The CPN is pleased to feature stories about newcomer immigrants who are starting a new life in Greater Victoria and some of the challenges, barriers, and successes they face.
Newcomer Profile: Ann Bernice-Thomas
Ann-Bernice Thomas is Victoria’s 2016 Youth Poet Laureate (YPL). Ann-Bernice seeks to inspire and engage local youth to share their stories and artistic voice through the written and spoken word. A spoken word artist and screenplay writer, Thomas is in her second year at the University of Victoria. Here is her story and perspective about coming to live in Victoria as a newcomer.
“I’ve always been used to being the only person of colour in the room. I lived close enough to Toronto to watch it’s kinetic energy call to the youth of the suburbs, but far enough away that “city people” never came through unless they were on their way to cottage country. The ratio never really bothered me, at least not in a way I could articulate at the time. I had my Jamaican mother, my Sierra-Leonean father, cultural food being cooked at home, and siblings to discuss ‘black media’ with. I was fulfilled in the ways I needed to be. So when I moved to Victoria, I wasn’t expecting Victoria to be much different. And I was right. I’m the only black woman in both of my university departments (or so I’ve seen), which isn’t too surprising considering I’m doing a double major in fine arts. But Victoria is so different from Toronto. The nuances in racial biases, ethnic relations, and basic interactions are, on some days, quite shocking. Once, on my way to an interview for a local paper, a woman asked me if I was going to cut my hair to look more professional. It took everything in me to not yell at her: “I’M CURRENTLY HOLDING A CITY COUNCIL APPOINTED POSITION. I’M AS PROFESSIONAL AS IT GETS!!”
But I am a lucky girl. There are two things that truly helped me to step back, analyze, and learn, rather than sink into a hole of pure unadulterated rage. The first was my friend Malaika. Malaika is a Person of Colour (POC) at the University of Victoria. Malaika introduced me to the community and encouraged me to perform my poetry. I hadn’t realized how much I missed being around other POC’s until I started hanging out with them. There’s such safety for me in a community that shares similar life experiences. I was missing my family, my food, and my culture. I got it all back in one fantastic friend. When family is gone, the community and friendship are there and that is something I will always be thankful for.
The second helpful thing that helped me adjust to life in Victoria was my spoken word poetry. I am the current Youth Poet Laureate of Victoria. I had always been active in the poetry scene, performing and competing etc. In high school, I once wanted to write a poem about racism for a poetry competition, but the team captain told me: “They would expect a poem about racism from a black girl.” So I should not bother. For years after that, I elected not to write about race because it was what was “expected” of me. I would be just another angry black girl to everyone else. Nobody cares. It wasn’t until the death of Tamir E. Rice that I was able to step outside of that mindset and write the truth- the truth of existing in a black body.
As the Youth Poet Laureate for Victoria, I receive many requests to write or perform poems on different topics. Last year, I was asked to write a poem about the topics of immigration, home, and what it all means to me. This was one of the most helpful poems I’ve written in regards to my own self-analysis, actualization, and growth. Without the POC community, without my poetry, and the spoken work community, my life in Victoria would have been much more difficult. Cities are vibrant places because there are so many different and special people living so close to one another doing everything and anything they can to live the happiest life possible. Victoria is well on its way. Victoria has many “pockets of communities” waiting to let you in with open arms. The hard part is knowing where to look.”