Reflection on CAP Conference

It is hard to believe it is almost the end of my first year at UBC (only 7 days away from the last school day!). As I have said in the first blog, Global Citizens stream in CAP really turns out to be a fabulous program the helps me through the transition from high school to university and allows me gain new perspectives about the world. At the end of the school term, I am glad to have taken part in CAP student conference that perfectly wraps up my year of learning in CAP. It is a great platform that joins students in other CAP streams and brings everything we learn together in CAP that are integral to our understanding of the world as a global citizen.

Among all the amazing programs, a presentation that intrigues me the most is “Unlearning the Colonial Gaze” by Rachel Lau in the panel of Forms of Witness. She started her presentation with her personal experience of viewing Marpole as merely an ordinary and meaningless place in Vancouver. Yet, after paying a visit to the exhibition at the Museum of Anthropology titled c̓əsnaʔəm, the city before the city, she realized that Marpole is one of the oldest ancient villages called c̓əsnaʔəm that existed more than 4000 years ago. Like many of us, she did not know that as the term “c̓əsnaʔəm” and its meaning as it is no longer in use in any indicator of that place, such as maps and road signs, and it is completely replaced by the English word “Marpole.” Therefore, she argues that the legacies of colonialism as shown in the naming of place erase the presence of First Nations and undermine Canadian’s understanding of our past. She urges us to unlearn colonial ways of looking everyday lives and relearn from indigenous people’s point of view. Her presenting not only inspire us to resist popular understanding of places that does not take into account the importance of indigenous people, but also it illustrates an key concept that is being repeated and stressed in all of my CAP classes—the power of language.

Throughout the year in our ASTU class, we have explored the questions of who has the power to determine whose stories are being told and how they are represented, especially in life narratives. These questions are worth-pondering as mere words can affect our understanding of the subject and shape our attitude towards them. The same issue can be examined by adopting the approach of postmodernism and poststructuralism that I learned in my Political Science 100 class. Postmodernists suggest that language plays an important role in the construction of knowledge. More often than not, power dynamics is embedded in language which allow those who are in power to establish matanarratives—a narrative that encompasses the elements of history, experience and knowledge—in order to reinforce their power (Erickson). Similar concept is also explored in my Geography 122 class, in particular when we examine geopolitics. Critical geopolitics argues that geography is biased as the way of defining geography reflects the value of the powerful. As suggested by Jonne P. Sharp, “any geographical description can influence political perception” (qtd in “Geography, Modernity and Globalization” 36). In the case of renaming and replacing a Musqueam word “c̓əsnaʔəm” to an English word “Marpole,” colonial powers exerted their control over indigenous people by diminishing their ability to identify places and at the same time legitimized their existence and possession of the land.

In addition to colonial intervention in the renaming of place as demonstrated in Rachel’s presentation, the language we use to call indigenous people also constitute to the consolidation of colonial power. In our Sociology class, we looked at the website from Indigenous Foundation regarding terms that are related to indigenous people. It is critical to understand what different terminologies entail and how they are being used since a lot of them “represent certain colonial histories and power dynamics…as the term for a group may not have been selected by the population themselves but instead imposed on them by colonizers” (Terminology). For example, by defining them as “Indians” in general rather than using their original names, the Canadian government devalued them and threatened the building of identity, history and memory among the indigenous community.

Yet, it is incomplete to say that language can only be exercised by those in power. Marginalized or stigmatized groups can also harness the language they use to empower themselves and resist dominant power. An autobiography we read in ASTU class, Cockeyed, is a case in point. Ryan Knighton confronts his limitation of being a blind people and refuses the stigma imposed on him using language as a strategy to restore his agency to identify, characterize and name. In the last chapter of the book, he describes himself as “blinding” instead of “blind” (Knighton 259) enables him to take up his power to represent blindness as a continuing and ongoing process, instead of what the hegemonic framework portrayed as the end, the final, and a non-life state. The same can be applied when handling the issue of indigenous people in Canada. We could possibly “unlearn the colonial gaze” by restoring and recognizing their power to manipulate language used to represent themselves and their possessions. Although the problems regarding the oppression of indigenous people are unlikely to be solved in the short term, I believe this measure would a good first step.


Works Cited

Erickson, Chris. “Chapter 16 Alternative Approaches to International Relations.” University of British Columbia, Vancouver, n.d.                 Power Point.

Geography, Modernity and Globalization II: Custom Edition. New York: Pearson. Print.

“Terminology.” Indigenous Foundation. First Nations Studies Program, 2009. Web. 2 April 2015.

Knighton, Ryan. Cockeyed: a memoir. New York: Public Affairs, 2006. Print.

Digital archives

In his TED talk, Everyone around you has a story the world needs to hear, Dave Isay introduces an innovative New York- based digital archive called StoryCrops. With the aim to collect and preserve stories about people from all walks of life through interviews, Isay has produced hundreds and thousands of radio documentaries, making StoryCorps “the single largest collection of human voices ever recorded.” As Isay puts in, this archive enables the preservance of human wisdom about their daily lives that can be revisited in future. It is not only beneficial to the next generations, but also to the people now. A powerful and inspiring story he shared is about how writhing the book, Flophouse: Life on the Bowery, gave neglected flophouse hotels dwellers in Manhattan a sense of existence, pride and most importantly, self-worth. Together with other inyerviews that are being archived, such as the one between a kid with Asperger’s syndrome and his mom, or the love story of an ordinary old couple, Isay’s work of StoryCorps brings out a strong message: “Every life, every single life, matters equally and infinitely.”

Upholding the same mission to record the “everyday lives of everyday people,” an Indian journalist, P. Sainath, launched People’s Archive of Rural India (PARI) in 2011 whigh showcases the labour, arts, transportation, languages, sports, environment, and many other facets of rural India in 28 categories. By representing people in rural India who are often absent in official documents, PARI exemplifies the idea suggested by Schwartz and Cook, that “archives have always been about power… they can be a tool of hegemony; they can be a tool of resistance” (13).

Suggested in the title of the two largest and foremost categories, Things we do and Things we make, Sainath makes his intention to  empower rural Indians through archiving clear. According to Isabel Íñigo-Mora, the first-person plural pronoun “we,” can “claim authority and communality at the same time” (Íñigo-Mora 41). By choosing the word “we,” Sainath creates a platform for rural Indians to speak on behalf of themselves. They become the insiders and the experts of the traditional lifestyle in rural India which they familiar with, and have the authority and power to talk about. The power to speak is especially given to those who are on the periphery and have not received attention in official documents. In particular, PARI carefully addresses the “groups which are marginalized within a marginalized group, like women and children” (Maliniemi 22) by dedicating two sections for women, namely Women: more than half the sky and Visible work, invisible women and an entire section on children in Small world: A focus on children. In Visible work, invisible women, for example, PARI brings the unacknowledged efforts by women in rural India into light: working in brick kiln and carrying hot bricks on their heads, weeding in the positions of bending and squatting for years, walking several kilometers to get water for her family, are but a few examples. By includes those stories, PARI recognizes women’s endeavor and raises awareness towards the little-known contribution of poor rural women have on India’s economy. It fills the “silences” (Carter 215) of women in dominantly patriarchal archival framework (Schwartz and Cook 16), hence, act as a “counter-memory for marginalized groups” (Maliniemi 22).

In spite of its effort to make the marginalized visible, PARI may in fact potentially further marginalize the marginalized group by its story selection. Throughout PARI, a vast majority of stories depict the hardship in rural India: high illiteracy rate, poverty, poor public health, political oppression, gender inequality etc. Rarely do successful stories are being told. The way which rural Indians are portrayed as “victims” who are the “passive and miserable populations…simplifies and reduces the dynamics between minorities and the hegemonic culture” (Maliniemi 25). By over-emphasizing the powerlessness of disadvantaged rural Indians,  PARI normalizes the fact that they are being marginalized and justify why they are unable to speak up for themselves.

Apart from the content, the medium PARI is presented also reinforces marginalization in representation. The Internet allows participation, theoretically by anyone in anywhere at any time. Yet, the brutal reality is that the world’s startling inequality creates barriers for low income regions to the access of the Internet. Rural India is a case in point where only 9% of the population have the access to mobile internet. Lacking access to the new form of technology coupled with high illiteracy rate may obstruct people in the rural areas to write their own stories without the assistance from foreign voluntary reporters who may not have a thorough understanding of their culture and history. Bringing archive to the dof oral world, thus, reinforces inequality against marginalized groups, like those in rural India, as only certain stories are being heard by a certain people who possess the power to access technological products (Schwartz 14-5).

Digital archive is undeniablely a breakthrough from traditional archive in terms of the extent of stories being preserved and the access to it. The enormous storage and efficiency allows everyday people to be included as well.  Yet, it is also important to acknowledge the potential of digital archive to unintentionally consolidate marginalization as shown in the example of PARI.

Works Cited

Carter, Rodney G S. “Of Things Said and Unsaid: Power, Archival Silences, and Power in Silence.” Archivaria 61 (2006): 215-233. Archivaria. Web. 17 Mar 2016.

Íñigo-Mora, Isabel. “On the use of the personal pronoun we in communities.” Journal of Language and Politics 3.1 (2004): 27– 52. Ingentaconnect. Web. 16 Mar 2016.

Maliniemi, Kaiser. “Public Records and Minorities: Problems and Possibilities for Sámi and Kven.” Archival Science 9.1-2 (2009):  15-27. ProQuest. Web. 16 Mar 2016.

Sainath, P. People’s Archive of Rural India. People’s Archive of Rural India, 2011. Web. 18 Mar 2016.

Schwartz, Joan M., and Terry Cook. “Archives, Records, and Power: The Making of Modern Memory.” Archival Science 2.1-2                     (2002): 1-19. ProQuest. Web. 18 Mar 2016.


Missing Sarah

A year after Sarah de Vries—an Aboriginal sex worker and drug addicts from Downtown Eastside—was murdered and her DNA was found in Robert Pinkton’s pig farm in Port Coquitlam, her sister and a renowned author Maggie de Vries published a memoir, “Missing Sarah: A Vancouver Women Remember her Vanishing Sister” in 2003 in the remembrance of Sarah and other missing women. Written in Maggie’s point of view and supplemented with Sarah’s letters, poems, and journal, “Missing Sarah” reveals the Sarah’s struggle of discrimination, self-loathing, lost and unacceptance in her childhood and teenage that led up to her tragedy in 2002.

In the book, Sarah’s writings play out an important role in bringing Sarah to life by manifesting her characters and engaging her into the conversation about sex work, drug addiction, and life of Aboriginal people. They are the windows that allow readers to have a glimpse of Sarah’s personalities as reflected in the content and the style of writing. Letters by Sarah, for example, were written intimately to her sister or other family members.  She expressed her emotions openly without having fear of being judged. By reading them, readers get to know more about Sarah’s “personality as it presents itself in [her] letters” (Walker). In one letter, she complained that “I am not happy here (her mum’s home in Ontario) at all” (21) after having to live away from her home where she grew up in Vancouver before her parents separated. She exhibited her distress about her divided family and her longing for family love. It is also worth noticing that she used the word “love” repeatedly when greeting her family in the letters (such as “I really love you a lot…” [55]) and in her signature (for instance “All my love, Sarah” [41] and “LOTS OF LOVE, YOUR SISTER SARAH!!!”[183]). It shows how much she treasured family bonding and that she could find a sense of belonging and recognition in them. Her family is where she wanted to fit in. Thus, these letters are the sources that offer us unique insight into Sarah’s character — as a caring and compassionate person who is devoid of yet willing to give others love.

Furthermore, Sarah’s writings set up a platform for communication between sisters, as well as between Sarah and readers. After mapping Sarah’s painful life with plentiful letters and journals, Maggie iwas able to understand her sister better (De Vries xv). Not only that, in an interview with Allyson Latta, a Canadian literary editor, Maggie mentioned that “[w]hen I read her words when I am speaking, I feel as if she speaks through me. All of this is a joint project between her and me. But it is also a team project.” In engaging Sarah’s writings, it seems as though Sarah and Maggie have genuine contact that enables them to co-write the book (although they may have written their parts in different time periods.) Moreover, her writings are dialogical which “[open] up channels of communication and reciprocity not only between the correspondent parts, but also between the writer of the letter and any reader” (Tamboukou 173). As Maggie pointed out, Sarah imagined readers as she wrote (xv). Sarah is not only telling a personal story in her journals, but also a public issue that requires public attention and action.

An important feature in “Missing Sarah” is that despite having plentiful sources of diary entries, poems, and letters, a significant majority was written by Sarah. It is not to say that her family did not reply to her letters. In fact, Maggie is using the setting of one-way letters and journals from Sarah to shift the power dynamics between the marginalized and dominant group. As Yasmin Jiwani and May Lynn Young argue,  aboriginal sex workers are often being narrated under hegemonic discourse which undermine the value of missing women (897). They then follow Debbie Wise Harris in suggesting that Aboriginal women subject to “strategic silences,” which they seldom have the chance to speak for themselves (899). Through incorporating her writing exclusively, Sarah is given the voice and isempowered to defend herself, to express her misery, and to pledge for help. She is an “active agent” (Jiwani and Young 899) seeking out to others. Maggie and readers, however, are put in a powerless and passive position where we are “unable to reach back to her, unable to change one single thing” (De Vries49) What is most distressing and heartbreaking when reading this book, as suggested by Maggie, is that we feel how real Sarah is, when she is “calling out to me [Maggie] from them [letters]and I couldn’t help her.” For instance, when reading  Sarah’s journal  about her work, we as readers acknowledge that she was impotent to fight back. We hear her berating her clients for they are to blame for making her “dirty ” and “ashamed”. Yet, neither Maggie nor readers are given the opportunity to lend Sarah a helping hand, no matter how willing and eager we are. Sarah’s writing therefore serve to counter the hegemonic discourse.

The appearance of Sarah’s work in Maggie’s memoir also play out the concept of relationality—an auto/biographical term that other people, communities, societies, or political forces interweave with narrator’s story that in turn give form to  the identity of the narrator(Smith, and Watson 86). Although Sarah is the subject of the memoir, she is not the protagonist herself. She comes out as Maggie’s relational other, whose image is being constructed through a collective of her own works and interviews with her family and friends. When looking through the Sarah’s life, Maggie connected her own narrative of growing understanding and awareness towards sex workers on Downtown Eastside and her increasing engagement in the advocacy for missing women. Her identity is developed in relations to Sarah.

Every life matters. By integrating Sarah’s poems, journals, and letters in her memoir “Missing Sarah”, Maggie brought Sarah to life and gave her the power to speak for herself. At the same time it urges readers to reflect on the issues in Downtown Eastside and take action before it’s too late.

Works Cited

De Vries, Maggie. Missing Sarah: a memoir of loss. Toronto, Ont.: Penguin Canada, 2008. Print.

Jiwani, Yasmin, and Mary Lynn Young. “Missing and Murdered Women: Reproducing Marginality in News Discourse.” Canadian Journal of Communication 31.4 (2006): 895-917. ProQuest. Web. 26 Feb 2016.

Latta, Allyson. “Maggie de Vries.” Allyson Latta. WordPress, 2004. Web. 26 Feb 2016.

Smith, Sidonie, and Watson, Julia. “Auto biographical Acts.” Reading Autobiography : Interpreting Life Narratives. Feb 2010: 63-102. Project Muse University Press. Web. 26 Feb 2016.

Tamboukou, Maria. “Relational narratives: Auto/biography and the portrait.” Women’s Studies International Forum 33.3 (2010): 170–179. Science Direct. Web. 27 Feb 2016.

Walker, Pierre A. “Seeing a Life Through Biography, Letters, and Fiction.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. The Chronicle of Higher Education, 12 Nov 2004. Web. 26 Feb 2016.

Immigration Archives

This week in my ASTU class, we did a presentation on our archive project that aims to bring archival materials in Rare Books and Special Collections at UBC to the public. As all the groups had pointed out, archives play a role in recording and preserving historical event which allow future generations to remember to past. This project thus allows us to gain a better understanding on little-known history as we tried to organize materials that we found disoriented in meaningful ways (such as in chronological order and under different themes), and provide context for each of the item. Furthermore, by showcasing archival materials in various forms like websites, Tumblr page or infographic, we brought archives that we worked on beyond the scope of academia and engaged the public to this collective memory. The public could access to those valuable experiences that are often neglected and use them to reflect on their present life. Take me, as an example,  this project matters a lot to my identity building when I  know more about the history of Chinese immigrants in Canada. It is only when I looked through the archives in the Chung Collect that I realize the discriminatory treatments Chinese immigrants once had in Canada. I felt a stronger sense of belonging and pride as a Chinese after acknowledging their achievement and contribution in Canada. At the same time, I came to appreciate the progress made by the Canadian government to mitigate racial discrimination (for example abandoning immigration restrictions based on race), and cherish the acceptance and diversity in Canada nowadays.

Inspired by this project, I am interested to further investigate the significance of archives, particularly immigration archives, and the ways in which archives are presented by looking at an interactive webpage—Redress Remix.

Redress Remix  surrounds the topic of Canadian government’s apology in 2006 for their unfair treatment on Chinese immigrants in the 1900s. A combination of photography, government documents, archived documentaries, and interviews are gathered and put under 16 themes to reveal the unfamiliar but important chapter in Canadian history. Each theme explores issues like head tax imposition, Angel Island Immigration Station, and Chinese Exclusion Act through a series of videos and brief introduction to the background history and speaker’s personal information.

Most of the items in this website are archival materials that serve as a “tangible memory site” (Hume 184). They give information about the cultural and social settings of their users, and allow us to revisit and remember the past in present days. When it comes immigration archival sources in particular, archives play a vital role in unifying people with the same ethnical background, as each group has their own unique ways to record their past influenced by their culture (Hume 191). More importantly, archives on immigration give voice to immigrants whose participation are often omitted or being written out in official government record. Personal or community archives are therefore a place for them to channel their anxiety and frustration. In Redress Remix, the section of Discrimination exemplifies this idea. Frank Wong, a World War Two veteran, recalled his experiences of being treated as an “alien” in Canada as he were not given the right to vote, not permitted to go anywhere but Chinatown, and not even allowed to sit in the front role at theaters. His oral history about his trivial, yet thought-provoking, everyday lives provides another facet of the story that can supplement official government documents and reflects a more complete situation of society.

Immigration archives are by no means exclusively important to the community involved. The representation of archives on immigrants is crucial to the construct of a country’s history as well. Daniel turns to Schereck when discussing the function of archival material, and suggests that archives reveal how different groups in society contribute to “progress and development of the state” (174). Immigrants are often marginalized by the dominant group in the host country. Their contributions are not may not be always taken into account in official records. Thus, collecting, organizing, and analyzing immigration archives offer scholars a “bottom up’’ as well as an ‘‘inside out’’ view of the host country’s history (Daniel 177). In Contribution, Bill Chu, the founder of Canadians For reconciliation, stated that Chinese people had engaged in a variety of tough and unpleasant jobs in addition to the well-known Canada Pacific Railway construction; they had also taken part in mining, farming and installing telephone wire, to name a few. This often unsaid piece of Chinese is integral to the whole puzzle of Canada’s nation building as it laid the groundwork for future transportation and economic development.

Moving beyond the content of the webpage, the medium itself  is also worth noticing. Redress Remix is a digital archive that uses internet “as a vehicle of collecting, preserving, and displaying traces of the past” that is an easy access to people from all walks of life (Haskins 401). Digital archives are a “much better medium than print culture for capturing the fluidity, spontaneity and multilayered quality’’ of a culture as it enables multiple medium for presentation, such as photographs and recordings (Harney cited in Daniel 194). Visitors to the webpage can gain a vivid experience through videos which exhibit speakers’ reaction and emotion. For example, when they watch the video of a woman who talks about the hardship she had on Angel Island immigration station, they can feel her anger, sorrow, and fear as she describes the station as a “jail.” These feeling are not as easily felt when looking at  mere words.

An interesting feature in this website is that visitors can respond to the videos by shooting a short clip expressing their thoughts. As the filmmaker, Chan, said, the webpage can track historical changes as respondents’ feedbacks differ with time. By inviting people to engage in this “living documentary”—a documentary that is made interactive by networked media and digital technology to establish relationships between producers and users, and induce changes in both parties (Gaudenzi 27)– we can track how our attitudes towards racism evolve and hopefully come up with methods to alleviate it. This kind of participation in the production of collective memory online is difficult to achieve in many conventional archives.


“The history should never be erased out of the book. It should be continued regardless [of] what kind of history. It should be passed on to the next [generation] people to know about it.” Memory matters. And an effective way to preserve memory is through archives, especially digital archives that are accessible to many, that can persist through generations.



Works Cited

Daniel, Dominique. “Archival Representations of Immigration and Ethnicity in North American History: From the Ethnicization              of Archives to the Archivization of Ethnicity.” Archival Science 14.2 (2014): 169-203. ProQuest. Web. 6 Feb. 2016.

Gaudenzi, Sandra. The interactive documentary as a Living Documentary.” Doc on-line 14 (2013): 9-31. Directory of Open                       Access Journals. Web. 6 Feb. 2016.

Harris, Jake. Redress Remix. Stitch Media, 2010. Web. 5 Feb. 2016.

Haskins, Ekaterina. “Between Archive and Participation: Public Memory in a Digital Age.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 37.4 (2007):          401–422. JSTOR. Web. 6 Feb. 2016.

Hume, Janice. “Memory Matters: The Evolution of Scholarship in Collective Memory and Mass Communication.” The review of              communication 10.3 (2010): 181-196. Taylor & Francis Combined Library. Web. 6 Feb. 2016.

Takeuchi, Craig. ‘Redress Remix addresses Chinese Canadian head-tax with “living documentary.”’ The Georgia Straight. 3 Nov          2010. Web. 7 Feb. 2016.

Food memoir- Diamond Grill

As a Chinese saying goes, “To the ruler, the people are heaven; to the people, food is heaven.” Food integrates in every aspect of life in China. Not only is food a necessity that keeps us alive, it is also a bond that holds a family and society together. Thus, through his food memoir, Diamond Grill, Fred Wah centers food as the focal point to help him reveal his family’s and community’s experience of being Chinese-Canadian. Diamond Grill is a biotext (a combination of fiction and autobiography) that surrounds the stories in the restaurant called Diamond Grill started by Wah’s grandpa in Nelson, BC in 1951. In his book, Wah uses the trope of food literally and metaphorically with abundant food descriptions and recipes to explore familial history, ethnic identity, and the experiences of immigration community.

Food in Diamond Grill embodies Wah and his community’s mixed identity. Wah foregrounds food as a crucial element that connects his diverse ethnical origins and his hyphenated identity as a Chinese-Canadian. Many dishes served in Diamond Grill are “mutated” (Wah 2) and mixed by chefs in Diamon Grill or in other Chinese restaurants. They have changed the ingredients, the way of cooking and the name of dishes. These dishes and Wah share the same characteristic—impurity. The signature course in Diamond Grill, mixed grill, also known as “mixee grill” to Wah’s family, is a case in point. Shu, the chef who cooked the mixee grill , and other Chinese chefs replaced the traditional ingredient of “lamp chop, split lab kidney, and pork sausage” to “veal chop, a rib-eye, a couple of pork sausage, bacon”. They also abandoned the original cooking method of grilling and modified it to frying, so they can suit Chinese “quick and dirty” taste (2). By describing the literal processes of adding, subtracting, and adjusting the way of eating and cooking, Wah is materializing his transcultural identity. Food functions as “empowering trope for Wah, as it enacts the multiplicity of his origins and identifications and their process of amalgamation.” (Baena 109). While the dishes transform and travel between cultures, Wah and his community also experienced cultural and identity shift. They have a mixed racial background and have to live on hyphen. Besides, the fact that mixed grill is described as superior and authentic, while mixee grill is improvised, is similar to the how people see pure race as powerful and mixed race as marginalized. The tension between positive and negative views on mixed/mixed grill thus manifest the Wah and his coummunity’s struggle to accept the hyphenated identity and the challenges that follow.

Food also bring out the theme of “faking it” in Diamond Grill. “Faking it” is to present yourself as something that you are not, in the hope of fitting in, by performing in a different way. When Wah illustrates how Shu “compose” mixee grill, lots of dramatic verbs that are rarely found in recipes are used, such as “nudges”, “shovels”, “throws”, “lift”(2). The whole process is portrayed more like a performance than simply cooking. On the other hand, Wah make use of straightforward and unembellished verbs like “stir-fry” (44), “peel” (67), “rinse”(129), and “season”(140) to describe the cooking procedures of pure Chinese cuisines, for example tomato beef, lo bok, chow mein, and deep-fried lingcod. The contrast in word choice signifies what Wah said, “when you’re not ‘pure’ you just make it up.” Just as Shu “acted” all the way when cooking a mixed dish, Wah has to play his role of hyphen to disguise his mixed background. In this way, faking it is the power to resist the traditional paradigm for purity. It enables Wah’s family to cross the boundary of different races through passing—a process of adopting another racial identity (in Wah’s case the identity of White) in order to gain acceptance from that culture (Dawson 2).

In addition to identity formation and resistance to purity, food serves as a bridge connecting the past to the present. Food is more than a pleasure nourishment; it is a by-product of social relationship that entails collective history. As stated by Waxman, “food is clearly a link among generations of immigrants and exiles” (363) as food has a “pacifying effect” (Baena 114). When immigrants cook and eat the food from their home country, they re-connect to their origin. The sense of familiarity and comfort from food eases their anxiety of leaving home. Similarly, Wah’s grandpa always seems to think of China when he eats wet rice, that “taste remembers life” back in China (74). Food enables Wah and his family to associate with their history, reinforce their identity of being a Chinese despite living abroad, and foster their sense of belonging towards China. As stated by Wah, “for years after leaving home I’ve had a craving for some Chinese food taste that I haven’t been able to pin down” (67). Food is thus important in enacting cultural memory.

Food in Diamond Grill takes up multiple functions in both literal and metaphorical sense. The mixed nature of the dishes in the restaurant epitomize multicultural background of Wah’s family and community. Food is also linked to memory, as taste reminds people, especially immigrants like Wah, the and experiences and culture of home country.

    Works Cited

Baena, Rosalía. “Gastro-Graphy: Food as Metaphor in Fred Wah’s            Diamond Grill and Austin Clarke’s Pig Tails’n Breadfruit.” Canadian Ethnic Studies. 38.1 (2006): 105-16. ProQuest. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.

Dawson, Carrie. “The Importance of Being Ethnic and the Value of Faking It.”Postcolonial text.4.2 (2008):1-10. Directory of Open Access Journals. Web. 21 Jan. 2016.

Wah, Fred. Diamond Grill. Edmonton : NeWest, 2006. Print

Waxman, Barbara Frey. “Food Memoirs: What They Are, Why They Are Popular, and Why They Belong in the Literature Classroom”. College English 70.4 (2008): 363–383. JSTOR. Web. 23 Jan. 2016.

Six-word memoir

Have you ever thought of how short a life narrative can be? Is it possible to have an ideal length for it? While we naturally assume that a proper life narrative should have at least 200 pages as we think of the stack of memoirs in bookstores, we will be surprised by how Larry Smith, the editor and publisher of SMITH Magazine, challenges our understanding of life narrative by introducing the Six-Word Memoirs.

Inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s emotional, intriguing and complete six-word novel “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”, Larry Smith hosted the Six-Word Memoir project to challenge the “famous and obscure” to write their life stories in exactly six-words. This project has taken the world by storm that it has generated half a million memoirs.

One of the biggest features of six-word memoir is its minimalist style. It highly stresses on the precision of word choice. Writers have to make every word counts by choosing the most appropriate word or phrase to represent them. A war memoir: “Left as boy; home wounded human” is a case in point. Here, the writer concludes the damage he had after putting his life on the line for years in war. First, he uses “boy” and “human” to depict his long service in warfare that raised him up from a little innocent child into a mature adult. Besides, by using “human” instead of “man”, he devalues himself as a mere biological who has lost his ability to work and simply function like his uninjured male counterpart after the trauma. Second, the contrast of “left” and “home” tell us about his feeling of war. “Left” is a voluntary action, it means the writer is zealous for serving the country in the war at first. However, as time goes by, his longing for warmth, stability and care build up that he is so pleased to leave the war field and be home now. This story exemplifies that even though there are only six words, a complete and dynamic story can be told. The Six-Word Memoir encourages us to make the most of our words and remind us: Less is more.

In addition, this project gives an answer to one of the questions from my ASTU class: Who have the authority to write a memoir? As Smith would answer, everyone. He mentioned that “There is inspiration everywhere. Even if you don’t think you’re a storyteller, you are.”  For long, we have come to accept that most auto/biographies are written by famous people or those who have phenomenal experiences. Their fruitful lives provide endless sources for them to write up a whole book. For people who live an ordinary life like the most of us, however, may find it difficult to tell an inspiring life story, let alone to write a memoir. Yet, through this simple self-expressing platform offered by six-word memoir, memoirists can be heard even if they have not achieved anything tremendous and memorable in their lives. The lowered threshold of memoir length opens up an new arena that gives voice to ordinary writers. This makes life narratives an approachable genre rather than a prestigious form of writing.

While six-word memoirs favors lots of novice ordinary writers and introduces a new form of life narrative, it also raises some concerns. Frederick A. Wright in his study of six-word story argues that “A reader may sense that there is a story behind the six words and may even want to know what the story is, but that doesn’t make the six words themselves a story” (336). Indeed, these condensed memoirs leave out a lot of voids that have to be filled by readers’ imagination. More often than not this may result in misinterpretation and misjudging to the story. Sometime writers will have to provide readers with extra information so that they can have a full picture of who they are. For example, a memoir: “Desiring invisibility, she revealed his abuse” is supplemented by a 291-word behind six backstory. It is when readers read the extended story that they know the writer is working to help her student who lives in the shadow of sexual abuse.

Certainly, six-word memoirs appeal to both readers and writers in this fast paced world. Nonetheless, this new type of memoir cannot replace the traditional detailed and lengthy life narrative given its incompleteness in storytelling.


Works Cited

Wright, Frederick A, “The Short Story Just Got Shorter: Hemingway, Narrative, and the Six-Word Urban Legend.” Journal of popular culture 47.2 (2014): 327–340. Wiley     Online Library. Web. 21 Nov 2015

Smith, Larry. SMITH Magazine Six-Word Memoirs. SMITH Magazine, 2005. Web. 21 Nov. 2015


Study on “I am Malala”

Malala’s memoir “I am Malala” published in 2013 is a huge commercial success and aroused wide awareness towards women right. Yet, it also brings up the concern about the representation of life narratives.

On October 9, 2012, the news of Malala being shot by Taliban militants took the world by storm. One year later, Malala published the memoir called “I am Malala” co-wrote by a foreign correspondent in Afghanistan, Christina Lamb, about her childhood story and her journey to girls’ rights advocacy inspired by her father after the shot. This book has received critical acclaim and topped the New York Times bestsellers list. Being translated into 40 languages, the book provides readers around the world a window into the mysterious life of Afghan women under the oppression of Taliban. Her memoir is extremely powerful in the field of girls’ education for it repeatedly asserts the importance and advantage of education by saying that “our books and our pens, they are the most powerful weapons.” As a result of that, Malala has mobilized and invited millions of readers in the West who take education for granted to join the campaign for the girls’ right to education (Bhutto).

Malala’s memoir exemplified the power of individual life narratives to extend discussion beyond into cultural, social and historical context. The epigraphy of the book, “To all the girls who have faced injustice and been silenced. Together we will be heard” suggests that the memoir is not only her personal story, but also the story of countless girls who do not have the chance to go to school. In this case, Malala recognized and represented others, and brought individual narrative to collective rights discourse.

However, there are two sides to every coin. Although it is well received in the western society, the reception of her memoir in her home country Pakistan is remarkably discouraging. The book “I am Malala” was banned in all Pakistan private school for not respecting Islamic culture and religion. It was also being accused for denigrating her country by portraying it as a conservative, unjust, repressive and doomed prison as opposed to the liberal and well-developed and ideal West. Her memoir, therefore, is interpreted as the plea for “western-led ‘emancipation’ of the Muslim world from within.” (Brar, 3). As denounced by the president of The All Pakistan Private Schools Management Association, Malala is “representing the West, not us.”

Ironically, Malala who is praised as a heroine in the West is at the same time deemed as the enemy in the eyes of Afghan, who she speaks on behalf of. This raised the question about the role and purpose of life narratives. Who is the audience of her book that she is trying to accommodate? Has the memoir become propaganda for the West to promote their ideals as suggested by Whitlock (3)?

By choosing to include detailed historical background in her book, it is obvious that Malala intended to target at Western readers who are not familiar  at and needed to be told about the history. Her memoir also entails a western presupposition that Islam women are weak and oppressed by the country in order to illuminate the exceptionality of Malala. Hence, outspoken and courageous Malala is to speak against the unjust, her image is actually being used as the manifestation of Western stereotype on Afghanistan. In the sense of representation, the book turns out to be far from its original objective which is to speak for uneducated girls in Afghanistan.

Attempting to appeal to western readers at the expense of her own country may also make the memoir a political tool, or what Whitlock called as propaganda. Nevertheless, propaganda can be a double-edged sword. No one can deny the success of the book in promoting girl’s education. It even brought about college programs that engage students to rethink the value of educating women based on the book (Morrison). Realistically, it is reasonable for the book to cater Western audiences given that Afghanistan government is incapable  to provide education for girls while western society has both the economic power and aspiration to help. Appealing to the west is far more effective in achieving the goal of universal girls’ education.This, despite the risk of being propaganda, it seems that the positives, for now, are outweighing the negatives.

In this study of “I am Malala”, I find it absolutely pivotal to look at the social implications, the effect of representation and the reaction of readers from different perspectives when reading life narratives. What is important is not the content of the book, but how it is presented to readers.

Work cited

Bhutto, Fatima. “I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai – review.” The Guardian 30 October 2013: n. pag. Web. 7 Nov 2015.

Brar, Miranda. “The Nation and Its Burka Avenger, the ‘Other’ and its Malala Yusafzai: The Creation of a Female Muslim Archetype as the Site for Pakistani Nationalism”. The Journal of Historical Studies 30.1 (2014): 1-8. University of Toronto Mississauga. Web. 7 Nov 2015.

Morrison, Debbie. “I am Malala: A Review of the Book and Its Implications for Education”. Online Learning Insights, 25 Nov 2014. Web. 7 Nov 2015.

Whitlock, Gillian. “Branding: The Veiled Best-seller.” Soft Weapons: Autobiography in Transit. Chicago: University Of Chicago, 2007. Web. 23 Oct. 2015

Yousafzai, Malala, and Christina Lamb. I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot By the Taliban. New York : Little, Brown and Company, 2013. Print

Life narratives as campaign tools

As the Canadian federal election is around the corner, life stories of the candidates have become  powerful campaign tools to persuade voters to cast their ballot for them. To find out the how exactly do these stories mobilize voters, it is important to examine candidate’s biography note on their party web page and analyze their features.

Candidates’ biographies are written to appeal to Canadian voters, especially those who are sitting on the fence that life stories can help them make up their minds. First and foremost, branding is the most significant effect pre-election life narratives have on voters. As Tom Mulcair said, “My family story is that of millions of Canadians.” Superior as they seem, they are ordinary people after all. They go through similar life journey like most Canadians. Thus, their life narratives give voters a peek at their interest, family and work life, and show them the person behind politician which make the candidates more approachable. This kind of relatability  form a greater sense of familiarity among voters and make they feel more represented if a candidate who is just like them is elected. By branding them as “ordinary”, candidates can gain voters’ support efficiently.


Digging deeper into the content, different materials they choose to focus on contribute to setting them up into a desirable Canadian Prime Minister. One particular way is to document their feat. For example, Elizabeth May shows an impressive array of environmental programs and political work she has participated to demonstrate how devoted and able she is. In addition, candidates can emphasis on their different roles to build up positive images. In Justin Trudeau and Mulcair’s biography, they talk about their experiences of being a father, an advocate and a leader, which render their capability of shouldering multiple responsibilities and living up to various role expectations. They also show how those roles equip them to be Canada’s next Prime Minister. For instance, as a father, they exhibit their care for the vulnerable groups and their eager to create a better future for the next generation. Furthermore,  these biographies which bypass mass media allow candidates to speak directly to voters, as well as defending themselves against critique. Trudeau harnessing half of his biography to illustrate his short but plentiful political career to refute the criticism on him for being inexperienced is a case in point.

Different from the other candidates, existing Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a relatively less appealing and detailed biography on his website. Instead of his life story, a large proportion of his biography reports his achievements during his term of office with only a snapshot of his background at the end. Having been governing Canada for twelve years, Harper is a household name that further information about him is unnecessary. This distinction draws attention to how life narratives address audience. While votes wants to know more about the political career of other candidates to predict his or her future performance and capability to govern, knowing Harper’s past achievements solely will be enough to access whether he should be re-elected or not.


When I delve into smaller perspective of the biography, I found that precise and specific words choice molding the image of the candidate as well. In Mulcair’s biography, the most frequent word is “work”, which appears six times; whereas in Trudeau’s, “new” and “different” repeat throughout the page. Different messages are conveyed: Trudeau aspires to bring new insight to Canada, while Mulcair believes he can lead Canada with his industrial personality that drives him to work his way up to a competent candidate. All these trivial, yet power words add up to shape each candidate into a kind of capable leader upon whom Canadian future can rests.

Undeniably, life narratives have become mighty political strategy. Through careful choice of tone, materials and words, votes can possibly be swayed by the biography of a candidate when they go to the polls.

Life Narrative Field Work: Long Walk to Freedom

Life narratives, either autobiography or memoir, can be found everywhere about everyone. However, not all the voices can be heard in the global market. To unveil the reason why some life narratives get widely circulated, I did Gillian Whitlock’s challenge in Soft Weapons: Autobiography in Transit, and explore how life narratives are marketed in both real and virtual bookstores.


Walking into the biography section in Chapters, the book that first caught my eyes was “Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela”. The close-up photo of Mandela grinning from ear to ear grasped my attention right away. Just by looking at the photograph, it is hard to tell that he is such a renowned person. Instead, he is like any ordinary old man we come across everyday, This relatable cover allows people to establish connection with Mandela and be eager to know his story.

The blurb for this book is excerpted from Chicago Tribune, an American newspaper. “Foreword written by President Bill Clinton” is also indicated specifically on the cover. Quoting praises from these reputable people and newspaper raise the credibility of the book, making it more compelling to potential readers. Furthermore, the “Indigo Essential” sticker on the cover presents the book as a necessity that encourages consumers to own this must-read item.
Another thing that intrigues me is how the book place emphasis on the author. It is noticeable that the font size of the subtitle(which is also the name of author) is much bigger than the title itself. Moreover, the introduction at the back talks more about the roles of Mandela rather than his experience. These give a sense that the eminent narrator, not the story, is the crux why the book is published. The reason for this is twofold: to readers, it is beneficial to read from successful people so someday they may be one of them; while to publishers, notable people are the ones who have market value and can guarantee sales. In other words, this market structure hinder unknown people with amazing story, such as refugees, to get their story across.
Then when I went online to Amazon, I found that more detailed information are given to persuade consumers to purchase this book. The rating (4 out of 5 stars) and the number of customer reviews are placed right below the title. These statistics immediately attract people’s attention and assure customers the worthiness of reading this book.

Reviews also play a part in promoting life narrative online. Readers not only simply commented “Great book” or “highly recommended”, they go on to talk about how the book shapes or reshape their values, what they have learnt from the book and how they are going to respond. As they actively engage themselves in the narrative, they are promoting the book to potential readers at the same time by telling them how they can be benefit from it. They turned passive reading to active learning, and associate their own experience with the life narrative.

Image source: Amazon-

About me

Hello, and welcome to my UBC blog!

I am Emily, a first year arts student at UBC. Setting out the 4-year journey at UBC is both exciting and nervous to me. On one hand, it is amazing be in this magnificent campus with all the top-notch professors and excellent students. On the other, I am startled by the fact that I have to undergo insurmountable changes: the transition from high school to university, and the change in learning environment as an international student.

I was born in Burnaby, Canada. Yet, I spent most of my life in a tiny city across the Pacific- Hong Kong. Being raised in place with distinct cultural background and learning atmosphere has made me feel distant from my home country. I was overwhelmed when I first stepped on the land of Canada after having migrated for 14 years. Adapting a new life is never easy, but it is always well worth it to leave the comfort zone. This is exactly why I decided to come back: I want to be changed.

One thing that has brought me though this terrifying transition is to take part in the Global Citizens stream in Co-ordinated Arts Program (CAP). In this close-knitted learning community, I am surrounded by people from all over the globe. Despite having different backgrounds and experiences, we all share the same goal— to find our position in this ever-changing world and extend our influence beyond our reach.

The same is true when we study life narrative. More often than not life narrative is beyond a simple story of an individual. Rather, it is the exploration of underlying social phenomena and problems through looking from one’s lens.

Last year in September, the outbreak of umbrella movement in Hong Kong which ran counter to ungenuine universal suffrage put a spotlight on the 18-year-old protest leader Joshua Wong. As a student with great enthusiasm and acute social awareness, he fearlessly stood out from the crowd to fight for what 7 million Hong Kong people wished for- democracy. His courage successfully galvanized tens of thousands of people into protest, as well as catching the eye of the rest of the world on the political issue in a tiny city. Later in 2015, he was listed 10th  in Fortune magazine’s World’s 50 Greatest Leader.

Living in the same city, being at the same age, I was in awe of the achievement he had while I was burying myself in work and being apathetic about what is going on in the society. At the same time, I also started pondering the questions “How one person can change the world?” and “What are the qualities that enable a person to do so?”

Through the course of ASTU, I wish I could answer these questions and foster a deeper understanding about life narrative. Not merely reading, but rather learn from the authors and be the change one day.

Link to the example