diving deep into discomfort

On Thursday, March 14th, I had the immense pleasure of being part of the event, “Don’t Pass It Down”, organized by The Mosaic Institute, which include some absolutely incredible organizers of colour.

The focus of the event took me aback as a subject that was very courageous and at the same time lacking in public discussions of social justice. The event encompassed the topic of intergenerational prejudice, that is: prejudice which is passed through generations (through family members, siblings, grandparents, etc.). Of course, this is something we have all noticed within our own families. We know it when we see it. (Or we don’t, because the prejudice sometimes becomes so normalized in our familial lives that  it becomes part of our belief system.)

Leading up to the closing night event, an interactive exhibit was set up at Concordia campus where passerbys were encouraged to write down a prejudice that was passed down in their family on a small paper matryoshka doll (also known as the Russian stacking doll). The analogy of the matryoshka dolls was a motif across the entire event. The dolls represented how we inherit from the generations that come before us; whether that is trauma and violence, or privilege and prejudice.

Although I was excited to perform at such a lovely event, I struggled to write a piece that could fit this topic. I wanted to share a piece that really hit the nail on the head, and illustrated some of the many memories that were crossing my mind. I hadn’t written such a piece yet, and quickly realized this was more difficult than I had previously thought. But I wasn’t struggling because I did not have content to work with, but rather I was struggling to write because this topic made me uncomfortable.

Turning the mirror towards ourselves and sharing what is flawed within us, and how we have been complicit in violence is uncomfortable and scary. But of course, if we are truly determined to break the cycles of violence and prejudice which passes through generation after generation in our families, communities and society at large, then this is work that needs to be done. It is not only important, but it is integral to transformative social change.

I wanted to ask the people participating in this event to be vulnerable, to have the difficult conversations. And as a performer at this event, I felt that I needed to practice this for myself first.

Writing my piece was a process. I cried and broke down while writing it. Once I had a draft, I was suddenly determined to never let it reach the public eye. I passed it on to friends who I value and respect to tell me the truth, and together we worked to tweak it in order for it to also be a piece which has gone through a critical self-reflection process. Finally, I shared my piece with the audience at the closing event, not a poem but rather a collection of 5 short stories.

The response I’ve been getting is overwhelming. I am so grateful to everyone who has come to me and told me how much they have loved my piece. It is actually shocking that a piece that is so personal to my life has touched so many people in such a meaningful way. I saw so many tears in the audience when I performed, something I did not expect (as I was more concerned about my own anxieties and emotions).

Through being a performance artist, I continue to learn about the power of honesty. Of standing in front of other people exactly as you are, flawed and entrenched with the oppression that we are born into, and saying “This is me, it is not perfect. But I will listen to you. I will believe you. And I will change inside me what it harmful to myself and to others.”

I am grateful to everyone who came to the event, all my friends who supported me through this process with their labour of reading my piece and dissecting it, and lastly to the amazing organizers of the event who undertook so much in order to make this absolutely incredible evening happen.

As an ending note, I encourage you to reflect on the questions that I started with when writing my piece, which were laid out in the promotion of the event. And to have the difficult reflections and conversations, knowing that this is where power lies.

We all grow up hearing things about ‘other’ people. Many of us have felt ‘othered’. That experience of being ‘othered’, of experiencing prejudice, stays with us. Many of us have also treated or spoken of people who are different from us as ‘other’. If we think about it, we might remember that an older family member passed down these perspectives to us. We might also question whether we did the same to a younger family member.

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Photography by Margot Florestorre

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