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Wali Shah

A Personal Story by Wali Shah

My country of birth is Pakistan; my family and I came to Canada – initially Toronto – when I was three years old. I moved to Mississauga when I was nine.

It wasn’t easy – my family struggled financially, and, of course, my parents had to learn a different language. Then, experiencing 9/11 at a young age very much shaped me. 9/11 quickly became synonymous with Muslims, including South Asians – even non-Muslims who had ethnic names or an immigrant background. I experienced bullying and a lot of discrimination until moving from Toronto to Mississauga at age nine. There, I found more of a community, more Muslims, more representation – but still faced some of the same challenges.

I had a tough time growing up in a Muslim home within a non-Muslim country. And I often felt alone in my struggles and questions, not knowing how to explain the challenges I was facing to my parents who might consider some topics taboo. The diaspora and my identity within it affected me deeply, and I had to figure a lot of things out on my own.

For me, writing always helped to pull my thoughts together, and sort out the questions, and the feelings I had inside me. Creating poetry, writing stories, making music: those were my outlet and my coping strategies.

They were also avenues to make a difference in my community and the world at large. Writing is a financially accessible way for youth to turn their pain into power using art. In the midst of COVID, anxiety and depression are on the rise amongst young people, and existing issues are only further exacerbated in people’s lives. Writing is a way to tell that story, to help see things from a different perspective, and to create in our own lives and in the world at large.

The most important change I’d like to see is people coming together more – with not just tolerance, but empathy for one another. I think the major issues our world is facing right now are rooted in ignorance – of people not understanding one other, of accepting a society that divides humans based on our differences rather than bringing us together based on our similarities. Our stories and our writing can help us to break this divide.