We, the Others by Toula Drimonis

This book hit me hard. We, the Others:  Allophones, Immigrants, and Belonging in Canada by Toula Drimonis is one heck of an interesting read. Non-fiction, with footnotes galore, it is part memoir as well as being full-on jam-packed with information.  With every one of its three parts highly readable, this is definitely a page-turner that I relished, as both a political scientist (my university degree) and as a human being (my life’s work degree).  The author, Toula Drimonis, is a born-in-Canada, second-generation Greek, and very much a citizen of Montreal.  She is described in Canada’s National Observer as a “Montreal-based writer, editor, and award-winning columnist… her freelance work focuses mainly on Quebec politics and women’s issues. “  But she doesn’t stop there – she is a full-fledged native of Quebec and a proud Canadian, embracing her province, as well as her country, Canada. But she is also very much attached to her parents’ Greek homeland. She, like many of us, has “multiple loyalties”.

“Fitting into neither the French-speaking nor the English-speaking camp, they are called Allophones.”

       In We, the Others, we meet the author’s parents who came from Greece in the 1960s.  With nothing more than hopes and dreams for a life of less poverty and more opportunity, they arrived at the port in Halifax and made their way to Montreal.  They worked hard, had a family, and became part of the Montreal community they lived in. Fitting into neither the French-speaking nor the English-speaking camp, they are called Allophones. This is defined on Wikipedia as “an immigrant whose first language is neither French nor English”. The children became neither solely French-speaking, nor English-speaking, but instead tri-lingual. The children created a section of the population that can speak both English and French, and also the ‘other’ language, that is spoken at home.  This describes so many of us.  I found much of myself and my life in this book.  I will wager that whoever you are, you will find yourself inside these pages as well, along with your friends and neighbours.

        Commonly, each generation benefits from the generation before. This is very apparent in the newcomers to this country. The immigrant (s) who lands in Canada becomes the first generation, their children, the second generation. While their parents work, the kids are the ones who learn the languages, make friends at school, play sports, go to the library, and interact wholly within the culture they have been introduced to, while hanging on to the culture they, or their parents, have come from. “All parents and children are already worlds apart.  But immigrant parents and second-generation kids can be universes apart.  The kids are often caught between old-school immigrant parents ordering, guilting, or shaming them into following cultural traditions and religion, and their own desire to shed what they see as restrictive cultural baggage.  Allophones navigate and negotiate multiple identities, languages, and traditions, some days without even leaving the house. “

          Drimonis describes clearly and concisely the life of the immigrant, particularly the first and second generations, the multicultural experience, the homeland cultural ties, as well as the religious customs, language, nationalism and political facts and mindset of Quebec, and Canada as a whole. All of this could be in textbook style but it is highly readable because of the reflective writing style and what the author shares in her personal account and experiences.  Drimonis blends the facts into her real-life situations at every turn, so her telling is of her story, her parent’s story, and at the same time the story of so many who come to Canada with their eyes and hearts filled with hopes and dreams.  It is the story of people trying hard to fit in and to not be seen as “strange” or “scary”. But, neither should the differences be ignored, but rather recognized and accepted.   Allow me to offer a couple of examples. We, the Others takes a close look at employment opportunities for those with an ethic name (who might be hired first – Michael or Yiannis, Jennifer or Rajdulari?), and an even closer look at the politics which fuel separation. “No better current example of othering exists in Quebec than Bill 21, the province’s secularism legislation that bans the earing of religious symbols – the Muslim hijab, the Jewish kippah, the Sikh dastar – by people in positions of authority in the public service, such as teachers and police.” Her chapter titled Is There a Magic Formula? cannot be missed.

See also  Context & Content: The Memoir of a Fortunate Architect by A.J. Diamond

“I would place We, the Others in the hands of every teacher in every high school and university in Canada.”

         Now, after reading this book, what would I do with it? I would place We, the Others in the hands of every teacher in every high school and university in Canada.  I would ask that people throughout the land pick up a copy and read it, and then talk about it as much as possible.  And, I would ask what is it about this book that hit you hard? Was it your past as a Vietnamese, European, Punjabi immigrant, or your second-generation childhood braving the languages – Arabic, Chinese, or Ukrainian spoken at home? Is it the hijab you’re wearing or the turban, your dark skin or your prayers at the mosque, church, or synagogue? Is it the homeland and loved ones left behind when you stepped onto this new land? There is such a sharp learning curve for those who immigrate to Canada and the biggest question seems to be:  How will I ever fit in, yet keep intact what is at my core, and add this new place that I also love? We all embrace the same land now and love of the land, the freedoms and its beauty and opportunities. But this is only made richer with the clear vision of the “us” as one group, with our differences, whether obvious or sequestered.  I look at the world, my world, differently after reading We, the Others, and see that there is so much I can do to make it a world of “us” rather than “us” and “others”. Pick up a copy.  Bet you’ll find something of yourself inside.


About the Author

Toula Drimonis is a Montreal-based opinion columnist, writer and news producer. A former news director for TC Media, she has reported and written on politics, social justice, and women’s issues for national and international publications. She has worked in television, radio, and print in all three of her languages, and has appeared on TV as both panelist and contributor to English and French-language current-affairs and cultural news shows.

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Linda Leith Publishing (Aug. 13 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 223 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1773901214
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1773901213

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Janet Sanford
Janet Sanford
September 14, 2022 06:56

I love the recommendation that this book be put in the hands of teachers (and students, I may add). After retirement, I taught English to newcomers at night school. Much of what is discussed in this compassionate review resonates with me. Thanks for alerting me to another must-read.

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