Co-written by Niyosha Keyzad and Armi de Francia
Scarborough is subject to many stereotypes, and the mainstream local media is complicit in perpetuating them. Scarborough is, at best, cited as the most diverse part of the city with a variety of restaurants and grocers, and, at worst, it is imagined as a deserted, forlorn place, where nothing seems to happen.
The former city of Scarborough, which was amalgamated into the City of Toronto in 1998, is now the city’s largest district. Scarborough is home to over 600,000 residents, approximately 55% of whom are immigrants, and 73% racialized. The stories that have been told about Scarborough have long neglected the voices and perspectives of those who know the borough best: local residents. But that trend has recently changed.
In the last few years, a surge of widely read Scarborough-based literature (Chariandy’s Brother, Hernandez’ Scarborough, Leung’s That Time I Loved You, Mutonji’s Shut Up You’re Pretty) has drowned out the noise of the surrounding city. While the common narratives of Scarborough hardly need reiteration, stories from Scarborough paint a different picture of the community; one that refutes the false images that have been circulating in the public imagination for decades.
Changing the Narrative through Storytelling
Seeking to reclaim Scarborough’s narrative, the Scarborough Studies Collective organized a series of zine-making workshops throughout October and November 2019. The workshops, which were free and open to public, were held at the University of Toronto Scarborough Library Makers’ Space, where participants learned the art of zine-making. A zine (derived from the word “magazine”) is a self-published work made from original or appropriated texts and images. Local “zinesters” were also provided with materials and sets of questions and themes related to different elements of life in Scarborough. The result is a series of thoughtful narratives and illustrations that speak to shared knowledge and experiences — the joys and the struggles. These local stories resist detached assumptions about Scarborough, and they demonstrate that those living here take great pride in being part of the community.
While the zines capture a range of perspectives, from international students and newcomers, to long-time residents and established diaspora communities, they depict Scarborough as a dynamic, creative, resourceful place that is full of life.
The fifth and final workshop of the series was hosted in collaboration with Transportation Equity Toronto. Zine-makers were asked to explore the topic of safe streets by considering different forms of transportation. The theme of safe streets was framed by three ideas: Vision Zero, active transportation network, and Mobility Greenway. To help better understand these concepts, workshop participants were shown images of people of different backgrounds, ages, and abilities using alternative modes of transportation, including: bikes (including adaptive bikes and cargo bikes); electric, moped, and non-motorized kick-style scooters; and wheelchair minicars. These pictures proved powerful in helping local residents reimagine ways of getting around Scarborough through the seasons, using different types of infrastructure, such as mobility greenways, multi-use paths, crosswalks, trails, and bike lanes. During group discussion, attendees expressed serious concerns about walking safety and access to transit, and many zines from this session envision sustainable solutions for overcoming practical and systemic barriers in Scarborough.
Amalgamation of Narratives
The Collective celebrated the launch of their zine library by hosting a party at Rex’s Den, where an overwhelming turnout of students, faculty, and community members gathered to listen and to be heard. Zine-makers were invited back to read from their work, and to meet their fans. Guests also had the opportunity to create their own zines, posters, and buttons at stations set up with materials and facilitators. The celebration wrapped up with a performance by the local spoken word poet, author, and UTSC alumni, Mars the Poet.
In the spirit of collectivity, and in acknowledgement of the transportation and accessibility barriers affecting Scarborough, we encourage you to join the collective effort to reclaim Scarborough’s narrative by sharing your home-made zines and pre-recorded readings with SSC. To submit your story, and to follow the zine project please visit the Scarborough Studies Collective’s Instagram page.
Niyosha Keyzad is Co-Founder of Scarborough Studies Collective. She is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto Department for English and the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies.
Armi de Francia is an active transportation professional, a member of the Scarborough Studies Collective, and the founder of Transportation Equity Toronto.
The SSC Zine Workshop Series and Launch Party were made possible in partnership with University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) English Department, the UTSC Library, the UTSC Community Partnerships Office (CPO), and UofT School of Cities.
Image courtesy of the Scarborough Studies Collective and Andrea Charise