Rich, wise and spirited: An ode to fatherhood

Much evocative of Marjane Satrapi’s wonderful, moving tale of growing up in revolutionary Iran in the Persepolis series, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home shares an equally trenchant narrative arc about a girl’s portrait of her family, drawing from strong influences of her father who created a Fun Home, “treating his furniture like children, and children like furniture,” their repository of family secrets. The similarities in both works stretch with the range and depth of emotions portrayed, intensity of relationships, apathy and satire, and the ultimately deep generosity that prevails.

Alison makes it clear in the beginning, it is her undertaker father who is the hero (instead of say her mother, or even herself) because a) he is no more and b) the bar is lower for fathers than for mothers, their every kindness amplified. Bechdel’s expanding etymology weaves a taut narrative, from her discovery of words and states of existence she wasn’t quite acquainted with before the dictionary as a diary-writing honest-to-page ten year old, to her growing resistance to facts with the onset of adolescence and written expression yielding to life’s farcical structures, and ambiguities: her likeness with her mortician father, and their differences; his sacrifices to make everything appear ideal, the father who reads to her at bedtime and later on (as she does not foresee) from his grave.

Alison introspects throughout her adolescence: was he a good father? His reading lists and library, his quirks and silences, photos, intimate friendships, transgressions with the law, endearing letters to her as his only potential companion, all rank in her memory as significant. She was his favourite pupil, and he her favourite high school teacher, and yet they were both antagonistic, competing for attention (and desires) in their shared life spaces! Was his ultimate act then in cowardice, generosity, happenstance or plain literary masterstroke? Alison leaves it to the reader, even though her verdict is all too clear. Yet, her mother’s versatility is never eclipsed by the flaws, imperfections  or greatness of her father, merely sidelined as an effective plot device; the protagonist is the antagonist who yields to the protagonist-in-waiting, our quizzical narrator.

Prosy for a comic, Fun home is an aching reminder of how the invisible or marginal have to dole more words (than action) to be understood by those alien to their context and plight; hyper-verbosity tears through her narrative quicker than Cupid’s arrow. Our predecessors are examples of who we don’t want to be. Alison tells us why role models exist, to enlighten and fail us, passing on their burdens of flesh. Readable in a single night’s sitting, this story was a much needed memory trip of what it was growing up, a flashback and reminder of how we arrived into this world and why we are where we are (or are not) because of it.

“And despite the tyrannical power with which he held sway, it was clear to me that my father was a big sissy…. Between us lay a slender demilitarized zone — our shared reverence for masculine beauty.”

The binaries we are dealt in life, and in her pages, “Bourgeois vs. Aristocratic, Homo vs. Hetero, City vs. Country, Eros vs. Art, Private vs. Public,” confront the daily confusions, as poles “converge through a vast network of transervals.” Have you ever been eighty-sixed? Peppered with American liberal arts vernacular and contemporary culture-speak of sibling movements of the Laramie Project, landmark court rulings, metamorphoses, life-epiphanies, and activism as Alison grapples with her emotional, sexual and political identity, griping about the lack of a story to “cohere with”,  she sets a high bar for storytelling with this memoir! Her illustrations arrive in deft caricatures, but the conversations remain the glue.

Fun home is a literary graphic novel (in the same league as Persepolis) I came upon in Toronto’s BMV on Yonge Street in my final hour in that city. This book would make a great Father’s Day present; a film must be in the works somewhere.

What is the Migration Nation?

[This review was first published in the Marketing Intelligence and Research Agency (MRIA)’s Ottawa Chapter Newsletter in their August 27th issue.]

20150819_133152

The front cover of Migration Nation on my bookshelf, gifted to me on a trip to Toronto

Migration Nation is a highly topical book about multicultural marketing today. Canada, which has an aging demographic, low birth rates and labour shortages, welcomes around 300,000 new immigrants each year and this intake is only projected to rise as capital moves rapidly across continents with Canada’s new migrants bringing in new commerce and transcontinental networks that are fast shaping the cultural and business landscape in this country. [1] Diversity and diaspora are thus key facets of the Migration Nation. New Canadians are the pulse of Migration Nation, where every one in five Canadians is foreign-born. Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Global Public Affairs and author of The Big Shift often talks about how power is shifting in favour of talented, highly skilled migrants in a borderless world, where authors Kathy Cheng and Robin Brown reminisce over the joke that “free Wifi” is the new low in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs [2].

The rise of Asian millennials in Canada’s demographic make-up signals a “Big shift” for marketers, particularly in two of Canada’s three largest cities

The rise of Asian millennials in Canada’s demographic make-up signals a “Big shift” for marketers, particularly in two of Canada’s three largest cities

The authors of Migration Nation and researchers at the Environics Research Group, Robin Brown and Kathy Cheng provide comprehensive insights into the consumer behavior of New Canadians. The authors segment New Canadians based on their settlement experience and ethnicity to contextualize their consumer behavior. The authors advise on how to appeal to the experiences of immigrants with brands that may be established in their home countries, or with newer brands by triggering old associations with pre-migration experiences. [3]  Consumers cling to old brands and while this poses challenges for marketers, recognizing ethnic patterns and gaps in purchasing habits would be advantageous for marketers. The marketing challenge in Canada today is this: “In a more homogenous, less mobile, less connected society, understanding your market was easier. Leaders didn’t need to stretch their imaginations to speculate about the tastes and desires of the Canadian population.” [4] Today, New Canadians are connecting with families and friends in distant homelands via social networks. Hyperconnectivity, hyperdiversity, changing attitudes towards minorities, as well as the rise in fortunes of home countries of migrants are all defining Canadian diversity today, creating complex new markets and sub-markets to conduct business in.

Prime examples of the failure of understanding certain markets is shown by South Asians’ fondness for atta or flour and Chinese groups’ love for soups not translating into equal love for Canadian branded flour (Robin Hood) or canned soups (Campbell). [5] Ever since I have moved to Canada I have avoided the roti because frankly, I am unwilling to accommodate a substitute for the staple. This book sent me running to the grocery store, to take conscious stock of what I bought and to look at how the world around me shopped. How much stock was offered in mainstream stores versus specialty stores that served ethnic markets? Had the ethnic offerings been carefully amalgamated in the mainstream or were niche consumer preferences still marketed separately? The authors point out that dominant brands in home countries influence migrants’ choices. Attachment to Cadburys in South Asia for instance, is paralleled by brand loyalty for Ferrero Rocher in China. [6]

This is a post-national, multi-cultural Canada. As a young graduate from a Canadian marketing research and business intelligence program, of South Asian descent and Indian nationality on a temporary resident status in Canada, this book served as a guide to understanding the cultural and business landscape that is shaping Canada today. The illuminating statistics helped me compare my own consumer behavior with others. Navigating between multicultural (and often multi-lingual) identities is what powers Canada’s millennial consumers today as they pick and choose between cultures they grew up with, adopted, and were influenced by. [7] Even while targeting ethnic groups or immigrants, marketers should be sensitive to the differences between immigrants. Not only does when they immigrated to Canada matter, but also, how much of their pre-migration experience was spent in their country of origin. [8] First generation immigrants (or the “1 generation”) are different from those who moved here with their parents and families (the “1.5 generation”) and marketers must be attentive to these similarities and differences. Brown and Cheng define multicultural marketing as not just a way of targeting different ethnic pockets, but of mastering the “cultural competence” or intercultural skills to navigate values of different communities and appealing to them as part of the mainstream. Looking through the cultural lens of certain groups can lead to insights that drive marketing strategy. However, the challenge of achieving a balance between standardization and customization of products or services always remains. The authors argue that erring on the side of the authentic has been a successful approach for advertisers who capitalize on ethnic insights while appealing to the mainstream. [9]

Multicultural marketing is not just for Canadians: the British do it, the Americans do it, and many regions in the Middle East and Asia have done so for many years. What’s specific—or special—about Canadian multiculturalism, however, is the projected or potential newcomers (spiraling over the last few decades), temporary residents (like myself) or globalized workers who opt to spend a large portion of their working lives in this country at their convenience. Canada’s migrants are accelerating this country’s diversity and progress with their contribution to society, economy and other Canadians. It is important to be aware of opportunities in this new environment; marketers must adapt to these new narratives quickly. Migration Nation should be recommended reading for all research analyst / market research programs in Canada and the U.S.

BOOK ISBN: 9780986610417

TITLE: Migration Nation: A Practical Guide to Doing Business in Globalized Canada

PUBLISHER: Environics Publishing, 2014

PRICE: $28.95

Available at www.migrationnation.ca

Sources/Footnotes:

  1. Brown, Robin, and Kathy Cheng. Migration Nation: A Practical Guide to Doing Business in Globalized Canada. Toronto: Environics, 2014. Print.
  2. ibid
  3. ibid
  4. ibid
  5. ibid
  6. ibid
  7. Brown, R., & Cheng, K. (2015, July 25). Meet The Multicultural Millennials: An Environics Live Event. Retrieved August 10, 2015, from http://environicsresearch.com/insights/ multicultural-millennials-environics-live-stream/
  8. Brown, Robin, and Kathy Cheng. Migration Nation: A Practical Guide to Doing Business in Globalized Canada. Toronto: Environics, 2014. Print
  9. Ibid. Examples the authors quote include: Heineken’s “Open Your World” global campaign and Coca Cola’s “America the Beautiful” Super Bowl commercial

How to Get Filthy Rich for Asian Asians

Image

Penguin (2013)

Mohsin Hamid deftly guides you into his world of making it big in Asia. And by which I mean South Asia. East Asia is a different subject altogether, and better left to experts from outside this great mess of a subcontinent.  How to Get Filthy Rich… is an essential book for every modern young urban migrant without the baggage of memory, exile, partition, bloody wars, disasters, calamities of the recent past.

The roving You, is the centre of this novel, quickly shifting from boyhood to old age, from one phase of life to the next. What is your clutch? Nationality? Memory? Money?  Or cumulatively, time? Diasporic Asians are no more diasporic, they have ditched their hyphens, in this English speaking, maiden name loving, globetrotting, commercial oneness, achieving that synchronised identity upwards. Hamid is Pakistani, but you could just as easily be Indian or Bangladeshi.

And although this book could easily be targetted at anyone (including Westerners) who want to strike it big in Asia, his self-help strategies are aimed more directly at the Asian Asian. The Asian Asian is someone who lives in Asia, and wants to make it big in Asia, in a world where Asia is the centre of the universe. You are the millennial’s parent, the baby boomer, who sends your kids to North America or elsewhere to study and become citizens of another land. You are staying on, digging your tunnel to wealth, sitting on the goldmine that is Asia.

The book is a ten step or ten chapter lesson to improving yourself, and (like all good Asian advertising) nothing as grandiose as the title suggests. In the clutter of nonsense that is everyday living, Hamid brings us back to the basics with tips like: moving to the city, forging an identity, befriending the capitalists, begrudging the idealists, greasing the bureaucrat’s palms, getting educated, staying out of the trap and burden that is true love, taking up a mentor, dancing with debt (risk taking lessons), doing whatever it takes, befriending all sorts, banging on the basics and hitting the ESCAPE button.  There is a lesson or two tucked in, “Entrepreneurship in the barbaric wastes furthest from state power is a fraught endeavor, a constant battle, a case of kill or be killed, with little guarantee of success.”

You can manipulate your own mortality:

“With borrowed funds, a business can invest, gain leverage, and leverage is a pair of wings. Leverage is flight. Leverage is a way for small to be big and big to be huge, a glorious abstraction, the promise of tomorrow today, yes, a liberation from time, the resounding triumph of human will over dreary, chronology-shackled physical reality. To leverage is to be immortal.”

Aging is graceless, thankless:

“You have encountered the reality that with age things are snatched from a man, often suddenly and without warning. You do not rent a home for yourself or buy a secondhand car. Instead you remain in your hotel, with few possessions, no more than might fit in a single piece of luggage. This suits you. Having less means having less to anesthetize you to your life.”

The books ends in mutual consent between the reader and writer, the thinker and the living person, you or your progeny.

Hamid perhaps makes you expect a Slumdog Millionaire, dreamy realist story, but moves beyond. And what you forget is his nationality. There is never a dull word about the Asian neighbourhood nor the immediate political and social forces that cloister everyday living. His blissful pragmatism, is easy to disappear into.

Also there is not a single show or talk of skyrises versus the slums, an image we are much worn down by. It  is equally entertaining that he merrily skirts around the issue of forward mobility (the idea of moving forward, rather than moving higher) in times where society’s next trend  after upward mobility is exodus, moving outwards inwards, connecting, being socially outfitted post the rise of information networks. With better material disposition, you are bound to inhabit a better mental disposition too; However, better mental health is not necessarily the outcome of having become filthy rich. We are easily deluded from the consequences of this rags to riches or riches to rags tale as it may be. (Without wanting to drop any spoilers).

Belonging to the ilk of Teju Cole’s Open City, this book is also a rumination on solitude in the city. The voice originates from the same fragmented (or in Hamid’s case: segmented) age we are living and burning our livelihoods in.

So, I read this ebook on a Kindle app on my Mac, which did little to add to the weight of the novel. I found it light weight, easy to finish, leave off, and pick up again. Which made me wonder again at the physicality of the book; can physical weight ever match the weight of words? If a digital book is light on verdict, do you feel less cheated?

I loved the genre specificity and yet open endedness of this ever ready self-help novel; if you want to help yourself in a most enjoyable way, you have to read this book. If you are a baby boomer parent, you have to read this book too. If you are a Millennial child, go on and send this to your kindle. If you’re a baby boomer, you’ll probably be more deeply struck by how similar your life is to those around you.