Gendai: Collective Futures

“I’m one of those people who believes deeply in the suburbs as a place of brilliance. It’s a place of complexity, but a place of brilliance too … What do we need for collective work to happen, be supported, and to create the conditions for brilliance to not be an exception, but for brilliance to be the constant.”  

Part 1  

Throughout its 20-year history, Gendai has led experimental curatorial and organizational practices for East Asian artists and artists of colour.  As the new stewards of Gendai, Marsya Maharani and Petrina Ng are building upon the organization’s legacy of decentering whiteness by investing in the future of BIPOC arts leadership through collective practice. 

In the first part of the episode, Marsya and Petrina take us down memory lane, revisiting specific mall spaces in the suburbs of Toronto that hold intimate meaning to their experience growing up as children of immigrant families. Together, they reflect on malls as sites of cultural tension and othering, but also suburban collectivity. The suburban experience of quietness and loneliness ultimately drove them to leave for the downtown city to forge a practice rooted in imagining collective futures. 

Part 2 

Marsya and Petrina are then joined by independent curator and community organizer Anu Radha Verma. They unpack their shared personal connection to the suburban immigrant experience (in Scarborough, Mississauga, and North York) as a formative seed that influences their advocacy for collective work today. Together, they daydream about creating new language for diasporic identities, amplifying dialogue around care and decolonization, moving from a scarcity to abundance mentality, and re-imagining suburban malls as community hubs that disrupt the capitalist idea of what space is supposed to be. 

Anu Radha Verma is a queer, diasporic sometimes-femme, a cis woman, a survivor and a mad person. She believes strongly in the brilliance that exists in the suburbs of Peel. Anu grew up in Mississauga, and has organized across the region. She likes to be identified primarily as an agitator or shit disturber. Anu Radha (or arv) organizes with QTBIPOC sauga, a grassroots gathering of queer and trans, Black, Indigenous and people of colour communities from across Peel. She hosts a weekly show focused on social justice issues in Peel and beyond on Newstalk Sauga 960 AM. Anu is an independent curator, a community-based consultant, and most recently a research manager. She is still figuring out what it means to have hobbies, and dreams about deep and true rest, for those she loves (and hopefully for herself). 

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Transcript

Desire Paths 
Gendai: Collective Futures 

Hima: [00:00:00] Welcome to Desire Paths  

[00:00:27] presented by Luminato with Toronto based foresight studio, From Later. I’m Hima Batavia, one of the curators of this audio experience. 

[00:00:36] What are desire paths? They are unpaved passages slowly carved into the terrain of a city, formed by the citizens own walking tracks and guided by their belief in a better way. 

[00:00:48] In this six-episode series, we are exploring possible futures of Toronto through the imaginations of local artists and urbanists. Each artist takes us on a field trip. One that weaves histories and futures into a vision of what this city could be today. Artists Petrina Ng and Marsya Maharani take us into the possible futures of collective work using a tour of suburban malls 

[00:01:14] they frequented during their upbringing as a backdrop to reflect on their personal stories of othering in isolation. The led them to take over arts collective Gendai and center its mission and shaping structures for collective work. In the second part of the episode, Mississauga organizer, curator, and radio host Anu Radha Verma joins the conversation, 

[00:01:37] also reflecting on their story and calling attention to the undervalued brilliance of the suburbs that is being realized through new ways of collective work and community care. Please note that this episode includes mature subject matters, including referencing various mental health challenges. 

[00:01:56] Consider putting on your shoes and going for a walk. Use the episode as a meditation to carve your own desire paths for the city in all its beauty, complexity, and contradictions. 

[00:02:14] Marsya: [00:02:14] Hey everyone. I’m Marsya Maharani  

Petrina: and I’m Petrina Ng  

Marsya: and we’re from the collective Gendai. Gendai originally founded as Gendai gallery to create space for east Asian artists and artists of color.  

[00:02:26] Petrina: In 2019 Marsya and I took over Gendai and shifted our collective work into responding to the conditions of arts work for BIPOC practitioners. 

[00:02:39] And we invest in the future of BIPOC arts leadership through collective practice and research.  

[00:02:47] Marsya:  Yeah, I mean, this conversation really stemmed from a lot of different conversations with the conversations we had at Gendai MA MBA, which is a yearlong ish think tank that we’re a part of. Gendai MA MBA stands for mastering the art of misguided business administration. 

[00:03:05] And we gathered a total of nine DIY collectives, um, working within visual arts in the GTA. And we want to be able to cite the fact that a lot of these ideas come from these conversations and we are very indebted to the work that our fellow collectives are doing. And, uh, we regret that we can’t bring them into this conversation where it would be very difficult to bring in 40 practitioners to talk about all of our dreams together. 

[00:03:36] But I definitely want to bring in their names. Our cohort of MA MBA includes BAM – Books, Art, Music Collective, Bump TV, Durable Good, Glory Hole Gallery, MICE Magazine, Tea Base, Whippersnappers Gallery, and Younger Than Beyonce.  

[00:03:54] Petrina: [00:03:54] So one footnote I wanted to make was when we talk about how we settle new people into this so-called nation state of Canada, in addition to isolating and creating new neoliberal subjects, there’s also zero discussion around 

[00:04:12] Settler colonialism. And that’s, you know, typical of someone who went through the entire Canadian educational system, but especially typical of a newcomer, because you’re asking newcomers to think about where they are, think about how thankful they are to be on this land, but then completely leave out this whole other narrative. 

[00:04:33] Marsya: [00:04:33] Today we’re going to take you on a journey through the suburbs of Toronto. It’s really a trip down memory lane to some of the spaces where we grew up, mostly malls, mostly malls in the suburbs. How does has shaped our thinking and our practice today? 

[00:05:06] Petrina: [00:05:06] So the first site that I wanted to bring us to is a little strip mall called Scarborough Village Mall in Scarborough in Agincourt, where I grew up. My parents immigrated to Canada as part of the kind of large wave of Cantonese diaspora from Hong Kong in the lead up to the Hong Kong handover that saw Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule after 150 years of being a British colony. 

[00:05:42] And so Scarborough Village Mall is a kind of one-story strip mall that houses the first restaurant I remember eating at as a small child and in particular, I think it’s architecture is really interesting and really strange. It kind of looks like it was designed to resemble a European Villa. It has, um, those clay roofing tiles and these like quaint awnings, which was, you know, like totally out of place for a suburban strip mall in the eighties. 

[00:06:24] In particular, I remember this public art mural being painted and it’s still here on the side of the building. It depicts a kind of like Chinese wet market. I recently came across a little blurb about this mural in a booklet that curatorial collective Aisle Four lent me. And that’s where I learned that the mural was created by a white artist. 

[00:06:59] And that the desire behind this mural was to encourage white residents to welcome this new Chinese steel sport community into, into the neighborhood. But I have this very vivid memory of the very strong public controversy that surrounded this mural. Way up in the right-hand side corner of this market scene, there were a number of very small hanging chickens in a window. 

[00:07:32] And I remember even as a small child, not understanding the hypocrisy because this mural like directly faced a restaurant that had real hanging – well they were ducks, but like real hanging roast ducks in their window. And yet there was such outrage in response to this mural. And so, this was like, you know, an experience I remember thinking was like kind of silly and funny and strange, but it’s only now as an adult, like thinking back on it that I understand the kind of greater context around the racism and like discomfort of 

[00:08:14] The new immigrant communities coming into this, like more established suburban neighborhood and how this mural for me really highlights some of those cultural tensions.  

[00:08:26] Marsya: [00:08:26] Okay. So the mural was commissioned to welcome new immigrants, but all the customers are white. And, but also, I’m noticing like all the texts is in English. 

[00:08:39] Like there’s definitely a class dynamic situation here right. It even, it just kind of feels like these people are working at a market to serve the white community.   

[00:08:53] Petrina: [00:08:53] Right. And I really noticed like the use of an antique scale that kind of like represents that non-Western cultures are, you know, like uncivilized or underdeveloped. Yeah. That was really prominent to me. The mall looks exactly the same as I remember it. What really struck me was like how much more sky is visible compared to being downtown. When I used to visit the small as a kid, there were these, um, plastic bunting flags that were strewn, like across the parking lot from rooftop to rooftop, sort of like, uh, a used car dealership. 

[00:09:37] And that sound really filled the silence of what would otherwise be like such a quiet, suburban strip mall. And at one point there was a fountain at the small too, but I think it’s been defunct for a long time.  

[00:09:53] Marsya: [00:09:53] So now, like in terms of sound, there’s no sound of fountain, sound of flags. It’s just a strip mall. 

[00:10:02] Petrina: [00:10:02] Yeah. It’s just pretty quiet now. 

[00:10:10] And so the small is on Midland, north of Finch. And if we go further north to Pacific Mall, what is now Pacific Mall is our next stop. 

[00:10:31] this was, you know, a mall that I remember being built. At the time it was known as the largest Asian mall in north America. And specifically, I remember when this mall was built it also similarly was met with real community tensions, um, because it replaced this kind of like. I’m not even sure what it was. 

[00:10:57] It was kind of like an attraction called Cullen Country Barns. And it was this kind of like nostalgic attraction and shopping center for early settler narratives was kind of like going to like a farming barn to like buy things from like farmers. And I remember that they tore down this farm themed attraction to build Pacific Mall, which is still there now. 

[00:11:29] And it was really upsetting for so many of the older residents in the community. I remember that there was a lot, a lot of criticism of the design of the mall, which people complained to that it looked like an airplane hangar. And now like looking back at images of Cullen Country Barns on the internet, I can see that residents thought that it was like this like quaint historic site that was being torn down for that kind of like slick industrial building. 

[00:12:04] And that was really upsetting along with the kind of undertones of feeling that discomfort that their neighborhood is changing and that the, their neighbors who their neighbors were, were changing as well. But I recently looked up Cullen Country Barns and read that none of the structures were actually historic. 

[00:12:26] There was just a kind of assumption that they were.  

[00:12:30] Marsya: [00:12:30] I’m like looking at photos of this barn and videos of it from YouTube. And it’s just like another mall on the inside.  

[00:12:41] Petrina: [00:12:41] On the inside you mean? Yeah. Yeah. It has this kind of like manufactured nostalgia for heritage. That yeah. Is, um, false? Is that too strong a word?  

[00:12:54] Marsya: [00:12:54] Well, I think it looks like, um, an amusement park, so it is manufactured. 

[00:13:03] Petrina: [00:13:03] Right, right. And on that YouTube video, you’re watching you pointed out that comment that said, oh, there were no knockoffs here at Cullen Country Barns. 

[00:13:15] Marsya: [00:13:15] Yeah. A lot of 

[00:13:15] Petrina: [00:13:15] uh, kind of underhanded dig at Chinese knockoffs being sold at Pacific Mall. I’m not even sure how counterfeit items became specifically associated with Chinese markets when, you know, the idea of counterfeit items exist everywhere. Like counterfeits are everywhere.  

[00:13:35] Marsya: [00:13:35] Well, in a sense that this barn itself is manufactured.  

[00:13:40] Petrina: [00:13:40] It’s a counterfeit and it’s yeah, Shellie Zhang, dear friend and an incredible artist has done a lot of really interesting research about counterfeit culture. 

[00:13:52] And she points to how, you know, there’s a real disdain for Chinese counterfeits in European fashion design. But when European fashion designers borrow aesthetics or like features of Asian culture, it’s seen as a celebration and that like that same generosity is not reciprocated when thinking about Chinese items, borrowing European designs. 

[00:14:26] Marsya: [00:14:26] Yeah and so much of this is also internalized, like I’m thinking about my family also in the kind of pride they would feel like, for example, in our family WhatsApp group, my aunts shared a photo of, I think it was Dior who took elements from a traditional Indonesian kind of like handicraft. And, you know, everyone’s like so proud to be seen and acknowledged is that kind of multiculturalism that we are, did I feel like we’re accustomed to accepting is this idea that if your goods can be appreciated on the market in a global market, then that means inclusion somehow,  

[00:15:18] Petrina: [00:15:18] but also by global market, you mean by like, oh, Western taste. 

[00:15:23] Marsya: [00:15:23] Yeah, exactly. But, you know, regardless of the fact that that was appropriated and regardless of the fact that inclusion doesn’t stop in just acceptance of consumable goods, it’s about actually being able to listen to different ways of thinking and understand that as an expertise in its own, right? Like all of these multicultural festivals and all the food you can buy and trinkets you can buy. 

[00:15:53] And that is somehow a Testament to how inclusive Toronto is.  

[00:15:59] Petrina: [00:15:59] Right. But then still, when you look at like, who are the people in leadership roles, who are the people making overarching decisions? They’re all overwhelmingly white.  

[00:16:11] Marsya: [00:16:11] Yeah. I mean, I’m saying this also because my mom is very active in the Indonesian community in terms of yeah. 

[00:16:19] Being involved in festivals like this. And I see that it’s a source of pride for her, but also visiting these events and kind of getting to know the people who are involved and just how thrilled they are to be seen, but also, you know, understanding that quite a number of them are migrant workers.  

[00:16:40] Petrina: [00:16:40] Yeah. A critique becomes more complicated. 

[00:16:43] Marsya: [00:16:43] Yeah. It just doesn’t translate this kind of inclusion that’s paraded in these festivals. It doesn’t translate in the day-to-day materially to each of our lives. 

[00:17:04] Petrina: [00:17:04] No. I mean, very similarly. I grew up in Agincourt, but as soon as my parents could afford it, we moved to what they thought and what they told us was a better neighborhood in North York. And that meant a neighborhood with more white people. It meant a white neighborhood was a better neighborhood, but it’s interesting because even though we moved to a nicer quote, unquote, nicer neighborhood, we still, you know, did all of our shopping and went to school and had all of our friends in our old neighborhood. 

[00:17:39] We did not get to know any of our new neighbors. The house we moved to was the subdivision was across the street from the Bayview Country Club. And not once did any of us ever even like set foot inside the gates of this country club, we just were proud to be adjacent to it. So, yeah, like my experiences, like living in the suburbs were just filled with a lot of quiet and I spent a lot of time, you know, alone on buses or like alone waiting for the bus. 

[00:18:14] Marsya: [00:18:14] It’s so bizarre. I think the quietness and just sick the kind of day to day life that we had in Jakarta, it was always very active. And traffic was terrible. You spend like most of your time, like in between places, but at the same time, people go through all that trouble to see each other, like a lot of social engagement. 

[00:18:36] So, but I’ll also a lot of different like, uh, activities. Um, whereas when we moved to Toronto, it was December, 2001 I believe. And  it was a bleak time of year. It was dark. I remember how he was very dark and cold. Uh, and just a lot of space, like a lot of, yeah, there’s not, there’s no like traffic anywhere, but at the same time, it’s kind of like the quietness is eerie. 

[00:19:13] Yeah. We moved just a couple of weeks before Christmas. So that was kind of a shock also not having a massive Christmas, which I, you know, I usually we would celebrate it with our family and see like a hundred people in a day, at least, you know, it’s, it’s the holidays, but in North York, I think I spent a lot of time just at home. 

[00:19:41] We were living in this Indonesian family house. They were renting out their basement to newcomers. So we were living there for about six months and then we got our own place and yeah, we didn’t know anybody. We didn’t know any of our like neighbors.  

[00:19:59] Petrina: [00:19:59] Yeah. I remember that the only friends my mom had were other Chinese families that she met from her work. 

[00:20:07] And then those became our friends and then their kids became our friends. But I grew up with my cousin and their whole family living in a spare bedroom in our house. So, and I remember that being so different from all of the other houses on my street, which most of them just had like, like one older, white couple living in like a whole house. 

[00:20:32] And that always seemed really strange to me. 

[00:20:45] Marsya: [00:20:45] CentrePoint Mall. It was the mall right behind my high school. And it’s located, uh, south west corner of Yonge and Steeles. And I just remembered trying to navigate the school and kind of like the different, the schedule of the school and not knowing like what to do on, like during lunchtime, we had like a cafeteria, it was always like, kind of too full, pretty intimidating when you don’t know anybody. 

[00:21:17] So I started going to CentrePoint Mall during lunch time, but. It was also really weird cause it’s in the middle of the day and it’s pretty much empty. Usually the central mall is like this one story, suburban mall and nothing really too special about it. Having just moved from Jakarta where a lot of your social time was being spent at malls, not necessarily like to buy things, but just to hang out and see people. 

[00:21:50] And it’s kind of weird to be in a mall where it’s, it’s a space for errands, not really a space for gathering. It just seemed really quiet and, uh, quite eerie in comparison.  

[00:22:05] Petrina: [00:22:05] I’m looking up the malls that you mentioned, you spent time in, in Jakarta and there, so they’re huge.  

[00:22:14] Marsya: [00:22:14] And so fancy. Yeah, very shiny, like a lot of shiny floor, a lot of glass. 

[00:22:23] And usually like the, um, ground level would be for like luxury goods.  

[00:22:29] Petrina: [00:22:29] They were all like Western, Western designers  

[00:22:32] Marsya: [00:22:32] felt like we would come in. Yeah. And shop and window shop or anything like that. It’s just a, maybe an extension of a public space. Um, when it’s like, you know, walking outside, isn’t really pleasant, uh, with so much pollution and just a heat. 

[00:22:49] Uh, so this is like malls, a really great place for like air conditioned, leisure time. I had the impression that this is like how things are in the west, all this glitzy malls and consumerism.  

[00:23:06] Petrina: [00:23:06] Well, malls are I think, where you spend time in the suburbs as well.  

[00:23:10] Marsya: [00:23:10] I think when we first moved here, we tried to figure out like what Toronto is and where to spend time. 

[00:23:20] Well, one time we walked to Downsview Park and we were so out of our element because we just never spend time in parks, but he was like a nice Toronto summer day. And I think by the time we left the house, it was already kind of late. And we had no idea, like what time to a lot to park, hang out.  

[00:23:45] Petrina: [00:23:45] Um, you were like, what is the park? 

[00:23:46] Marsya: [00:23:46] What do you do here? How long does it take? I think our ideas of like, what do you even do? And apart, so that like 20 minutes is done, right? So we kind of walked around and walked back. Um, and by the time we got back to our house, it was like already really dark. And we realized that we lost our house keys. 

[00:24:08] Um, somewhere during the walk. Oh, so yeah, I realize we didn’t have our keys and somehow the most logical solution was to sleep in the garage and that was kind of weird. Uh, we just, we slept in the garage and I think we made it into like a, kind of a special night by also ordering from a nearby strip mall. 

[00:24:39] There is this Asian restaurant there that we would sometimes go to, to like as a special occasion. So we got dinner from that place and ate in the garage and slept in the garage. And first thing in the morning, when we woke up, we went back to the park to find the keys that became such an adventure.  

[00:25:03] Petrina: [00:25:03] It’s so striking to me that your parents didn’t even feel comfortable enough to knock on a neighbor’s door.  

[00:25:12] Marsya: [00:25:12] Yeah. I told her it never really struck me as like a really interesting story or I don’t know. It just felt normal. The fact that this is what happened and this is how we dealt with it.  

[00:25:23] Petrina: [00:25:23] Wow. I mean, I think it’s a, that’s a very like emblematic story of that kind of like isolation experienced by newcomers. 

[00:25:33] I really relate to the, the notion of like, not wanting to bother anyone as a newcomer, not wanting to like, cause a fuss. 

[00:25:48] My parents similarly came from Hong Kong via Singapore, via London, UK, and then arriving in, you know, Toronto suburbs. Must’ve been so strange.  

[00:26:02] Marsya: [00:26:02] Did they ever talk about it?  

[00:26:04] Petrina: [00:26:04] Not really. I don’t really know. I think like so much of the energy is just towards not looking at the past and not wanting to cause a scene, you know? 

[00:26:15] And I think like, yeah, also our parents’ generation really operates from, you know, like a perspective of like why bring up things in the past that were painful.  

[00:26:27] Marsya: [00:26:27] It’s interesting how that’s all. So like it’s an internalized thing. It seems like that you don’t even do that within a family unit, but yeah, it’s the same with my parents. 

[00:26:38] I could ask them a million questions, but I never know if the answers are true or I’ll get like very indirect answers and, uh,  

[00:26:50] Petrina: [00:26:50] I think there’s definitely a level of shame.  

[00:26:53] Marsya: [00:26:53] Yeah. Uh, yeah, it’s been interesting kind of talking about anti-Asian discrimination now with my parents, because they’re like, I don’t know. 

[00:27:02] They also still think that this is only in the States, even though there are instances where we’ve been together, like throughout us living in Toronto and the past couple of decades, like there been instances where I don’t feel completely welcomed and they’re there with me, but we’d never really talk about it. Yeah. And I wonder if they carry that.  

[00:27:25] Petrina: [00:27:25] Same, carry it, but stoically silently, not complaining or  

[00:27:30] Marsya: [00:27:30] just thinking that that’s just how it is and it’s not wrong. Well, how do you feel about the suburb now?  

[00:27:38] Petrina: [00:27:38] I mean, I have a certain nostalgia for the suburbs, but I also felt a certain necessity to leave and it would have been difficult for me to really thrive there as an adult. 

[00:27:49] I’m not sure if that, if that has any truth to it, but that’s how I felt when I made the decision as a young adult to leave. Right? 

[00:27:57] Marsya: Yeah. Same. I feel like there was no space I could carve for myself, but I know people are doing it. And I wanna, you know, I wonder if it would have been different if I found a cultural space or a community space, 

[00:28:30] Anu: [00:28:30] I’m Anu Radha Verma, I go by Anu or ARV. My pronouns are she and her. I identify as a queer diasporic, sometimes a survivor, a mad person. It’s like new language that I’m using for myself. Uh, I like to be described as an agitator or a shit disturber that, you know, if people describe me primarily as a shit disturber, that would be great. 

[00:28:56] Um, I am an independent curator, mostly working with performance spaces and performance artists, almost exclusively with QT BIPOC artists from the suburbs. And I’m a community-based consultant. I have a radio show on a local talk news stations, I’ll go nine 60 am. And the show is focused on social justice issues in Peel and beyond which is called Peel Matters. 

[00:29:23] I actually have really reframed that work in my mind as public education, as an opportunity to amplify work, that activists, community, organizers, leaders, community groups, individuals, and sometimes nonprofits are doing to try to change the conditions that exist in the field right now with the focus on, you know, disrupting structures of racism. 

[00:29:47] And I organized with the grassroots group called the QT BIPOC Saga as a space for QT BIPOC folks to meet and to really not replicate any of the mainstream kind of structures that nonprofits have around what QT BIPOC people are queer and trans people in general should want or do to, or aspire to.  

[00:30:06] Petrina: [00:30:06] Part of the reason we wanted to tap into the brilliance of Anu is because she’s worked so hard to find and build community in the suburbs and think about how collectivity in the arts, but also in communities in general, need to extend into the suburbs, how it’s just so essential for not just our survival, but also our thriving  

[00:30:32] Anu: [00:30:32] Hearing both of you talk about the malls and also the park and the bus makes me think about, you know, spaces that I’ve spent time. And I think that kind of crystallize a particular way of imagining. Both the aesthetics of the suburbs of Peel, but also, you know, senses of either feeling like you belonged or maybe didn’t. 

[00:30:55] I can think about the sticky floors in the small, independent movie theater at central Parkway mall. It was $1 to go to the movies on Tuesdays, but the movie theater was a place that you could afford to go to the movies rather than going to the Cineplex or AMC. And you know, my friend, Amy and I would go to the dollar store and buy as many snacks as we could, because we couldn’t actually afford to buy popcorn at the movie theater. 

[00:31:23] I remember the smell of deep fried in the food court at Dixie Mall. It was like a treat to go with my grandparents to shop at the Sears outlet and to get fries from the food court because as very strict vegetarians, fries were the only thing that you could eat for fast food. And I also like you spent a lot of time on the bus. 

[00:31:44] I also walked a lot. I’ve walked many places, you know, when I was in high school and in my first queer relationship, I walked from Mississauga Valley to Hurontario and Eglington about an hour and 15 minutes, one way very often to see my girlfriend. And I also think about the non-mall spaces that get kind of, I guess there’s multiple meanings. 

[00:32:07] I think about the high school auditoriums in Brampton and Milton where the faith community that I’m part of a rather small mix that some of us would have our weekend gatherings. I feel so differently about these spaces now, you know, I guess, is it the, the complex kind of difficulty of having access to analysis that makes the memory of those places, you know, either bittersweet or also more complicated? You know?  

[00:32:37] Petrina: [00:32:37] I want to ask, like, what you both think about the appeal of the suburbs for immigrants, like. I know that my parents came in the 1970s when Canada was first, you know, opening itself up to immigrants and redefining Canada as a country of multiculturalism. And the suburbs had this appeal of, you know, a kind of American dream, a kind of opportunity to own property, or like work towards owning property, a promise of like space and fresh air for your children, that kind of, you know, the suburbs aren’t for us. 

[00:33:17] But they’re also meant to appeal to us like Marsya, Do you know why your parents decided like how they chose? I  

[00:33:24] Marsya: [00:33:24] I think for my family is just, it was by chance that we ended up here. Um, we applied to a bunch of other places. My parents too. Yeah. Yeah. It’s about, yeah. How we ended up getting connected to this one Indonesian family who had like a basement apartment available.  

[00:33:42] Petrina: [00:33:42] But your parents have consistently chosen to stay in the suburbs. 

[00:33:47] Marsya: [00:33:47] Yeah. But I don’t know why exactly. And they’ve moved several places and it’s not like whenever they moved there’s community, it’s about like finding a new place that they can afford and they can feel comfortable in. And I think that idea of comfort, it also just kind of doesn’t extend beyond the walls of like the space.  

[00:34:07] Anu: [00:34:07] My dad came in 1974 as a 17 year old as a teenager. And, you know, because the focus of so many immigration programs at that time was what they called family reunification. The way that he could come was because his elder sister was already here. So she could sponsor him to come. His story is that he came in the winter and I believe he arrived on a Thursday or Friday. 

[00:34:32] And he started work at a watch factory on Monday. They lived in North York and he worked in Etobicoke. So I think he took, you know, the two hour bus ride or whatever it was in the winter waiting. And my mom, I think the appeal, my parents had an arranged marriage. The appeal for my grandfather was, oh, going to Canada, you know, the, the imagination. 

[00:34:53] In Punjab, but at that time in the seventies was Canada was a land of opportunity. And I would say that that kind of appeal of the west is the best like continues. I think, you know, my parents moved from the suburbs of North York to Mississauga because there was an opportunity to actually own a small home. 

[00:35:13] And so the suburbs ended up being just like a small town or small city in whatever place of origin they’re from. It doesn’t look different other than the fact that, you know, the people in power don’t look like them and et cetera, et cetera. Because I think the suburbs that maybe the three of us experienced are quite different than the suburbs today. 

[00:35:33] I’m one of those people who like believes deeply in the suburbs as a place of brilliance as a place of complexity, but a place of brilliance too. And most of the time, I don’t find myself in conversation with people who understand that there’s a lot of writing off of the suburbs. There’s people who leave because there’s not safety. 

[00:35:53] There’s not opportunity. There’s not community, you know, it’s a suffocating place. And I think about that for all of the queer and trans BIPOC folks that I know where pretty much every other month someone is leaving the suburbs to go to Toronto because they need a job or safety or a place to live, or a lover or a partner or something. 

[00:36:11] There’s people who can’t leave, you know, for a whole bunch of reasons, including. Kinship structures. They care for elders in their family or children. And so the idea of leaving would, would feel or be experienced as abandonment. Um, and maybe their job is in the suburbs. They go to school, et cetera. And there’s also people, I think like me, I might, I might consider myself in that category of people who return. 

[00:36:35] So I, you know, went back to Mississauga to start working in, in 2010, which feels like a long time ago. Never imagining that I would work in Mississauga, never imagining that I would, you know, like find and build community and be inspired. 

[00:36:49] Petrina: [00:36:49] I have so many feelings about all of that. I will say that when the three of us met in Mississauga, it did feel like the small town, you know, like I think we were the only people of color. 

[00:36:59] Who, you know, we’re working institutionally and that, that’s why there was this kinship kind of between us immediately.  

[00:37:07] Anu: [00:37:07] And yet there’s a kind of merge, you know, so it’s like Brampton, Toronto ended up being the same thing. And yet there is something specific about saying you are from Toronto. So for the QT BIPOC artists that I work with, they don’t put Mississauga or Brampton on their bios. 

[00:37:24] They put Toronto and that’s a strategic kind of decision. The entire structure of it is designed for us to not be there and for us to not survive or for us to just be surviving. And so the fact that, you know, racialized folks, um, BIPOC folks with long histories of being connected to the suburbs, like continue to show up and continue to disrupt. 

[00:37:47] I think that that, you know, bucks against the conventions of what the suburbs are supposed to be, which in north America is for white middle-class to upper-class nuclear families, who want it to get out of the dirty city?  

[00:38:02] Petrina: [00:38:02] I also want to know like Anu, like you’re the kind of like very complicated relationship that former or present colonies have with the colonizer. 

[00:38:11] My parents have a real affinity with British culture. Um, and I asked Marsya similarly, like about her parents and grandparents with Dutch culture. And so I think that has a lot to do with what you’re saying as well about this kind of like desire or ambition. My dad is very, very, very proud to have been educated in the UK, even though he did not spend any time there. 

[00:38:36] Wasn’t welcome there. Wasn’t welcome to live there beyond being a student. So decided to come to Canada after that because when faced with the decision of whether to go home. Or to go to another Western country, it felt like he was still moving forward. And also just to relate this back to our malls, we talked a lot about the architecture of these malls, like Cantonese strip malls that were being built in Agincourt. 

[00:39:04] The mall that we went to had this like strange architecture that, that referenced some sort of like European Villa or like a vague idea of a European Villa. And then similarly, like Marsya talking about malls in Jakarta being just full of Western stores and European designers. And then when we looked it up the mall, she was talking about the architecture was inspired by Dutch colonial warehouses. 

[00:39:33] So we were like, this is this affinity for the colonizer, like runs so deep and kind of bubbles up in different places, all around us.  

[00:39:41] Anu: [00:39:41] It’s so hard to be able to unpack that stuff. You know, my grandfather who passed and at the start of the pandemic, my mom tells stories about how he also had an end, expressed an affinity for the British, even though he had to flee his country because of partition and never go back to the place. 

[00:40:01] Whereas my dad’s side of the family, you know, my great grandfather was involved in the independence movement was. Incarcerated many, many times and spent many years away from his family because of his involvement. But I wouldn’t say that his grandchildren, so my parents’ generation really have taken forward. 

[00:40:19] This kind of like anti state or abolitionist, or, you know, I wouldn’t say that they’ve necessarily taken on those perspectives or values. And what I attribute that to essentially is actually the settlement process that kind of kills any kind of spirit around social justice in people in a particular way, because I think it forces people to experience a particular kind of cognitive dissonance that the only way you can survive is to internalized racist ideas, colonial ideas about yourselves and other people. 

[00:40:54] And then what we see happen in the suburbs of Peel. I’m a model minority. Yes, exactly. Model minority. And you know, when I worked in spaces where settlement workers were, they talked a lot about the fact that older, more established immigrants, you know, had a lot of disdain and dislike for newer immigrants. 

[00:41:13] They wanted those newer immigrants to not get quote-unquote handouts, or I have even heard established immigrant communities talk about wanting to cut down on the number of immigrants that Canada accepts. So I really don’t take it from a blaming the individual and saying that, you know, this person has these problematic views, but really saying like something about the ways in which Canada functions as a nation state and this particular kind of national imaginary produces cognitive dissonance and immigrants minds. 

[00:41:41] And the way to resolve that is actually to hate yourselves and quote unquote, the others. Even if you look like the others, you still find a way to distinguish yourself because. You’re working hard. You’re middle-class you paid your dues and I’m very curious to know if that shows up in your respective communities too, because I see it very specifically in south Asian communities in Canada. 

[00:42:04] So I’d love to know.  

[00:42:06] Marsya: [00:42:06] I kind of touched on that a little bit in Toronto’s idea of multiculturalism, it kind of diminishes entire cultures into like easily consumable, exotic foods, knickknacks, uh, even like immigrant success stories while also making like little room for different ways of thinking. And I feel like I feel unsatisfied, but this, um, recognition of. 

[00:42:31] Different cultures just as consumable things. And that that’s not what multiculturalism and inclusivity really is. And in terms of the affinity that Petrina was mentioning, one of the communities they find here in the suburbs is that community that gathers every now and then to celebrate like Indonesian food. 

[00:42:55] And again, like completely feeling seen through that process to the point that they invited one of their friends from this community to, to sub as a grandfather figure in my wedding, which is just very bizarre to me. I think it made me kind of question how to address colonization history colonization here with my parents, because while they have this affinity and to have internalized the model minority, how do you kind of connect that into conversations? 

[00:43:27] Or if the legacies of colonization here?  

[00:43:31] Petrina: [00:43:31] Now immigrants that are coming from other parts of China, but it’s, it’s interesting that, you know, for a long time, people from Northern China were generally poor and have a lower social standing. Whereas now, especially in the GTA, it’s not the case, many, many Northern Chinese immigrants that come to settle in the GTA have a kind of wealth that the Cantonese immigrant community has never seen and will never access. 

[00:44:04] Anu: [00:44:04] Asian-ness, especially that gets perpetuated in this moment that we’re in there’s so little space to talk about the nuance within particular, you know, Asian communities, whatever that means. 

[00:44:15] And that language has also troublesome too.  

[00:44:17] Petrina: [00:44:17] Like my dad does not consider himself Chinese, he’ll say, oh, Chinese people and he’ll mean. Like newer immigrants from Northern China, but I’ve also noticed that when he says Canadian people, he doesn’t include himself either. He uses that term to refer to white Canadians. 

[00:44:35] Anu: [00:44:35] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think for a lot of people, maybe in our generation and younger, there’s been so much work in like writing around how we describe ourselves. And so, you know, we have access to particular kinds of language, right? Like as a younger person, I remember saying like, I’m a hyphenated Canadian, this is before learning about, you know, how the nation state functions and sort of being like, actually, no, I’m going to reject that. 

[00:44:58] I identify as diasporic only with. And I say like with complex connections to so-called south Asia, because I, I don’t believe in nation-based identities, you know? And I, and I think of people who say Canadian of whatever origins or so-called born Canadian, some immigrant living in Canada, like all of these different articulations and formations that we try to pick up and see if they fit and. 

[00:45:23] Yeah, I hope I hope your dad can find a way to like pick something up that maybe fits him or, or feels okay on the tongue and in his head.  

[00:45:33] Petrina: [00:45:33] Thank you. I really liked that. 

[00:45:45] Just to kind of bridge to the earlier conversation like Marsya and I were talking so much about our loneliness in the suburbs and how we wished that we had found community while we were there. And maybe we would have made better choices. 

[00:45:59] Anu: [00:45:59]. Yeah. I mean, I think Petrina the experience of loneliness is so common. 

[00:46:07] And, you know, I don’t always talk about this publicly, but I experienced so much loneliness even, even amongst, you know, moments of real beautiful connection and possibilities in the suburbs. And I attribute that to a couple of things. One, I’m a chronically depressed person, you know, and I’m a mad identified person. 

[00:46:28] And I think feeling disconnected from other people in the world is part and parcel of kind of who I am. And part of that I think is connected to intergenerational pieces. And the other part of it is. That there’s something about the built environment of the suburbs that actually fosters a kind of loneliness and separateness that we have to be able to acknowledge and, and hold space for, you know, how do we disrupt that or, or challenge ideas of the place itself creating and fostering and facilitating loneliness? 

[00:47:01] How do we challenge that? I think the beautiful. Small magical moments of, for example, a QT BIPOC saga meetup. There’s a flicker in the eyes that changes when people enter the room, it’s almost like a threshold and maybe they see a possibility for kinship, for relationships, for, for friendship. And, you know, they pour themselves a plate of food and they sit down and we laugh or we have hard conversations and, you know, that might be the only space in the month or the week that I feel, or me and maybe others too, that loneliness. 

[00:47:40] Doesn’t have to be the status quo for us, but people really do have lots of daydreams about what it could look like to be in space, physical space together. And I see connections between that and really amazing activist work that’s happening in Peel Malton’ people’s movement, which has been on the front lines. 

[00:47:58] People putting their bodies on the line to talk about how much we actually need to disarm defund and abolish Peel police. One of the most dangerous police forces in Canada, we have to be able to hold that tension of that deep loneliness that this place will create and everything that the suburbs are is not just the structures of power that exists, but all of the people who are always like making and remaking every moment. 

[00:48:23] And even though it’s hell of frustrating, like I am frustrated beyond belief. That things move at the pace that they do in the suburbs. Um, it’s, I think it’s those moments and those, those possibilities of connection that keep me afloat.  

[00:48:38] Marsya: [00:48:38] Could you share more of these like dream ideas, um, that you think with your community in terms of like, what is needed for collective work for community to flourish? 

[00:48:51] Anu: [00:48:51] The three of us have had this conversation, I think in various formats over the years of, you know, what do we need in the suburbs? What do we need for collective work to happen and be supported and to create the conditions for, for brilliance to not be an exception, but for brilliance to be the consistent or the constant. 

[00:49:12] And one of the pieces for me in collective work is, you know, how do we create a space where we understand, all of us deeply understand that each of us has needs that must be met. And the meeting of those needs is not only facilitated by the state. It can be facilitated by each of us in relationship to each other. 

[00:49:35] So we start off any space asking what are your access needs? You know, like trying to normalize the idea of being able to talk through what people need in a space, but then also saying, what do you need in order to actually daydream together? And one of the kind of caveats or footnotes I’d like to add is for many QT BIPOC folks or many people who experience marginalization in the suburbs, people have said to me that it’s difficult to come up with ideas or daydream because we’ve just had so little, that’s not because they don’t have ideas, but it’s because, you know, cultivating a sense of imagination has been. 

[00:50:12] Squashed by the structure of the suburbs. So I think we need time. People want time together. People want space for relationship and kinship building that isn’t just about prioritizing romantic relationships. Like I remember once in a, in a meetup, we read together the Aromantic Manifesto, which if people haven’t read that they should. 

[00:50:33] And we’ve talked a lot about what it means in all communities, but even in queer and trans communities about the fact that there are possibilities for deep kinship and deep relationship building that isn’t about the romantic relationship or the romantic partnership above all else. You know, what would it look like for us to show up for each other when we’re sick or ill when we’re tired or sad, and also, you know, when we’re happy and thriving in ways that isn’t just about. 

[00:51:03] You know, your partner, your one, you know, quote unquote primary person to be the one who joins you on all of those moments. And I think there’s a whole history that we can be connected to because of the ways that, you know, education systems, health systems have really perpetuated heteronormative, CIS heteronormative ideas of who your family is. 

[00:51:26] The idea of chosen family within queer and trans community is so powerful for everyone. And I think if we can extend some of that, thinking to how we do our work collectively in one of, I remember a conversation with a really wonderful friend who said the word community is so complicated. It assumes that there’s connections between us and, you know, queer and trans community or BIPOC community. 

[00:51:51] Like those are just kind of phrases that don’t necessarily mean the same things to each of us. And people often also feel isolated from community. And so. His offering was at least in our small suburban space was to actually say family. And so I want to take that as a kind of task to say, how do we build a familial relationships with each other kinship structures that honor who each of us are, and that can create the space for us to demand collectively what we need to change. 

[00:52:25] I think people want a whole new other way of being in the world together. And I don’t know that there’s all consensus on how we’re going to do that. So that’s the work too. Yeah.  

[00:52:37] Petrina: [00:52:37] Lately I’ve been thinking about collective work as an acknowledgement that caring for each other is not a burden. I think like so much about the idea of work has so many like different meanings and so many connotations that it’s something that you see as a burden. 

[00:52:56] But for me, like thinking about collectivity is. To work for each other is not a burden, but a privilege. And so with Gendai’s work, we very much care about understanding that complexity of work and labor as something that should be properly compensated for like he needs to be supported. But also that this kind of work is something that we have immense privilege to carry out and immense, like privilege to be able to work for others is really wonderful and important. 

[00:53:33] Marsya: [00:53:33] How you position, like, you know, there’s the need for a time and a place to cultivate the possibility to dream. And what we want to do is great, a space where everyone is compensated for their labor to do this kind of imaginary work, this kind of speculative fiction work. But at the same time, recognizing that in order to return to the current structures, it’s we also can’t impose like the same kind of compensation structures that, uh, that exists. 

[00:54:06] But, you know, that’s definitely a tension that we always come back to because the rambling conversations is part of that dream making and hanging out as part of that dream making and sharing food together and being comfortable with each other. And I think about what you said earlier about like people not trusting the people that have been given power to make decisions on their behalf and. 

[00:54:31] It’s because also like mechanisms in which people can submit ideas, do not allow for this kind of rambling ideas. Like I attended a, uh, community consultation meeting for a, uh, cultural master plan in Brampton a few years ago. And I looked around and there was only one table of QT BIPOC folks. And then later on finding out that that one table was a group of videographers that were hired to document the community consultation process. 

[00:55:10] And I’m like, how is that? Within that meeting of like two hours in a massive hall? How can you cultivate ideas from the margins? It’s, it’s uncomfortable, it’s it doesn’t feel safe to share, um, your vulnerabilities and these kinds of things take a lot of time.  

[00:55:30] Petrina: [00:55:30] A lot of like relationship building, a lot of the tension is between like neoliberal values of, you know, our worth being tied to our productivity as well. 

[00:55:39] Trying to understand what we’re contributing to each other. What we’re contributing to a collective feature is so hard to grasp while trying to survive in capitalism at the same time, you know, part of our work at Gendai is to really address the frustration of all of this. Discussion and dialogue about care and decolonization as an academic exercise as an intellectual pursuit. 

[00:56:08] And we see how that’s the norm in our institutions, you know, something over there and not something that we’re in. I don’t know how to address that tension between. Wanting to actually see these ideas and these dreams come to fruition.  

[00:56:24] Anu: [00:56:24] Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I think you’re both naming all kinds of difficulties that, you know, the current world orders have set up for us. 

[00:56:32] And I think what I had said was my disordered eating was particularly intense at that time. And I said, I would actually just love for someone to make me a meal because I’m not able to take care of feeding myself right now. And so I wonder, looping everything back together. Like if we understand care as work, you can understand like the putting together of things that we eat as work and labor and love. 

[00:56:57] And also thinking about one of the few ways that I think, you know, many immigrant communities are connected or, or their children are connected in their narratives by saying, you know, my parent gives me a plate of fruit as that that’s their expression of love, recognizing that all of the other languages of love that we. 

[00:57:16] May feel comfortable talking about are, are not necessarily so salient in lots of other spaces. How do we imagine doing the care work and thinking about compensation, but using an expansive understanding or definition of, of how we labor for each other. And then if we’re informed by principles of disability justice, it also means honoring that we’re not always going to be in the work in the same ways at the same time. 

[00:57:44] And I want to also be inspired by, you know, like the nap ministry and talk about how rest is care and how rest is part of the quote unquote work using your expanded definition Petrina that we need to do. So what would it look like for me to literally, or metaphorically make a bed for each of you and then for you to be able to rest, you know, find yourself by resting in a way that imagines a life before and beyond and after. 

[00:58:13] This capitalist space. That’s what I want to be inspired by.  

[00:58:18] Petrina: [00:58:18] It really inspires me when Marsya talks about moving from a scarcity mentality to a mentality of abundance and then sharing and working for each other just becomes so much easier to actually concretely, embody. I think so much about our current institutions is trying to trick us into thinking that there is a scarcity of resources of energy, of everything. 

[00:58:43] And it’s just not true. We have the capacity to work for each other to care for each other to imagine what a future could look like, where it’s not just one or very few at the very top, 

[00:59:02] Petrina: [00:59:02] I think it was really special, sort of getting to know these other. Intimate sites of the two of you, part of the suburban experience is not having that intimacy of sharing sites with people who you collaborate, feel kinship with, who are your allies that feels much easier in the  

[00:59:21] Marsya: [00:59:21] city say, and also rethinking, like when you said like sticky floor of the cinema. 

[00:59:30] I also used to go to, I think it was a rainbow cinema where it was cheap every Tuesday. And that was a really low key way to gather with friends.  

[00:59:42] Anu: [00:59:42] Yeah. I loved being taken on the tour with you, even though I couldn’t go on your field trip because I think there is a lot of judgment and shame about what the suburbs are. 

[00:59:52] And the first place of judgment is like the suburbs are just malls. All people do is go shopping and to have that turned on its head by these. You know, both lovely and also hard stories about these various strip malls and malls just like added a kind of depth and richness to spaces that I only sort of know. 

[01:00:13] I think about, you know, the ways in which the mall in the suburbs in Mississauga, Brampton now actually. Does in some ways function as a, as a hub, you know, there are malls that have settlement agencies, libraries, employment services within them. And then also thinking about all of the ways that the mall is sometimes the safest place for people to take a walk. 

[01:00:36] Um, you know, I think about like activist organizing space meetings in the mall because it’s a free space to be, it has heating and air conditioning. And what I imagine going forward, if the mall is going to stay as a giant kind of geographic entity, then we have to find ways to take it back. And we have to find ways to make it the space where we push for something else to happen there, not just consumption and also make it a space where in the absence of the other community spaces that we need, how can we disrupt this capitalist idea of what this space is supposed to be? 

[01:01:15] And instead, turn it into a place where we. Are safely saying you can chest feed your child. You can rest with an elder. You can play with children, you can daydream together about what it would look like. You know, that’s a place where young queer people hold hands for the first time. Sometimes I wish that when I was younger, maybe I’d had access to more language and framing that was informed by compassion and care and kindness. 

[01:01:45] And then I wouldn’t think that what I needed to do was disappear from these places or wish that they existed in some other format and even the new re-imagining that happens in the suburbs. It’s so informed by white modes of thinking about art and engagement, that it feels just as foreign, you know, in a particular way. 

[01:02:06] So I’m just wondering, like how do we create those spaces? 

[01:02:08] Petrina: [01:02:08] Yeah. And, you know, I think about your work so much challenging the idea of a dead mall and the power dynamics, you know, involved in choice of language like that. Like if we’re going to move ourselves and our community into a collective future. 

[01:02:26] Anu: [01:02:26] It means taking account of other people’s needs, like those who use dead mall spaces. 

[01:02:32] The thing about Peel, which I think I’ve said to you both many times is it’s a place of conscious forgetting. So no matter how many times we try to disrupt or create another moment of something in a mall, on a bus, on a street, in an art space, the place itself just lends to a particular kind of forgetting. 

[01:02:51] And so we’re always. I don’t know who the we is, but we’re always erased or invisibilized. So I guess maybe that’s why my desire for a stubbornness of place comes in. That’s why I’m like, so stubbornly committed to the suburbs because I refused to let the kind of magical, magnificent moments that I know have existed, be forgotten. 

[01:03:13] I won’t let them make us disappear. I think that’s the model. We want to stop asking for permission from corporations and start doing what we need and what we want, how we want to need to do it, where we can. 

[01:03:32] Hima: [01:03:32] Thank you for listening. If this episode sparks something in, you consider sharing it with a fellow citizen. Don’t forget, we are all imagining possible futures for Toronto into being. Find us on Instagram at Luminato Festival. And watch out for episode five, launching next month.  

This episode of Desire Paths is produced by Alex Rand and co-curated by Alex Rand and myself, Hima Batavia with Creative Producers Macy Siu, Jeremy Glenn, and Robert Bolton of Toronto based foresight studio From Later.