Voices of the (in)visible

  • Rashmi Luther (Editor), Vanaja Dhruvarajan (Editor), Ikram Jama (Editor), Yumi Kotani (Editor), Monia Mazigh (Editor), Peruvemba S. Jaya (Editor) and Lucya Spencer (Editor)
    Resilience and Triumph: Immigrant Women Tell Their Stories. Second Story Press (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Ziyan Yang

Resilience and Triumph provides a collection of personal stories of over fifty racialized women who came to live in Canada during the last five decades. From international students in their twenties to retirees in their seventies, the narrators, from various cultural communities (with a focus leaning towards Indian and South Asian diasporas), verbalize their life journey as “the Other,” their negotiation for a coherent identity through numerous parameters such as race, gender, class, religion, and culture—notions which are constantly questioned and redefined through their narration of migration.

With an emphasis on “the role of women as reproducers of culture and nation,” the book aims at preserving the stories of women considered as “visible minority,” and gives voice to those “physically visible” but “socially invisible” women who have often been ignored and muted in mainstream writing during the second-wave feminist movement in Canada. These women’s stories, in a variety of forms (essays, fiction, poetry, letters, etc.), are grouped in five thematic categories, each representing one aspect of their self-discovery journey shaped by a mixture of cultural, social, and historical contexts.

The first section, “Arrival: Losses and Gains,” recounts the first stage of migration: the process of acculturation in which the immigrant redefines her cultural identity, torn between memories of her home country and the new reality of her adoptive country. The second section, “Integration or Assimilation? A Process of Negotiation and Settlement,” examines experiences of settlement and integration of immigrant women, their successes as well as some systematic challenges encountered, including racism, sexism, language, and accent. In the third section, “Identity: Women’s Journeys to Becoming and Belonging,” three generations of racialized women reflect on their quest for belonging and identity, a perpetual negotiation between multiple communities and heritages. The fourth section, “Exploring Feminisms,” questions singular and linear conceptions of Western/white feminism by presenting stories in which racialized women relate their personal life experiences to the principles and ideals of this Western-centred discourse. If the term feminism evokes among these women a commitment to equality, justice, solidarity, and tolerance—not only on gender issues but also on related to race, culture, religion, and social status—this commitment is carried out in the stories of the concluding section, “Activism: Shaping Our World.” The accounts of racialized women’s engagement in community activism in this section demonstrate efforts to correct prejudicial and discriminatory policies and practices against marginalized people, such as racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia, among others.

Despite the very different cultural, social, and historical backgrounds of the stories, certain similarities are revealed in the experience of migration narrated by these racialized women: constant tensions between their contradictory worlds, barriers to integration due to their difference and “visibility,” and reconciliation with their hyphenated identity, for example. Their voices not only document the evolution of “Canada’s political, economic, social, and cultural landscapes” regarding immigration, but also offer alternative expressions of feminism and a plural feminist narration in liminal spaces at the intersection of race, culture, language, gender, and class.

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