By: Kandace Price and Leslie Muñoz

From left to right - Nova, Mikael, Lucila, Dee, Tarah, Elaine & Anoshia. Photo by Luna Allison
From left to right – Nova, Mikael, Lucila, Dee, Tarah, Elaine & Anoshia.
Photo by Luna Allison.

A storytelling event entitled Love & Hate, was hosted at Venus Envy Ottawa on Feb. 14 as a youth-led alternative to traditional Valentine’s Day celebrations. The evening focused on exploring the lives and realities of girls of colour and girls who are newcomers to Canada living in Ottawa.

“These events are important because they bring people together in community and help to remind us all that we are not alone,” said Lucila Al Mar, one of the evening’s performers.

The event was attended by around 40 people and was hosted by Insight Theatre, a youth educational theatre program, run by Planned Parenthood Ottawa and the Girls Action Foundation, a national program to help young women build their skills and confidence.

“This was most definitely a community-wide effort,” said Luna Allison, event organizer and director of Insight Theatre. “It was focused on youth and anti-oppression and using performance as a way of helping youth to empower themselves.”

The night opened with Allison reading a statement from the Native Youth Sexual Health Network (NYSHN) entitled “Not Forgetting the Legacy and Honoring through Action.”

This was done in recognition of the Feb. 14 annual Day of Action and Memorial March aimed at remembering and honoring missing and murdered Indigenous women, girls, Two-Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Transsexual, Queer, Questioning, Intersex, Asexual (LGBTTQQIA), and gender non-conforming people as well as their families.

When the youth took to the stage, the talent of Ottawa’s young community leaders was instantly captivating. Each performance was intimate, and many touched on personally experienced instances of oppression and privilege in Canada.

“POCs [people of colour] aren’t given space to speak,” said Elaine Boileau who shared poetry about ancestry, identity, love, loss and lust. “Our experiences are erased and invalidated. This event provided a beautiful space for us to speak, relate, share and assert our intense strength.”

Other common themes of the night included displacement and disconnection from one’s homelands, as well as the struggles of resisting the Canadian assimilation process and its racism, religious bias, language barriers, ties to poverty and gender discrimination. Many of the stories were also rooted in the complexities of living as a racialized settler on colonized land.

The callout to performers for the show was open to anyone who identified with the pronoun “she, ” and the event was presented in a multi-language format so that artists could present in whatever manner they were most comfortable.

“I think it is very important to have events like these which are safe spaces for everyone to express themselves,” said Anoshia Quadri, a 19 year old Pakistani Canadian who spoke of gendered stereotypes and assimilation. “Ottawa has a great art community and I hope more events like these are organized so everyone can come out and really listen to what people have to say.”

This article first appeared in The Leveller Vol. 6, No. 5 (Feb/Mar 2014)