The East to West issue
All too often, Toronto’s media treats the suburbs and their large immigrant and racialized communities like some undiscovered country. Last March, when U.S. economist Tyler Cowen declared that Scarborough had the best ethnic food on the continent, media like the Toronto Star, City News, and CTV reacted predictably: with some surprise (mystifying to anyone who’s ever eaten east of Victoria Park) and some self-congratulation (psst: occasional “exotic” restaurant reviews don’t scratch the surface of the suburban food scene). Meanwhile, here at the Ethnic Aisle we were more than a bit baffled.
The suburbs (i.e. “the 905” plus Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke) are often treated like they aren’t really part of Toronto, or real at all. We've always wanted to challenge this bias. First, it’s nonsensical. Thousands of people work west of Kipling, but live east of Yonge, or shop south of Dundas, and live north of Steeles, crossing invisible borders every day. But mainly, we like good stories and the GTA is full of stories of art, and murder, and terrible transit and, yes, really good food.
Welcome to the East to West issue of the Ethnic Aisle, in which we delve into the challenges and joys of life in Toronto's suburbs.
The Election Issue
Our mandate here at the Ethnic Aisle has always been to stand for, amplify, and provide space for those voices and perspectives that get erased in Toronto. Despite the fact that most of us believe the Fords are bad for Toronto’s racialized people, the past few years prove that there is much beyond the dynasty from Etobicoke when it comes to increasing representation, equity, and justice in this city.
To that end, over the next week, we’re going to be looking at Toronto’s coming election through our own eyes. From talking to some of Toronto’s visible minority candidates, to thinking about what it might mean to have a female, Chinese mayor, to extending the vote to permanent residents, we want to consider what this election says about the extent of Toronto’s diversity—and how we can get past the deeply odd situation in which the Fords are our most visible representatives as they are also our worst enemies.
The Tongues Issue
Tongues are funny things. Most of what makes up the tongue is invisible—and much of what we use tongues for is similarly ineffable: to taste; to speak; to kiss; and.. other things we’ll tell you about when you’re older.
But somewhere in that fuzzy mix of taste, language, and sensuality is culture itself. At the tip of the tongue is where both the impossibility of translation and the ecstasy of mutuality are found. So here in the Ethnic Aisle’s “Tongue Issue”, we’re all about that most sensitive of organs, and how it stands for how we communicate and connect. Follow along why dontcha’?
The Booze Issue
Now, we know what you’re thinking: isn't it a bit crazy for a blog dedicated to challenging stereotypes about Toronto’s many communities to time a booze issue right near St. Patrick’s Day? It’s a fair question, and one to which the answer is “uh, probably?”.
But what better time to poke at the rituals, assumptions, and differing views that circle around drinking? Like few other things, alcohol shows us what we share and what we don’t. Those of us who indulge often do it and think of it in different ways. Some of us never touch the stuff. How different communities look at alcohol forms a kaleidoscope of opinion.
This week on the Ethnic Aisle, we’re all about booze. From how culture and religion affect our views on drinking, to what a multicultural bar might look like, to the dreaded “Asian Glow”, we’re diving in to the world of liquor.
Sitting down for drinks amongst a mixed group of friends can be an ideal symbol of Toronto’s diversity. Whatever disagreements we have tend to dissolve in the pleasant haze of a good buzz. So in that spirit, we invite you to kick back, pour yourself a drink and savour the many notes of our Booze Issue.
The Wedding Issue
How many weddings are YOU going to this summer? And how many have that special Toronto flavour? You know, the bride and bride or groom and groom or - heck! - bride and groom are completely different shades of human. The ceremony integrates multiple traditions: the couple bows Korean-style to honour their parents underneath a Jewish chuppah, then tucks into an Italian feast at the reception as a West Indian steel band taps out a tune.
Half the guests give presents wrapped in fancy paper, the other half stuff fat envelopes into the provided box, and both halves consider the other a bit strange. This week, we're talking Weddings on the Ethnic Aisle. From what outfit to wear, to who to invite, to what do to about all of the parents' demands and requests, for plenty of us its all got a cultural flava.
Downtown vs. Suburbs
It’s 416 vs. outer-416 vs. 905 week on the Ethnic Aisle. We’re going to be writing about downtown, the suburbs, the much-ballyhooed divide between them, and what ethnicity has to do with it.
The Death Issue
It's the time of year to honour the dead, usually by wearing outrageous costumes and eating too much candy. While we at the Ethnic Aisle love a good party where you can't tell who anyone is, this year we thought we'd take All Hallow's Eve and Día de Muertos a little more literally.
Here are some personal reflections by Torontonians of various cultures on death, dying and remembering both here, and abroad. They're about ancestors, and decisions, and grief - and also about love, and how we choose to live.
Past, Present & Future of Racism
This week at the Ethnic Aisle, we’re exploring the past, present and future of racism in Toronto. Racism was and is part of Toronto. Moreover, our racism is evolving. This isn’t a value judgment so much as an observation: as the city changes, so too do our experiences with prejudice, both systemic and personal.
These posts aren’t a referendum on whether each successive generation is getting any better or worse at being racist (we’re saving that for a March Madness-styled tournament post. Haha, just kidding! Maybe). Rather, think of this as crib notes on issues that often get forgotten amongst the greater narrative of Toronto the Good, with a side of self-reflection on our progressive city’s decidedly less-progressive moments.By looking at Toronto’s racism in greater contextual scope, we hope to get the ball rolling on some conversations about how we’re all getting along and where we all hope to end up.
The Religion Issue
Oh, religion! Along with politics, it’s one of the things you’re not supposed to talk about in polite company. Well, we at the Ethnic Aisle thought: nuts to that! As if we’ve ever been polite. And thus the Religion Issue was born.
The Hair Issue
Of all the beauty issues fraught with ethnic baggage, could hair be the heaviest burden to carry? This week on the Ethnic Aisle, we discuss hair – facial hair, body hair and yes, even head hair.
The Ass Issue
Sir Mix-a-lot may like a big butt, but anybody who’s actually got back has stressed over its size. Similarly, slim types with smaller handles worry that there isn’t enough of them to love. No matter where each individual body falls on the curvature scale, there’s a stereotype to bring it down: voluptuous types are slutty, the streamlined are asexual, and there are serious consequences if those lady (or man) lumps don’t fit inside the gender box you were assigned at birth. The more racialized a particular body is, the more stringent the judgments tend to be.
This Pride, we present the Ethnic Aisle Ass Issue. Our goal is to dissect how race and ethnicity in Toronto intersect with issues of body image, beauty, sexuality and the all-important ass. We’ve got some fun stuff, including our first-ever audio post and playlist, and some serious thinking. As always, we’re taking this very, very personally.
The Queer Issue
It’s Pride Week, and we’re discussing the perception that immigrants and people of colour are inherently homophobic. Some stories about when that’s true, when it’s not, and when it’s just confusing.
Canice Leung talks about the day her parents came home wearing t-shirts that read “Man + Woman = Marriage.”
Renée Sylvestre-Williams discusses the “open secret” of sexuality among her parents’ extra-fabulous friends.
Denise Balkissoon has got a huge family: 50+ first cousins, of which exactly one is openly gay.
Navneet Alang comes to the defense of minority homophobes.
Kelli Korducki interviews two Latino pop experts–her parents–about Mexican crooner Juan Gabriel, the Johnny Mathis of mariachi.
Jaime Woo imagines his wedding day (fun!) and muses on the idea that ethnics are always weird about queers (smart!).
Jef Catapang figures out where his own homophobia went.
and Karen K. Ho updates her story of coming out to her mom.
The White Issue
This week on the Ethnic Aisle: white writers talk about whiteness.
But first! Navneet Alang on why we decided to do such an issue: “Far too often, whiteness is a kind of assumed norm without a name—something neatly encapsulated by the fact that no-one ever calls grilled cheese or steak “ethnic food”.”
Then, Jonathan Robson on his Rosedale-bred White Issue(s): “Rabbit stew takeaway from Arlequin at Ave and Dav was probably as close to a multicultural experience as I ever came to back then. Maybe that Gipsy Kings album; maybe Julio Iglesias.”
Remember Carlton Banks? Jesse Kinos-Goodin traces a line from the Fresh Prince of Bel Air to swag-popping Boston hip hop cover band Karmin and argues (sort of) that White Rap is Just Wrong.
John Michael McGrath would like to share his 8 Simple Rules for Marrying a Chinese Womanexcept “it turns out there’s no one Chinese Girl TM out there to date and marry. They’re all different! My wife Vicki is even totally different from her sisters! It’s weird.”
“One day we were visiting my mom’s best friend and one of her kids was wearing a “stop racism” pin. I wasn’t sure what “racism” was. I was twelve:” Sarah Nicole Prickett is simultaneously Not Guilty, Not Innocent.
Do only WASPs get to be white? Nina Boccia, in To Be Italian: “Many people are apparently shocked that I don’t have the olive skin that once so blatantly marked hundreds of thousands of Italian immigrants as not truly “white” and continues to racialize their descendants.”
Kath Halloran on white privilege in Finding My Canadian Self in Ireland: “The woman beside you on the streetcar lived in Canada her whole life and some people will always assume she got off the boat yesterday.”
Black envy, or black in a past life? Lisan Jutras in Jesus Saves: “When I heard “Mary Don’t You Weep,” on Aretha’s gospel album, I’d picture myself running super fast, or maybe even floating, with a pushing feeling inside my chest, and I’d find myself crying.”
Passing, Or Something Like It: Paul Aguirre-Livington on realizing that despite being a son of an immigrant father whose first language isn’t English, the actual colour of his actual skin still makes him “white.”
The Interracial Dating issue
You guys, we've got amazing articles that look at interracial and intercultural dating this week.
This is stuff you should read.
Start with the chat that started it all: Ethnichat: DNA Free Flow
Move on to Renée Sylvestre-Williams’ experience of dating interracially – her family isn’t concerned about race, just that any potential boyfriends have the same level of education, share the same values and treat her right. (It’s a long list.)
Denise Balkissoon learns, thanks to an ex-boyfriend, that people get racially confused, which can get tiresome after a while.
Jef Catapang interviews Anupa Mistry who reveals her weakness for white boys.
Being mixed-race and dating is more than just “oh, you’re gorgeous!” and “mixed babies are so cute!” Adebe DeRango-Adem takes a moment to unpack the baggage of dating and fetishization when dating interracially.
We’re not the only ones thinking about this topic:
Britain is as well. The BBC just ran a series on mixed-race Britons.
The New York Times looks at mixed-race relationships and the lingering tensions in the United States.
The Economist features author Richard Banks and his work, “Is Marriage for White People? How the African-American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone.“
The Food Issue
For better or worse, food has become a central part of how we talk about multiculturalism in the GTA. “Oh, we have such a diversity of cuisines here!” people say. And it’s true; we really do.
But to those of us for whom ‘ethnic’ food is just food, sometimes the talk of ‘exotic’, ‘spicy’ and ‘ooh, isn’t that different?’ doesn’t always capture the simple relationship between culture and what we eat.
So this week on The Ethnic Aisle, we’ll be talking about the gustatory, the gastronomic and the downright delicious.
First up, Timothy Lem-Smith, who has both Anglo and Chinese roots, writes about what it all means when he gets given a fork at his favourite place on Spadina.
Nav Alang writes about fusion sandwiches that are both real and tasty, but also slightly awkward metaphors for cultural mixture.
Simon Yau on snacks, nostalgia and his favourite Japanese yogurt drink.
Denise Balkissoon also talks nostalgia: her attachment to avocados is causing global warming.
Spicy coconut milk khao swe links Mishal Cazmi to Burma, though she’s yet to travel there.
Kelli Korducki is insensitive to your gluten sensitivity, gringo.
Is authentic cuisine about history or assumptions? Chantal Braganza digs in. Then, she talks about your mom.
Anupa Mistry sometimes feels guilty eating beef on the sly – but is the cause her parents or those cows she saw in India?
And At Pardon My Hindi, Neha Thanki talks to Toronto’s smoked meat master Zane Caplanskyabout the time he ran a chai stall in Uttar Pradesh.
The Christmas Issue
Holiday cheer + hot sauce, coming atcha:
Renee Sylvestre-Williams demonstrates how to make a Trinidadian treat, pastelles.
Denise Balkissoon wishes she wasn’t so tortured about Christmas, but she is. “My Muslim relatives began to make the religious pilgrimage to Mecca. They became much more devout, and there went half my presents. Meanwhile, my Christian, Hindu and agnostic relatives realized that the size of our family was bankrupting everyone. There went the other half….Soon, putting up the (fake) tree just seemed like work. One year, we decorated a plant in the hallway instead.”
A half-Jewish Jew, Justine Purcell Cowell just wants in. “How I marveled at the sweaters and make-up that emerged from their magical trees. (And oh, how I borrowed those sweaters, how I shared in the joy of that make-up!)….Hanukkah is not Christmas. It’s the compensatory holiday that Jewish parents give to their children. ”
Also in is Navneet Alang. He’s going to kick back and enjoy a white Christmas. “Mad rushing to get presents? Check. Grand Christmas feast with a turkey and all the trimmings? Check. Indulging in icewine and gorgonzola in front of the fire like they do on those Food TV specials? Super-gluttonous, you-best-believe-it check. Yeah, when it comes to late December, we are the Christmasiest Punjabis this side of a… Gurdwara at the North Pole?”
“I don’t blame my parents for not lying to me. How were they to know that was what parents here did? Who would assume the truth — that the population of an entire continent could knowingly be partaking in a conspiratorial deception employed to manipulate the mass psyche of their very own offspring?” Shed a tear for Simon Yau, whose parents never encouraged him to believe in Santa Claus.
Kelli Korducki highlights the Christmas differences between Gringo and non-Gringo Catholics. “At my maternal grandparents’ house…another dozen or so relatives insisted we eat yet again, open more presents, and watch Spanish-language Christmas specials that inevitably featured some combination of music and buxom dancers dressed as either sexy Santas or naughty elves. A couple of hours later, my brothers and I would be ripped away from Telemundo‘s hypnotic gyrations and herded into my parents’ minivan—overtired and sugar crashed—to get to the church in time for midnight Mass.”
The Wellness Issue