Review by Jaclyn T. San Antonio
On October 1, 2016, the University of Toronto’s Centre for Women’s Studies in Education (CWSE) hosted community members for the book launch of Resilience and Triumph: Immigrant Women Tell Their Stories (2015). Featuring an extensive collection of personal stories from racialized immigrant women in Canada, this new publication represents an important contribution to our public understanding and recognition of the injustices that so many women face when coming to this country. Despite experiences of exclusion, isolation, racism, patriarchy, and marginalization, the women’s stories reveal their indomitable spirit of resilience in navigating these challenges within everyday lived realities. It is this capacity for resiliency that is their ultimate triumph in not only coming to Canada but in contributing to its promise and potential. To borrow the words of Yasmin Juwani, author of the book’s preface, the featured stories are those “of strength and resilience in the face of adversities; persistence in the face of exclusion; rejuvenation in the face of isolation; and above all, hope against all hope.”
The two-hour event was particularly meaningful for the CWSE since the book was dedicated to memory of the late Roxana Ng, former director of the CWSE. During the presentation, Ng was honour as a “true pioneer in the immigrant women’s field,” whose life and work will continue to inspire generations of feminist activists to come.
Featured speakers at the book launch included members of the Book Project Collective who edited and compiled the collection (including Rashmi Luther, Iram Ahmed Jama, and Monia Mazigh) as well as individual authors who contributed to the collection (including Pramila Aggarwal, Silmi Abdullah, Eve Haque, and Vanaja Dhruvarajan). The speakers explained the process of putting the book together as a collaborative commentary on women’s “herstory” – one that has otherwise been buried in the traditional nation-building stories of Canada. Among the most powerful moments of the event was when individual authors read excerpts from their chapters, articulating the details of their experiences and their reflections on what it means to “belong” in Canada—an overarching theme in the book.
Silmi Abdullah, a Toronto-based lawyer, shared the following about her experiences in law school and a time when she was mistaken as the interpreter by a judge.
“It was interesting that despite three university degrees and nine years of post-secondary education my hijab and brown skin had, in the judge’s mind, eliminated the possibility of my being the law student/lawyer-to-be… Ever since I arrived in Canada in 1998, and particularly after 9/11, I have repeatedly had narratives of early marriage, oppression, violence, and male misogyny imposed upon my body. My outward appearance continues to render me an empty receptacle, a blank slate for assumptions, prejudices, and myths.”
Reflecting further upon this experience in the context of the book’s goals, Abdullah shared that her participation in the project was a conscious effort to challenge dominant narratives about women of colour and women of faith—that is, of women whose stories are too often written for them. “For me,” she explained, “it was a microcosm of my life’s project, which is to write my own life story.”
Overall, the book launch for Resilience and Triumph was provocative, inspiring, and mobilizing. It provided a forum for voices to be heard, words to be read, and stories to be told. And in that respect, it was far more than a book launch. It was a moment for a community to gather together in listening to and celebrating the collective courage and wisdom of racialized immigrant women who have shaped and continue to redefine resilience in the context of contemporary challenges. Indeed, at a time when world issues emphasize the divisiveness among various social groups, the event and the book is a reminder about finding strength in community.