Origin Story: Tasneem

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Books have always been a huge part of my life.

I learned to read in kindergarten and almost got bumped up a grade since I was already reading full novels by Grade One. During grade school, my bedside table held a stack of books so when I finished one, I could immediately pick up the next in the series. Recesses were spent wandering around the playground daydreaming about my Hogwarts letter, or wondering if I'd ever get to join W.I.T.C.H.

In high school, it was no different, though my choice in books changed and I realized stories weren't just exclusive to the written word. Manga took over my life, and I became enthralled in series like Fullmetal Alchemist and Fruits Basket, among many others.

I loved books so much that in university I decided to be an English and Classical Civilizations major. I would study books in one program, and Ancient Rome and Greece in the other. I thought it would be fantastic.

It was probably my first mistake.

Academia suggests that the only books worth studying in any capacity from any time period are written by white people. Usually white men. I read so many books that denied or ignored the existence of anything other than white, that it was actually exhausting. If they did somehow have a person of colour in the cast, they were usually unimportant or there to prove some sort of stereotypical racial point. History from books is fascinating, since you can learn a lot about a culture at any given time by reading their books. But sometimes, you want to hear a different perspective. A non-white perspective.

Reading about the "otherness" of Africa (as a whole continent, not a specific country or area), or reading about the "barbarians" of India was... disappointing. Yes, these books were written in a period of colonialists who thought they were bringing these people of colour civilization and manners. But with stories, shouldn't we always get to hear multiple sides? Fiction can do that. Fictional books can be written by anyone. Not just the victors.

It was pretty clear in university that books back in the day (and sometimes even now) only exist to perpetuate a status quo.

At least in manga, the characters for the most part are East Asian, unless based elsewhere. Some characters in Harry Potter were casted in the movies as black, and there's no way you can tell me Parvati and Padma Patil aren't some sort of brown. Even in The Hunger Games, there was an important black girl character (despite there being an uproar about her perfect casting choice in the movies).

But even now, in a globalized age, there aren't enough of us in stories.

My bookshelves remain a constant in my life. I've packed them to the brim and then built more just to make room for all the novels and stories I've collected through the years. Video games and movies have made the cut too, because they're stories too, presented to us in a different medium. I love all of them, but something always feels missing. So, another constant remains: There aren't enough of us.

KROS Magazine was an idea I had at the start of my Publishing program at Centennial College in 2016.

It started with wanting to see more South and Southeast Asian authors in bookstores, with stories that aren't toned down or diluted for a generalized audience. With stories that vary just as much as all the stories I had to read in university, but with people who aren't white leading the way.

One thing I learned during the program is that the publishing industry is primarily made up of white women. That means that when stories or authors are needed, they go to their friends who are other white women. It's not necessarily a biased structure, but rather a networking structure that is in desperate need of some diversity. I'm willing to help speed up that process by being part of your network. Like your foot in the door to what sometimes feels like a closed-off industry. An editor and publisher for your stories, to make sure they eventually see the light of day.

While there are successful authors from our demographic (like Sandhya Menon with When Dimple Met Rishi or Sabaa Tahir with An Ember in the Ashes, whose books I love and adore), I think there could be more of us. More whose stories add to the diverse nature of our cultures and backgrounds, so that the narrative we have isn't so homogenous.

Most of the time, our stories are lumped in with the narratives of the Middle East, or East Asia, because we're all considered to be "other," so it's easy to do that. But our stories aren't theirs.

I moved to Toronto, Ontario, in August of 2016. Until then, I lived in a city where the population was mostly all white. There was an Indian community, but because I was so whitewashed growing up, I didn't fit in at all. I didn't have the same cultural or religious restrictions. I didn't even know a word of my parent's language, Gujarati.

But all that meant to me was that there couldn't be one way to view me or my people. If I was so different, then surely others were too. So why were the Indian characters in TV shows and books so... the same? It was probably easier that way, to keep us all stereotyped.

Some people speak up in defense of their exclusively white-casted stories by telling us they're "more realistic," because some cities and towns "don't have minorities."

I don't believe that's true. If my hometown had an entire community of Indo-Pakistani people hidden in plain sight, then other places have us in them too. However, I do believe that in the pursuit of realism, we should be able to see more diversity within the characterizations of ourselves.

That means more stories, by us. And if the usual publishers won't print them on paper because they don't fit a sales target or keep the status quo, then I will. With KROS Magazine.

The program at Centennial gave me the knowledge and tools to make that happen, so why not use them for this purpose? There's no reason not to, and there's too many reasons why our voices need to be heard.

I will be the captain of this ship, and I will make sure it sets sail.

All aboard!