My Mother Hums Fado When No One is Listening2 min read

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My Mother Hums Fado When No One is Listening by Ann Shin. An excerpt. Published in Ricepaper 18.2, Fall 2013

Was it love that nudged my parents to make the most radical decision of their lives — to leave, to immigrate to a country that neither had ever set foot in? They arrived in Canada in 1970 just as Pierre Trudeau, the swinging bachelor prime minister, twirled his country onto the world stage like a shy girl in a starched prom dress. He opened Canada’s front doors to immigrants from around the world, leaving the back door ajar for American conscientious objectors of the Vietnam War. Trudeau was the kind of world leader that rock superstars John Lennon and Yoko Ono sought to discuss world peace; the kind of world leader who danced pirouettes behind Queen Elizabeth’s back, a leader that Canada could fall in love with; and the country was newly in love with itself.

It was an ideal time for young immigrants to arrive at Canada’s doorstep. Mae and Pai lugged their suitcases full of wedding gifts (still wrapped in gift paper) and took a room in a boarding house in the student ghetto near the University of Toronto. While Guess Who’s American Woman blared from the radio down the hall, Mae and Pai sat in their room pining for a record player to play their Portuguese albums. The closest they got to appreciating rock music was John Denver’s Country roads, take me home, to the place where I belong…this was fado set to an American tune. This soulful ballad became their new anthem and Mae and Pai sang along in their broken English. They didn’t know all the words but they knew what the song meant.

Mae used to say that she ‘loss so much’ when she came to Canada. I thought she meant she lost her home, she lost her sense of place and belonging. But she didn’t lose her sense of Portugal so much as preserve it under plastic wrap in the living room. No, she didn’t mean she had lost her culture, she meant something else.

For the full story, buy the issue.

Ann Shin will also facilitate a workshop at literASIAN, a festival featuring Pacific Rim Asian Canadian authors, on 23 November 2013. Register for her workshop, Your story or poem as a ‘brand’: Leveraging literature in new media, HERE.

For more information on literASIAN, please visit

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