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Asian diversity celebrated through digital means

Having the birds and bees conversations with your kids does not happen often in the Philippines, as Yvonne Clarke knows. It took a lot of guts to publicly share how her lack of sex education affected her life.

Having the birds and bees conversations with your kids does not happen often in the Philippines, as Yvonne Clarke knows. It took a lot of guts to publicly share how her lack of sex education affected her life.

She was one of four artists who created digital stories to describe their journey toward integrating into the Yukon. These projects, which were released as part of last month’s Asian Heritage celebration, were presented last Friday to a group of around 30 people at the Whitehorse Public Library.

Digital stories look like short films, but instead of footage, they consist of old photos accompanied with an intimate narration of one’s life. One told of a Singaporean’s travels around the world looking for “home,” while another involved a Japanese Canadian who pieces her heritage together over tea.

Clarke’s story focused on how she spoke to her children about sex when they became teens in the hopes they would make healthy choices. Considering the Philippines mandated sex education only last year through the highly controversial Reproductive Health Act, Clarke’s digital story breaks cultural norms.

Clarke, who is currently the president of the Yukon Filipino Association, shared candid details in her digital story about becoming pregnant at 18. She blamed her early pregnancy on being raised in a “very conservative” environment, which is “just plain wrong,” she said.

“It didn’t work for me. The first time I experimented with sex I got pregnant right away,” she said.

Clarke learnt how to make a digital story at a three-day workshop put together by the Yukon Multicultural Centre and the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21. In the workshop, the participants had to sum their story up into a 450-word “glimpse” of their Asian backgrounds.

“That’s not fair, how can I tell my story in 450 words? I cannot even begin to say how I immigrated,” Clarke said.

Despite the limits of the medium, Clarke said she hopes sharing her digital story would create change. She did it hoping that young people “would be able to learn something from it.”

Another participant, Lillian Nakamura Maguire, sees the benefits of digital stories. “I’ve always been interested in film but I didn’t have time or the money or the talent really to do a film. But a digital story is accessible. It’s a story that anybody can do,” she said.

Maguire said she produced three other digital stories, having learnt the medium a few years ago in Denver. The first one was about the Japanese Canadian internment during the Second World War, the second about her mother’s Buddhist funeral and the third was unrelated to her family history. “It took me three stories to get to this story, which to me is the story I’ve been wanting to tell.”

Maguire took a different take on her culture compared to Clarke − she wanted to preserve it, rather than change it. Being a Canadian of Japanese descent, she created a story on her longing to reconnect with her heritage.

Maguire’s digital story showed her having tea with Japanese Canadian women in Whitehorse to practise speaking Japanese and learn her culture. The only second-generation immigrant in the project, Maguire said she joined the tea club after “carrying around guilt” for not being able to properly communicate with her mother when she was suffering leg pains, which eventually led to a stroke and her death.

“I kept thinking, if only I had been able to probe more deeply and ask her how the pain in her leg was different from her usual arthritis,” she said in her digital story.

After taking several Japanese language courses, she has come to terms with not being fluent. After a five-week intensive course at the University of Regina, she said, “I felt like I graduated from kindergarten!”

Her digital story ended on a happy note. “I am drawn to the tea ceremony because it’s my way back to my mother and my roots,” Maguire said.

The participants who created the other two digital stories did not attend the event. Both illustrated how emigrating to the Yukon changed their lives.

Ardie Cabardo, a Filipino mass communications student, turned to environmental science after a camping trip in Tombstone Territorial Park.

“I saw a land covered with green trees, towering mountains almost touching the sky and heard the call of various animals from the surrounding area,” Cabardo said in the digital story. The experience gave him a “closer connection to nature,” which led him to pursue a completely different career path as a student in renewable resource management.

The last story, put together by Marianne Ang, had a similar theme to Clarke’s: breaking away from strict parents. “I was never allowed to go out alone. My mom would always say, ‘if you were a boy it would be different,’” Ang said in the story.

She pursued architectural studies in Singapore, which encouraged her to travel around the world. Her voyages became an annual backpack trip, travelling to see the men she met in previous trips. “Even emigrating to Canada was inspired by love,” she said.

Ang said she had a “spiritual wedding” with her boyfriend of 15 years when he was diagnosed with cancer. His death led her to travel again, and now Ang shuffles between Florida and Whitehorse, where her current boyfriend lives. Her digital story had an open ending, asking, “Where does my own heart sing? Is it time to move again?”

Fittingly, Ang did not attend the event because of her wanderlust − she was travelling to Europe.

A total of eight stories were produced, all of which will screen during Whitehorse Culture Days in September. They will be available online at the Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21 website sometime in the fall. The other four stories were created by Yukoners of African, Caribbean and German descent.

The event was sponsored by the Hidden History Group of Yukon, Multicultural Centre of Yukon, Whitehorse Public Library, Yukon Archives, and the Yukon Human Rights Commission.

Contact Krystle Alarcon at