Becoming Storytellers for the Day: Recapping #StoriesofUs

By: Jack Xu


By Sanah Matadar, Social Media Coordinator

In early March MCIS partnered with the Department of Imaginary Affairs (DIA) to host newcomer interpreters and translators for the Stories of Us workshop. The goal of the workshop was three-fold:

1) Empower newcomers by providing them with an open space to share their stories. Allowing them them to do so should help participants feel that, as Canadian citizens, they have a voice

2) Create resource books from the stories, with side-by-side English and native language (i.e. mother tongue) translations, which may provide future newcomers with representative material of their situations, as well as a sense of belonging

3) Educate established Canadians about newcomers experiences and their journeys through first-person stories

So how did we achieve these three goals? Directed by Mathura, Project Manager of the DIA’s Stories of Us project, participants were first split into groups where they discussed the origin of their names. As humans and as individuals, we grow so used to our own names, we often forget that there are stories associated with them. Why were you given your name? What does your name mean? Was there a time that someone completely butchered the proper pronunciation of your name, and you were either too polite or too scared to bother correcting them. The latter is a peculiarly common experience among newcomers.

As Mathura explained, ‘When we think of our names, we don’t always think they’re interesting, because we’ve known them for so long. But there’re stories on how you and others feel about the name. How coming to Canada might change your name, either by shortening it, or changing it entirely.’ This opening activity demonstrated how many stories our names may carry, regardless of whether they are common names, or more unique ones.

Following this activity we were asked a version of the second most common question asked of newcomers, ‘Where are you from?’ This time, we were asking ourselves the question. It wasn’t as simple as answering with the name of our motherland or place of birth. In contrast, this activity taught participants that there are many more answers than just these typical ones. Examples included:

I am from three generations living under one roof.’

I am from love that traverses oceans.’

I am from a place where resources are poor.’

And my own personal favourite:

I am from the state where garba is in our heart.’  (Garba being a traditional Indian dance)

These answers make no explicit mention of a country, city, or neighborhood, but these answers provide hints, and could lead into further questions and conversations about a person. Workshop participants wrote a number of these statements, and then combined them to create a poem. Interested participants also had the chance to share their poems with the group.


The final activity of the morning was the most difficult, but also the reason we were all there: to tell a story. With the prompt that each of us had one story that wanted to be told that day, participants wrote outstanding, personal, and very honest accounts of what it was like for them to come to Canada, the difficulties of resettling, and what point of their journey they were at now. Many of the stories also touched on their roles in the language industry, and how their career choices contributed to becoming more comfortable in this new country, as it became a part of their identity. Below are excerpts from participant stories:

‘I have helped barriers come down. I have instilled hope, and provided a voice as an interpreter. I’m not a doctor, but I feel that I’ve saved lives, one word at a time.’

‘I wore a red dot on my forehead, anklets and ethnic clothes, and felt like a fish out of water…overtime, I worked at building my ability to make small talk, to improve my clothes, and even cut my hair. It didn’t help that I was missing my family, and couldn’t talk to anyone other than my husband, who was feeling the same way.’

‘Am I invisible to you if I don’t speak your language?’‘God was not able to help me with my language, but my ESL teacher did.’

‘I learned that it was okay to eat alone, and be on your own. I learned to enjoy my own company. A turning point was when I started travelling within Canada. It is such a beautiful country.’

‘To know and accept myself wouldn’t be possible if I didn’t move countries. I have many identities, and an immigrant is only one of them. This identity let me find who I really am.’

At the conclusion of the workshop, participants submitted their stories to the DIA to be turned into materials and story books for future newcomers, who might benefit from seeing representative material and stories of others who have gone through the same things that they themselves might go through.

The Stories of Us workshop was a unique opportunity, where newcomer translators and interpreters were provided an open space to speak to others who had experienced similar things, while also helping future newcomers. We extend a heartfelt thank you to the DIA for making this workshop possible, the interpreters and translators who took time out of their weekends to attend, and a special thank you to our Board Administrator and Communication Coordinator, Sarah Haque, for organizing the event and making MCIS’ participation possible.

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