Tuesday, March 6, 2012

and the "Canadian Experience"

Stopped at a convenience store on my way to work today

My mind has been much preoccupied with why reviewers of theatre in the city struggle  to see themselves in the works of playwrights whose perspectives are not borne of the hegemony. This bleeds over into the prioritization of the style guide's dictates over the identifying all peoples as fully self-actualized humans in journalism eg. most newspaper do not capitalize "Aboriginal" but they all capitalize "Caucasian." Nestruck’s recent review of my play, Native Earth’s free as injuns focused on how the play compares to Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms. Indeed, most events listings emphasize the O'Neill influence but omit the "Canadian Experience." We’ve been quite explicit that the play I’ve written is inspired by both.  The importance of that struck home again today.

The woman who runs the convenience store works extremely long days, and has since NEPA has been in the Distillery. That’s at least seven years that this Korean/Canadian has invested in her place in our city, our country. This morning, the woman ahead of me – rather bedraggled, unlit cigarette dangling from her lips, and smelling of last night’s bevvies – tried to pay for her coffee and Bic lighter. She pulled change, hands shaking, from all pockets and amongst it was a fifty cent piece. When the woman who runs the store asked about it, the customer flippantly replied that it is money and she should take it. Her cigarette bobbed as she exclaimed “People use them all the time!” When this was questioned, she spat “Well, people in THIS country use them, you just don’t know any better.” Without the fifty cent piece, she could not afford the two items.

 photo of John Ng and Ash Knight in free as injuns by Juan Camilo Palacio

In the past, I would have immediately decided to intercede and tear the offending woman down with words. Today, instead of angry, I felt sad. In the face of this “get back on the boat” bullshit, the woman who runs this busy store told the surly woman she could pay her the next time she was in. In thanks, the rough one said “That’s more like it.” She looked from me to the proprietor, and over to an elderly South Asian man who was seated in the store having a breakfast sandwich. In that moment, in those four walls, she was the minority. 

There is a fear out there - a fear by the once-termed "dominant culture" that they will become irrelevant, as we rformer "minorities" thrive. My colleagues - Nina Lee Aquino, Shahin Sayadi, Philip Akin, Donna Michelle St. Bernard, David Yee, Ravi Jain and so many more - work to propose how the world will be if we include each other inherently.

I submitted a request for approval for a comment on Mr. Nestruck's review. It read "Thank you for coming to our opening, Mr. Nestruck, especially given that there are five other shows by wonderful talents in the city this week. In future, I hope you and your editors will consider capitalizing the term "aboriginal" as you have with "European."" It was denied. How, then, to have a dialogue with such polarities?
This, all too often, is the "New Canadian" experience. 
This is the First Nations experience in "Canada." 
This is the new "Canadian Experience." It includes us all.

-contributed by Tara Beagan


  1. Hi Tara,

    Your comment was approved and appears under my review online...

    As for the capitalization of Aboriginal, that's not The Globe and Mail's style - but if you have an argument for why it should be, I encourage you to email it to me and I'll pass it on to the committee that rules on such matters.

    If you don't have my email it's: knestruck@globeandmail.com



  2. Thanks, Kelly

    Admittedly, I didn't click on "comments" until yesterday. I was expecting comments to appear automatically beneath the piece, with a count alongside them. A habit of a CBC news reader.

    I'll email you.

    Tara B