I think that last year was one of my most humbling years. I’d become used to a certain level of respect and dignity, and when I lost it, I was kind of floored. I left my home of Toronto. Toronto - where I had been part of the majority. I was an immigrants’ kid, I was university educated, I knew lots of activist jargon and where to shop for shoes.
But last year I moved to Quebec. I also fell in with a clique of nationalist French Canadians. That complicated cultural puritanism deserves its own article. But what I experienced is a universal problem: being unwelcome. I didn’t speak enough of the language. My opinions were routinely undermined. I was told that I didn’t belong. I was ignored and overlooked. This would be stressful for anyone, and it felt even more stressful when I was usually the only person of colour in the room.
It’s a kind of isolation that lots of people face, because of racism, ableism, homophobia, transphobia, classism, so many reasons. But it was new to me. I started to think - it must be true - I must be parasitic and unworthy. My self-esteem sank.
In the past I had wondered if my activism had been too cheesy. But once I moved to Montreal I realized that no activism is cheesy. If someone is really isolated, it means so much to have someone fight for you, and to document your experience.
That’s what these books, and these people, did for me: Barbara Cameron and Mitsuye Yamada talked about racism in the 1979 book This Bridge Called My Back. Richard Fung remembers challenging the white art establishment in “13 Conversations”. Punam Khosla fought for queer Asian visibility during Desh Pardesh. Rae Spoon made trans love songs on youtube.
I absorbed these precious books and moments like sunshine. They gave me back my strength and dignity.
Now I’ve illustrated these people and their quotes. I hope that they find their way across queer homes everywhere so that no matter where you are, you will find them, and know that you are not alone.
Buy it for yourself or for a friend from my etsy store. Spread the word. These are members of our queer family legacy, and a promise that you belong to something bigger.
WIth love, Elisha.