Brampton author publishes book about the cultural gaps navigated by immigrants

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Published May 10, 2024 at 4:36 pm

For Brampton author Maria Joao Maciel Jorge, her relationship with Ontario has been quite the odyssey, and her new book The Hyphen: and Other Thoughts from the In-between deconstructs what it means to exist in the space between the cultural influence of two homes. 

Born in the Azores — a Portuguese archipelago in the mid-Atlantic — Jorge observed the cultural distinctions between her home and mainland Portugal while growing up. When she was 18, she moved to Toronto and rapidly discovered a third canvas of cultural identity in Canada. 

“I didn’t understand how tough being an immigrant was going to be, and for the first five years, I wanted to pack it up and go back home many times. I didn’t because I’m stubborn and didn’t want to accept defeat,” Jorge told insauga.com. 

Today, Jorge is both an associate professor and associate dean at York University, where she specializes in Portuguese studies and global community engagement. Throughout the genesis of her career, Jorge slowly laid the groundwork for what would become The Hyphen, as she reflected over the years on hurtling herself into the great white north and the lives she lived before and after. 

“What I wanted to do with this book is pay homage to those who came from the Azores, a subculture within a culture, that I think has been ghettoized and marginalized. I wanted to talk about things that are taken for granted, how immigrants feel like we don’t belong neither ‘here’ nor ‘there’ — how we constantly have to negotiate how we relate to mainstream culture,” says Jorge.

Throughout The Hyphen, Jorge takes readers on a non-linear journey through her life, from the Azores to her early days in Canada, and eventually, her current station as an academic in Toronto. Themes cover a wide range of topics —  and for the most part —  showcase a common cultural throughline for immigrant communities in Ontario. 

“I wanted to honour immigrant life. I wanted to honour not just the lives of those from the Azores or my Portuguese community. I wanted to tell folks about ‘us’ and how much more aligned we are in our shared experiences,” says Jorge. 

When discussing The Hyphen and her life in Ontario, Jorge touches on how immigrant communities often reverse engineer the homes they left behind in their chosen communities. However, she reveals that these spaces are more time capsules than a reflection of the real thing. 

“When talking about Little Portugal [in Toronto], it’s a reproduction of the Portugal left behind many decades ago. In fact, our communities here celebrate festivities that are no longer celebrated back home,” says Jorge. 

In The Hyphen, Jorge touches on an expression traced back to Azorian culture, which is referred to as being in a state of ‘‘stuck between the dock and ferry.” To an extent, this expression is what Jorge builds her thesis on, as it refers to being in a space between the home you leave behind and where you are now.

“For me, it is a space where you collect yourself, a space of arrival and departure. Not a space where you try to narrow or widen yourself but is instead, a space of possibilities. It is a space where I can have one foot firmly in Canada and my other in a Portuguese environment,” says Jorge. “For me, it’s a space where I can rejoice within all sorts of cultural spaces that I’m invited to — but also — it’s a space where I can decide I don’t like ‘this’ or ‘that’ about my own culture.” 

For Jorge, some of these shucked cultural variables extend to her life as a woman in academia, especially in contrast to the Azores growing up. 

“I grew up on an island. There were no plans for me to go to university, because you know, for girls back then, their destiny was to become wives. That was it. I was so naive as a young person that I didn’t even know that being a professor was a thing, let alone being an associate dean,” says Jorge. 

Now that The Hyphen is out on shelves and the collection of Jorge’s experiences is laid bare, one space remains empty, and that is what she wants the public to take from this incredibly personal piece of work. 

For Jorge, the answer is as complex as both the journey behind her and ahead of her.

“Ultimately, I didn’t want this book to be just about the Azores or just about the Portuguese, I wanted this book to be about all of us who have dared to — or — have been pushed to leave our safety net. I want people to talk about these issues and I’m hoping what I’ve done with this book is plant this seed for more complex and difficult conversations.”

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