By: Charlene Aviles, Peak Associate
In 2015, Filipina-Canadian Justine Yu attended the Toronto Feminist Art Conference. The stories she heard there from authors discussing their barriers to publication inspired her to take action. She then founded Living Hyphen to address the lack of media representation of hyphenated Canadians: those with multicultural identities. After establishing Living Hyphen, Yu continued to amplify these voices through magazines, podcast episodes, and writing workshops. In an interview with The Peak, she explained the importance of providing platforms such as these.
“I thought I was the only one who felt this way, who felt like I was straddling these two different cultures and places and struggling to fit in, or struggling to embrace my culture more wholly. But when I started Living Hyphen and I started to connect with more groups — not just within the Filipino community, but in different diasporas around the world — I realized that I’m not the only one,” explained Yu.
“If we can act as a support network for each other, I think that is really, really important. I think that’s something that everyone can play a part in,” she continued.
Yu recalled that, growing up, Filipino representation was limited to health care. She would like to see representation spread to other industries as well.
“Representation to me means being able to see people who look like me, who sound like me, in not just the shows that I watch, not just in the movies or the books that I read, but in different positions across different industries,” said Yu.
Recognizing the lack of multicultural representation in the writing industry, Yu decided to bridge that gap through Living Hyphen’s initiatives. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the brand transitioned from in-person to online events, and their scope expanded as participants from across Canada and the United States joined their writing workshops. Online platforms, such as the Living Hyphen podcast, also helped promote the stories of hyphenated Canadians.
In the podcast episode “Digging Roots,” spoken word poet Desiree Mckenzie uses a plant as an analogy for immigrating to Canada. Similar to a plant that has been transferred into new soil, newcomers in Canada also require nourishment to adapt. When asked about what resources would help newcomers adjust, Yu explained settlement agencies need to consider newcomers’ diverse experiences.
“I think that there are so many nuances that exist and that we can’t treat all newcomers as a generalization under one blanket,” said Yu.
Acknowledging that adaptable resources are also key to this transition, Living Hyphen partnered with the Department of Imaginary Affairs, an organization dedicated to increasing representation for newcomers. Their recent project, The Stories of Us, provides newcomers with English Language Learner (ELL) curriculums based on their cultures. Yu mentioned ELL programs require more input from newcomers on incorporating diversity into the curriculum, which is what The Stories of Us aims to address.
In addition to intersectionality, Living Hyphen values anti-racism and decolonization. At the Living Hyphen’s writing workshops and open-mic nights, participants are given a safe environment to discuss topics ranging from identity to culture.
These events tie into Yu’s motto, “You can’t pull a thread without unravelling the entire tapestry.” Living Hyphen recognizes the consequences of colonialism are interconnected and must simultaneously be addressed.
“All of these issues around racism are all interconnected, and it’s really difficult for us to just pick one problem and try to solve it without disrupting the entire system,” she said.
Supporters can stay updated with Living Hyphen by following their Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, @livinghyphen and pre-order their second issue Resistance Across Generations, which will be released July 15, 2021. The Living Hyphen podcast is available for streaming on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and wherever podcasts are found.