Origin Story: Gabrielle

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I’m not the best with words.

It’s been that way since I was a little kid struggling with talking properly even after kindergarten. It was simply another symptom of autism spectrum disorder that would also shape the person I am today and how I see the world. The combination of my race and being autistic made me look back on my life for more than 20 years and look real hard at how the combination of the two affected me.

Beyond struggling with English words, there’s the fact that I can’t struggle with Filipino words. Simply because I never learned the language. It’s not uncommon for children of immigrants to not learn their parent’s mother tongue when they’re busy working full time for financial security. But nonetheless, the language barrier along with the fact that I never grew up the “Filipino” way in the Philippines speaking Filipino made me feel like an outsider in a group of people tied together because they’re Filipinos. My own Filipino co-workers, who grew up in the Philippines, have said to my face that I’m not “really Filipino” because I only speak English.

It’s hard for me to comprehensively knit the words I need to describe the situation of being considered the “other” in overly-white Canadian society, while also being seen as “not really Filipino” among other Filipinos. My written words can’t do justice to the stories I want to tell, and yet those long 23 years of self-reflection have shown me that I don’t necessarily need only words to say that.

I’ve realized that my own path is to utilize my passion of illustrating to say the words that I can’t necessarily write. And that the splashes of lines and colours will inspire others to say their own words their own way.

Origin Story: Heba

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The fall I contracted carpal tunnel I used to cry myself to sleep, thinking that at 21 I was kissing the cadence of my handwriting goodbye. Most people with whom I speak about my writing are familiar with this vanity: that I love the look of my handwriting as much as your enticement with oven-fresh cookies, and that to me, flipping to a random page of a notebook and finding my script in fine graphite is one of the warmest comforts.

How I began is this: in 2005, I christened my first writing notebook, a white-and-yellow spiral 1-subject in which I wrote—what else but—Harry Potter fanfiction. I've been in love with story for as long as I can remember, but this journal was the first to be officially named (an apt "#1," of which I am now nearing 40) for creative purpose. I was in sixth grade and class time stretched too long, so I spent every period with my writing companion in front of me and my actual subject notes open on the corner of my desk. During break or at lunch I would pass around the notebook to my friends, who would read it and support me with bright eyes, and then pull out paper to write something, too. Inspired. We wrote, we shared, we spread.

By the end of that year I found my tools of the trade: FiveStar Advance Spiral 5- or 1-subject, Zebra M-301 mechanical pencil, white Staedler eraser. Come the inception of our writing club a year later, my friends joked that my pencil had written more stories than anyone else present, including myself. Actually, I should include my friends in the list, too, because even as they changed they were just as integral to my writing as any instrument.

It would make for a good story to say that I write because I have something to say. That early on I was left wanting for lack of myself in the things that I read, that I wanted to push through the crowd in the library hall of mirrors and chance upon a reflection that fit.

Not so. To be honest, I wrote then because it was fun, and it was something I was good at it, and because I liked it when the gang yoinked my notebook before I was finished. I liked that validation, and I liked the speed of it, and I liked it when somewhere along the line the hobby became ingrained me, when I started to not just write but think and dream in prose, to find story in every little thing, to, eventually, need voice memos while driving. I confess that sometimes I exist somewhere meta, thinking about real problems more as things to explore in a narrative than something with which I, you know, actually gotta deal.

I write now because turns of phrase are my lifeblood, because this is as necessary to me for a fulfilling life as love. Without it I feel half-dead, incomplete. Both satiation and depravity remind me that it was not a waste of time and energy to invest here.

It is only incidental that I happen to be Muslim and American and South Asian and whatever else before my ancestors immigrated there. This is all a selfish pleasure: I love prose and poetry and their mingling and I love sharing and being shared with and I love the look of my handwriting and my own literary cadence and to admire and analyze that of others, and I love to be Muslim and American and South Asian no matter the strife it causes me. And I love to amplify that love with and in others.

There is so much to be played with here. To write, to share, to spread. And so here I am.

Origin Story: Allyson

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When you attend an elementary school where POCs are the majority and racism is used as an effective form of bullying, because Russell Peters is the shit, you learn a thing or two about power.

We were the majority. We were represented in the classroom. We were supported. We were the norm. We joked about rice, curry, and pasta to diss each other, and we relished each other’s creative ways of twisting our cultures for our amusement. We were ignorant of many things.

I never understood that I was part of a minority until I reached university. Even though the signs were there in high school and other aspects of life, I was too caught up in books, band, and friends to process them. I knew what racism was, Grade 10 history taught me that, but something wasn’t clicking.

It wasn’t clicking because in elementary school I felt the freedom of a dominant culture where I was represented, where I wasn’t compartmentalized into a stereotype; except when we were dissing each other, of course.

In first year university, our teaching assistant said that one person in our tutorial group had achieved a perfect grade while handing back our midterms. Conscious of being the only POC and having an extensive knowledge of stereotypes, I got up. I wasn’t confident in my grade, so I was more focused on passing than being Southeast Asian. As I glanced at my passing mark, I returned to my seat, relieved. I heard one of my classmates whisper to another, “She’s the one who probably got it.”

Power is a hell of a drug.

When you realize that your elementary school disses were nothing new and used in propaganda to demonize an entire group of people, you start to realize your own ignorance. When you’re supposed to be smart because of your race, you realize to some, you’re of one dimension. When you’ve grown up in a space where you were the majority, you will do everything you can to empower the minority.

Everyone should have a space to feel empowered. Everyone should have a space to feel safe. Everyone should have a space.

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!