It's an address on de Gaspé, east of the Main, south of the tracks, just north of Maguire. An inhospitable corner of Montreal, and not only on the Friday evening of Thanksgiving weekend. The wind is howling between industrial warehouses that have seen better days. There’s no sign of Z Gallery in the lobby, but someone has posted a hand-drawn notice when we get off the elevator on the third floor, and I hear voices when I turn the corner into a beautifully white, clear gallery space with selected works by artists and photographers.
From across the room I recognize two pieces I know must be by Montreal photographer and visual artist Yassaman Ameri. The gallery owner, activist and artist Sharzhad Arshadi comes over to greet me. I first met her at a memorial for Ziba Kazemi, the Iranian-Canadian photographer murdered in a Tehran prison. And indeed the Z in Z Gallery is for Ziba, and “ziba” means “beautiful.”
Abou Farman has arrived before me, and there are a few others here, too, some I recognize from yesterday’s launch of Clerks of the Passage, Farman’s beautifully accomplished account of movement and migration. This evening's gathering is Farman’s idea, a discussion between him and filmmakers Marie Boti and Malcolm Guy whose latest documentary is The End of Immigration?
Farman begins with a reading from his book, an excerpt focused on Sir Alfred, an Iranian of undetermined identity who spent eleven years in transit in Charles-de-Gaulle airport. Movement, Farman writes in his essay, is “undertheorized.” His book is both philosophical and deeply personal, as he writes about the immigrants named Ali like Abou himself (Abou’s full given name is Abou Ali) – who gathered over a period of years to share food and wine and stories in a Montreal apartment. Some of the Alis are here, now, in Z Gallery, Farman’s old friends, here to celebrate the publication of his first book -- and participate in a discussion of migration, a subject on which they are all experts.
Boti introduces the film and shows an 8-minute excerpt that touches on migrant workers in British Columbia, Alberta, and Quebec. Many of them earn far less than minimum wage – as little $3.50 an hour in some cases – and are at risk of deportation any time they try to better themselves. There are some 300,000 of these migrant workers in Canada.
These Filipinos and Guatamalans and Nigerians live in poverty and in fear and, unlike the immigrants of earlier days, they have little hope, ever, of becoming Canadian citizens. In comparison, the Alis were fortunate, for they could stay here and build a new life for themselves.
We tend to think of Canada as welcoming immigrants, but we much prefer immigrants who have means, and we pack those who do not have means back to their homelands as soon as we have done with them. It’s a shocking story, and it’s a story most of us have not heard before. The concrete canyon along de Gaspé looks even less hospitable afterwards than it did before.
© Linda Leith 2012
The End of Immigration? launched in Edmonton last weekend, then in Montreal, and it will be screened on Monday October 15 at Cinema Politica, Concordia University, at a fundraiser for the Immigrant Workers Centre on Côte-des-Neiges.
Abou Farman's Clerks of the Passage is available here.
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