The Stories of Us: An Exercise In World-Making
The Stories of Us as a product is the first ever English as a Second Language (ESL) library of stories written and told by newcomers to Turtle Island, for newcomers to Turtle Island. Born of a need for ESL resources that are representative of and relevant to the adult newcomer experience, it is an age- and culturally- appropriate alternative to offering them children’s books designed for native English speakers. The Stories of Us as a program is a safe, transitional space for newcomers to Canada to construct / reconstruct their story after the life-altering event that is immigration. The process of birthing and cultivating both product and program has been rooted in an ongoing practice of generative refusal, as defined by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson. In this presentation, we share how we are working to refuse colonial recognition from the settlement sector by embodying alternatives embedded in self- and reciprocal recognition. This includes honouring newcomers’ mother tongues on par with English, creating spaces to integrate their work and life experiences from before immigration rather than deeming them invalid or inferior to “Canadian experience”, acknowledging the co-existence of seemingly dissonant feelings like grief and gratitude, and approaching scale as a community-building effort.
stories; newcomer; world-making; generative refusal
Mathura Mahendren is a design researcher by nurture, and a storyteller by nature. As the daughter of asylum-seeking refugees fleeing state-sanctioned genocide in Sri Lanka, who now resides on stolen land on Turtle Island, the desire to reconcile the dissonances within her lineage and ancestry is often made manifest in her work. As the Program Manager of The Stories of Us program at the Department of Imaginary Affairs, she has co-designed, tested, and trained settlement service providers on several curricula and toolkits that engage newcomers to Turtle Island in storytelling that honours their intersectional identities. Mathura is also engaged in developing and facilitating a course at McMaster University that guides students through critically examining their personal lineage (who/what/where they are from), their power and privilege, their relationship to community, and the intersections between them. A common thread across Mathura’s bodies of work is a commitment to designing and sharing tools, frameworks, and brave spaces that can hold individuals, groups, and relationships through difference, discomfort, grief, change, and ultimately, growth. Mathura has a Bachelor of Health Sciences from McMaster University, a Masters of Design in Strategic Foresight and Innovation from OCADU.