amplify immigrant and youth voices, and Living Hyphen, an organization that shares immigrants' stories through writing workshops, a magazine, and a podcast. 

Jenn Chan, DIA's co-founder and CEO and one of the book's editors, said The Stories of Us was originally produced with funding from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, though that specific funding program was discontinued in 2021. 

Justine Abigail Yu, Living Hyphen's founder, also worked as an editor on The Stories of Us. Born in the Philippines, Yu arrived in Canada at the age of four. She said the anthology captures the "gamut of experiences" and journeys of immigrants while simultaneously challenging stereotypes about them.

"It really challenges all of these… conceptions we have about why people move to Canada and how their experiences shape out," Yu said. "It's not all sad stories… It's not all perfect stories either. There's so much complexity, even within one person's experience. There's the high and the lows.”

Stories of Us tells over 60 immigrants' stories in 15 different languages. Photo by Fernando Arce

The goal, Chan added, was to create a resource that they could get into newcomers' hands "the second they were here" to show them they're not alone, while also helping them learn english.

Because public libraries are frequented by newcomers trying to learn the language, Chan and Yu are exploring ways they can donate the anthology to specific branches and eventually circulate it through the entire library system.

Ultimately, Chan said they hope the anthology will be in the hands of "everyone who works directly and interacts with newcomers," including libraries, school boards, settlement agencies and employment centres. 

"We've created something that is unique — that people think is valuable, that ESL teachers and employment councillors are telling us we wish we could do more of," she said.

The Halton District School Board's Welcome Centre, which supports newcomer and returning families and students, has ordered 30 copies. 

A Learning Tool

Allowing authors who come from various professional backgrounds to tell their own stories in english while in the process of learning the language was a deliberate move, said Chan.

"It's not about perfect english. It's not about perfect grammar. It's about telling stories in the ways in which the storyteller owns that story," she said. "That's absolutely important, because we spend far too much time in this country erasing people's culture."

That doesn't mean the end result didn't come from a rigorous, tested process, which includes the adjacent translations.

Additionally, Yu said the counsel of two ESL educators was instrumental in helping produce an educational piece of work that would speak intelligently to an adult audience. Until then, most of the available resources were "child-like" and "unrelatable to a lot of the adult newcomers who… have experienced a whole life and many hardships and triumphs alike," Yu said.

"When you're trying to learn something, comprehension and that learning experience is so much better when it's actually relatable to your own life."

For all Canadians

The anthology is also meant to challenge Canada's colonial makeup, said Yu, which has a "history of systematically erasing" Indigenous languages. Even today, despite Canada's official celebration of multiculturalism, "shaming and discriminating" immigrants and their native tongues has not abated, Yu stressed. 

That's why it's more than just an english-learning tool. 

"I want to get it in the hands of everyday Canadians who may not know what that experience looks like for newcomers."

To that end, Chan adds, all revenue from the sales of the anthology is going towards circulating it far and wide in the hopes that somebody will see it and say, "this is worth being bigger than what it is."

The Stories of Us is available for purchase online at www.livinghyphen.ca/shop for $38.00 CAD + shipping. 

Sep 30, 2022
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