We are here


The consolidated exhibition of the Life Stories of Montrealers Displaced by War, Genocide and Other Human Rights Violations, based at Concordia Universitys Centre for Oral History and Digital Storytelling.
Presented at the CHM from March 8, 2012 to April 14, 2013

Montrealers


We Are Here In this, the beginning of the 21st century, one Montrealer out of five was born outside of Canada. Others have immigrant parents but were born here. Everybodys story is unique. In some cases it has been marked by forced displacement due to war, genocide or human rights violations. These stories, which begin elsewhere, are now part of our collective story. To discover them will allow us to better understand the world and the city that we live in.

From 2007 to 2012, the Montreal Life Stories project carried out around 500 interviews of Montrealers displaced by war, genocide and other human rights violations. The interviewees were invited to talk about themselves in their own way, in front of the camera. With We Are Here, the public is invited to discover remarkable life paths through excerpts of interviews and personal objects. The exhibition illustrates all of the diversity of the experiences and demonstrates how important it is to avoid clichs and preconceptions. As is the case of the project that gave birth to it, We Are Here focuses on individual stories as a whole, before, during, after, and today. How did the people interviewed rebuild their lives in Montreal? How do they share their memories with their children and their families? What can be said about their children, born and raised here? The exhibition follows a chronological path that illustrates the key moments of these stories.

Departure


Pack your bags... if you can. Leave. Run. Leave behind the life that you have built. To look for a better future elsewhere. A totalitarian regime, a dictatorship, war, genocide, violations of fundamental rights, mass violence or organized violence, are all among the reasons which drove the interviewees to leave their places of origin. However all of these have one thing in common: violence. In order to properly understand the circumstances of the departure, we must travel through space and time.

Next, the visitors discover Montreal through the eyes of the newcomers. With their baggage and their memories, they first set foot here full of expectations and hope. The interview excerpts present different arrival experiences, some more positive than others, before moving the visitor on to another stage: a new life in Montreal.

Living here


After arrival, adaptation can be more difficult or less so according to the circumstances. Education, work, family, community: new landmarks are necessary to create a new home. They must take up their place within the city, rebuild their lives and put down roots. Some retain a link to their country of origin, go back, visit and follow events from afar. Others end all involvement, and cannot go back.

The exhibition then makes way for young people. Those who arrived here at an early age, but also those born here:

From here and from afar


Some arrived in Montreal as children or adolescents, when their parents left their country of origin. They make up the so-called 1.5 generation. Others were born here. From here and from elsewhere, they possess a double identity, a history and a reality from another space and time. How do they define themselves? How do they reconcile their multiple identities? What do they know of their parents journey? How has the family memory been passed on to them?

After the violence, the displacement, the arrival, the settling in and reestablishing a normal life, or, in some cases, as the children of displaced persons, some decided to share their life experience by offering to be interviewed by Montreal Life Stories:

Bearing witness


Water has flowed under the bridge, violence is only a memory. Whereas some are silent about this painful part of their history, others choose to speak of it. The duty of remembrance, a tribute to those no longer with us, increasing awareness, education: there are numerous reasons to share their stories. Sometimes it will have taken years, or even generations, for speech to take flight, putting the pieces of the puzzle together.

Genevive Channaret Srey Montreal Life Stories looked into the reasons that bring people to share their stories. The project team also made sure that they collected and spread these stories with the greatest respect, thanks to a shared authority collaborative approach. The exhibition presents this process. However, the interviews do not represent an end unto themselves: they are the beginning of remembrance. Performers, educators, and activists use their own stories or those of people close to them as tools for creativity, for awareness-building and for prevention. The exhibition showcases their initiatives by presenting excerpts of theatre productions as well as animated and documentary films. It also gives a voice to performers, educators and activists who have reflected on the use of these stories.

Finally, the visitors are invited to reflect on day-to-day-actions through which they can oppose injustice, prejudice and violence.

We are Montral


War, genocide or human rights violations are extreme expressions of intolerance, discrimination and the struggle for power. Today, in Montreal, it is easy to feel uninvolved and protected. However, prejudice, inequality, everyday racism and intimidation are everywhere. Fortunately everyone can act daily to be open to change and fight against injustice, one gesture at a time. Because all together we are Montreal.