Introducing a new series of interviews with the founders of ZFC and their backstories. For part 2, we interview Ivo Santos.
Attending the protests in the past couple of weeks while sporting a “Zero Racism Club” t-shirt, he discovered how much he loves the energy of Calgary coming together to support the Black Lives Matter movement. ZFC’s latest t-shirt sales go directly to BLM and display an important message; “If we let racism, hate and terror win, there won’t be a future worth living.” New Saint led the design, inspired by the movement he has personally supported and spoke out about for a good part of his life. It excites him to see everyone jumping on board, and to see the growth of the movement over the years.
Having lived most of life in a westernized country, New Saint feels as though being a POC is something he has recently been getting more in touch with. He recognizes this is a direct result of emphasizing the need to celebrate our differences, instead of denying them. For most of his life he felt the need to assimilate into a westernized culture and way of living. The lack of diversity within the communities he was associated with resulted in having less of a space to celebrate his own culture.
“If we let racism, hate and terror win, there won’t be a future worth living.”
New Saint’s initial experience with racism in Calgary was in the corporate world. He was first brought to the city by a job that felt like a fresh start away from his life in Vancouver. Every excuse in the book seemed to be used to explain the use of racial slurs, and BIPOC were expected to brush them off. He observed that speaking up on racist micro-aggressions would end up hurting the relationship he had with his coworkers. Even while he was expected to be subservient and accommodating in many ways, he was still faced with individuals approaching him with stereotypes. Speaking up also seemed to hinder career opportunities, and it did not take long for him to experience the passive aggressive brand of racism occurring in the city of Calgary.
Dissatisfied with this experience, New Saint looked for a place where he could be himself, and be celebrated for his differences. He dove headfirst into the music scene and attended two of Calgary’s biggest festivals, Sled Island and Calgary Folk Fest. “The energy was raw, the scene was diverse, and the community had this small town feel that I messed with.” He had seen diversity in Toronto and Vancouver, but there seemed to be something special about the diversity in Calgary. The festivals encouraged New Saint to continue in his own music endeavours, and the music scene became a space where he finally felt like his diversity mattered.
Most of us can relate to positive experiences we share within communities that have a common interest or culture, like New Saint immersing himself in the music scene. The Calgary Stampede is a place where individuals meet over a common interest, but the environment isn’t always positive. New Saint found himself on a date with a woman who was white, and decided to play a game in hopes to win her a stuffed animal prize. He was playing against a white gentleman who was clearly intoxicated and whom other people also surrounded. New Saint ended up winning the round, and the gentleman exclaimed dissatisfaction, and then asked for a rematch. They agreed to play and New Saint won again. The gentleman became full of rage, and decided to use many Asian racial slurs to somehow justify the game results. As New Saint tried to de-escalate the situation, the man only became more aggressive and took a swing at him. When he missed, the racial slurs and yelling continued. His friends started to hold the gentleman back, but before he could calm down, two peace officers show up and quickly read the situation, deciding to escort New Saint off the premises, assuming that he had started the fight.
New Saint experienced racism at the hand of a community member, but also saw how figures of authority use racial discrimination to make quick decisions. When looking back at this circumstance, we can see the importance of unlearning deeply ingrained racism, if only to make the right call in moments of quick judgment. In moments of high stress, quick thinking is required, but at what cost? As BIPOC, being at the hands of police is often filled with fear. Individuals who feel safe calling the police don’t often see the consequences of police interacting with BIPOC, and may not understand the aftermath that is usually filled with unjust action. The BLM movement calls us all to stop and listen to stories from individuals who experience this. The movement especially asks to diversify our knowledge, and one way we can do that is to take a second look at communities that are predominantly white, how can we learn if we aren’t surrounded by diversity? When witnessing or involved in a situation with a BIPOC, we can even double-check our intentions before calling the police, will the police actually help this individual in a way that is fair?
About the author : Mariebelle Sawma is an up and coming Lebanese Canadian writer, currently writing for TEDxYYC and holds a poetry publication with the Femme Handbook, Volume 2. She has lived in Calgary, Alberta for most of her life and is currently completing her Bachelor of Arts in English at Mount Royal University. Mariebelle enjoys reading a good book at a cozy coffee shop – a trip never complete without daydreaming about the eradication of systemic racism.
Photos by Esther Cho