Some of my friends might wonder how I, a white Canadian-born settler, became editor of a new media outlet focusing on arts and culture from underrepresented communities.
I feel that they deserve an explanation. So here goes.
But before I begin, I want to emphasize that Pancouver is not about me. On this site, you won’t read any of my thundering diatribes about politics, the climate, or COVID-19. I covered all these subjects as editor of the Georgia Straight.
For me, Pancouver is not a performative exercise. Rather, this new media outlet is about opening doors for others. I should mention that I’m part of a great team of talented people.
Pancouver is also about offering mentorship and educational opportunities. It’s about trying to be a responsible ally to communities that sometimes feel marginalized and alienated by the mainstream media. The best way I can do that is by devoting my time to a platform where they can share their stories and shed more understanding on the many manifestations of what it means to be Canadian.
Fortunately, The Society of We Are Canadians Too has provided me with this chance.
In a perfect world, I will help the society launch this new media outlet, nurture its growth, and then pass along the editorship to someone else once it’s truly flourishing. I’m not getting any younger—and the best thing I can do after 35 years in the media is share what I’ve learned with others.
I come from a family of educators. And I’ve been very privileged to have many doors open for me in my life—opportunities that often haven’t been available to others. That included seven years as a journalism instructor at Kwantlen University College (now Kwantlen Polytechnic University).
Education opens minds
Through a series of lucky events, I ended up in journalism. That provided me with a lifetime of learning experiences.
Journalism also enabled me to spend a great deal of time with people from other cultures. This opened my mind in ways that I never imagined as a youth growing up in Victoria.
For much of my time in the media, I focused on news and current events, occasionally dabbling in arts and entertainment. But over the years, I also spent a great deal of time writing about specific cultural festivals in Vancouver with a more international orientation. They included Indian Summer, TAIWANfest, and Carnaval del Sol. For me, this was very intellectually stimulating.
My life took a turn in September of 2020 when the longtime arts editor of the Georgia Straight, Janet Smith, left for a new venture. She was extremely capable and this occurred in the midst of the pandemic. Because there wasn’t a budget to hire a new arts editor, I took on the job in addition to my other responsibilities.
Little did I know how enjoyable this would become. I found a new calling writing feature articles about artists from diverse communities.
One of them was Penticton-born producer, singer, dancer, actor, and choreographer Krystal Kiran. She shared her experiences as a self-described “third culture kid”, who travelled the world performing with Bollywood songwriting legend A.R. Rahman. She explained how she came to love the Indian diaspora, which had made this international tour possible.
“To feel ‘otherized’ or to feel ashamed that we’re not enough…I was, like, ‘You know what? No! I’m going to lovingly call bullshit on that and say the fact that we can straddle two kinds of cultures is our superpower’,” Kiran told me.
Watch Krystal Kiran’s Thy Beauty’s Doom, a tribute to murder victim Maple Batalia.
Let’s explore the Canadian identity
This interview introduced me to a new term coined by Kiran: “third-culture kids”. They are completely comfortable at home in Canada and also working abroad in countries where there parents were born.
It led us to put Kiran on the cover of the paper. She was so bold about sharing her story, including painful moments along the way.
Another cover story that deeply affected me was about Haitian-Canadian visual artist Émilie Régnier, whose work was featured at last year’s Capture Photography Festival. Through self-portraits and text, she revealed how perceptions about herself differed, depending on whether she had an afro or had straightened her hair.
Who knew that a hairstyle could say so much about our country?
“I think this work is borne out of a form of pain—or scream—that I had to repress for too long,” Régnier told me.
These articles whetted my appetite for more cover stories about artists exploring different aspects of the Canadian identity. Some of my favourites included pieces about Giller Prize–winning writer Ian Williams, trans artist and writer Vivek Shraya, Taiwanese Canadian singer-songwriter Van Lefan, and Punjabi Canadian playwright and actor Gavan Cheema.
I can’t wait to share more stories like these in the years to come. If you know any artists from underrepresented communities who deserve the spotlight, please let us know by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks!
Follow Charlie Smith on Twitter @charliesmithvcr.