Beginning a new life on unfamiliar grounds presents a unique set of adversities. Immigrant writers face hardships when they travel to a new country, learn a new language, and attempt to establish a career while adapting to a different environment with distinct norms and practices than what they may be accustomed to. UTM Professor Rosa Hong reflects on these experiences and highlights how Quebec alleviates such encounters for immigrant and racially diverse writers by creating a safe and growing space.
Presented by the UTM Office of the Dean, the Experiential Education Unit, and the Mississauga Library System, “Lecture Me!” is a multidisciplinary series that explores research from various departments at UTM. Faculty members deliver a presentation each month about current research in an approachable and entertaining manner. In previous years, “Lecture Me!” events were held in person, but recently they’ve been hosted virtually through the WebEx platform on the first Tuesday of every month.
Registration for these talks can be found through the Mississauga Library’s Virtual Library.
Professor Hong specializes in 20th and 21st century French and Francophone literature, as well as French as a second language. She was born and raised in Korea and completed her master’s in French and comparative literature at the Université de Tours (University of Tours) in France. Subsequently, she immigrated to Canada and completed her Ph.D. at the University of Toronto in literary theories and contemporary French literature, soon becoming part of the faculty as an assistant professor. Professor Hong’s recent research and publications center on migrant writing in contemporary Quebec literature, transnational writers in Francophone literature, and experiential learning in French language teaching.
Her research also revolves around literature and transcultural writing. This month, Professor Hong explores how Quebec welcomes diversity through the reception of authors who belong to various cultural backgrounds. This talk explores how authors of different ethnicities share many common factors such as transculturation, immigration, identity and alterity, memory, and relationship with the French language. Specifically, this month focuses on three immigrant Quebec authors—Aki Shimazaki, Ying Chen, and Kim Thuy.
First, Professor Hong provides a brief background on Aki Shimazaki, a Japanese writer who enrolled in a language school to learn French at the age of 40 and has lived in Montreal since 1991. Although Shimazaki writes pieces inspired by matters of experience, Professor Hong makes the point that Shimazaki is a private person. Shimazaki does not provide much context about her personal life during her interviews but rather expresses herself through her writing. She prefers to adhere to a style of writing that consists of short and direct sentences—in a rather minimalist fashion. Shimazaki continuously publishes books and releases one story every year, later turning them into a pentalogy. Her debut series is titled “The Weight of Secrets,” in French: “Le Poids des Secrets.” Each volume is ascribed a Japanese title that explores a global view of the history of two families that appear to live parallel lives but also possess their own private interconnections.
Among an assortment of topics, Shimazaki writes about world crime, incest, infanticide, genocide, suicide, bullying, infidelity, gender and racial discrimination, and more. By creating a sense of intimacy and conspiracy between reader and text, Shimazaki introduces intertextuality while incorporating a sphere of her own work. Shimazaki reveals in previous interviews that she resists including certain details in her books, and drafts her novels in a way that allows readers to interpret the stories themselves.
Next, Professor Hong presents another renowned writer, Kim Thuy. Thuy was born in Vietnam but fled with her family to Quebec 10 years later in 1978. She has acquired degrees from the Université de Montréal (University of Montreal) in linguistics and translation, and in law. Working in several occupations as a translator, interpreter, lawyer, and food commentator, Thuy eventually began publishing novels that quickly gained fame and esteem throughout Canada but also made traction and garnered attention internationally.
One of the fundamental themes in her writings is food, so much so that she has published a cookbook and is the proprietor of a restaurant known as “Ru de Nam,” located in Montreal. Thuy’s debut novel titled “Ru” is a bestseller in Quebec and France and is translated into 28 languages. Through the medium of food, Thuy shares the process of becoming a new person who experiences transcultural systems.
Lastly, Ying Chen is a Chinese-Canadian author who was born in Shanghai and earned a degree in French language and literature from Shanghai University in 1983. Previously, she worked as a translator and interpreter. In 1989, she immigrated to Montreal and completed a master of arts at McGill University in 1991. Chen studies multiple languages, including Russian, English, French, Italian, and dialects of Mandarin. Since then, she has published multiple novels, with her first being “La Mémoire de L’eau.”
Chen’s writings enable readers to emotionally sympathize with the feelings of confusion, solitude, loneliness, loss, nostalgia, and regret that many immigrants experience. However, her novels not only speak to immigrants making their way into new countries, but to any individual who has experienced similar emotions of exile or solitariness. In fact, Chen’s work may also communicate to people affected by the Covid-19 pandemic who endure feelings of isolation and deprivation.
As presented through this lecture, these three authors who share common experiences substantiate Quebec as a fertile ground for authors who identify with different origins, cultures, and beliefs. Despite the challenges of diversity revealed previously in the media, Quebec accomplishes a successful accommodation and meaningful integration of the merits and principles of diversity and togetherness that Canada was built upon.
Aki Shimazaki, Kim Thuy, and Ying Chen epitomize the opportunities that Quebec creates for immigrant writers searching for a reputation as authors and exploring new mediums for their work. While it is difficult for any individual to settle into a new nation, the province has proven its ability to support and advocate for ethnic writers through these three distinguished Asian-Canadians.
The three writers have all received multiple awards and recognition for their work and continue to inspire readers and writers alike. Not merely did they adapt to an unfamiliar territory, but they also convey their own experiences of immigration and identity into their work for individuals to read and relate to. Their publications continue to gain admiration by large audiences, prompting and inspiring other racially diverse writers to advance their professions in Quebec. Professor Hong’s “Lecture Me!” presentation highlights the resiliency and dedication of these writers. As she ties their work to her research, we begin to understand the space that these writers occupy and the messages they convey through their writing. Professor Hong, Aki Shimazaki, Kim Thuy, and Ying Chen create a connection between migrants and identity, and between humans and the pandemic.