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Piecing the experience together-Part 1

July 8, 2010 | Elsa

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The latest release edited by well-known Canadian author, Teresa Toten, is called Piece by Piece: Stories about fitting into Canada. This anthology features short stories written by Canadian writers who migrated to a new country. Through their stories, they share their experiences of trying to belong as a teen in their new surroundings. These authors also explore the meaning of becoming Canadian.

I had a chance to chat with Teresa:

1. Your latest book Piece by Piece shares stories by writers who are immigrants, what was your inspiration for this book?
The emotional response to Me and the Blondes and Better Than Blondes, my last two books, took me completely by surprise.  My hero is a teen-age Polish-Bulgarian immigrant who cloaks herself in the bullet-proof armour of having beautiful blonde friends. First and second-generation Canadian kids related to Sophie quite fiercely.  So I really started paying attention to my auditorium audiences. Not surprisingly, they clearly reflected the fact that Canada has the highest immigration rate in the world.  Where were their stories and books I wondered?  We were definitely getting better about publishing novels about kids and teen in other countries but again, where were all the stories about young immigrants coming here and trying to fit into this country, into Canada?  It became a bit of an obsession.

2. When you were growing up as an immigrant, when did you start to realize your “otherness”?
One of the more interesting and subtle ways of making me feel “other” was how old I felt at such a young age.  Like so many immigrant children or children of immigrants, I felt I was 32 years old by the time I was 7.  You could spot us a mile away,so many immigrant kids have that weight of maturity about them. 
Aside from dealing with any prejudice or adjustment issues, it comes from being the family spokesmen, translators, and record keepers as soon as you’re old enough to read. I dealt with the banks, landlords and lawyers, wrote out checks and cancelled subscriptions to the Toronto Star that Mama kept mistakenly agreeing to every other month by Grade 2. I knew none of my friends, in none of the schools I went to were doing this.  I also knew to keep it secret.  Then, like a lot of immigrants and single mothers, mama had to work long and hard hours. She had a day job, then cleaned offices, two nights a week and then cleaned houses on Saturdays.  I knew to keep this a secret from my Canadian friends as well, most of their mums were at home baking things. That level of independence meant that I had to more or less raise myself, which is not untypical of new immigrant stories even today.  So in many ways, I felt “other” on the first day of school and have been compensating fast furious ever since.

More from the interview later this week. Watch for it! :)