In 2017, Justine Abigail Yu began compiling stories from hyphenated Canadians — those who call Canada home but have roots elsewhere — for a magazine that would help amplify their voices. She made a callout on Facebook looking for story submissions, hoping to reach friends and friends of friends.
Yu was shocked by the response, with more than 200 submissions from creatives with stories to tell.
“I just really wanted to do something. I wanted to see more representation in the Canadian arts and literature space,” says Yu, who earned her honours bachelor of arts in political science and sociology in 2011 as a member of Trinity College. “I didn't expect we would get hundreds of submissions from across the country. And seeing that really validated for me how much we need a space like this.”
Now, five years later, Living Hyphen has published three issues and created a flourishing community of hyphenated Canadians across the country. Yu’s most recent call for submissions garnered more than 800 responses.
It's just been so incredible to see it grow and to have people feel so connected to what it means to be a hyphenated Canadian because, on a personal note, that's something I struggled with a lot growing up.
"It's just been so incredible to see it grow and to have people feel so connected to what it means to be a hyphenated Canadian because, on a personal note, that's something I struggled with a lot growing up,” says Yu. “I was always feeling this tension between being Filipina and being Canadian.”
Living Hyphen has been a massive undertaking for Yu, who also does freelance marketing communications work. And while much of what goes into creating a magazine from the ground up was new to Yu, she was able to draw on her experience as associate editor of the Undergraduate Journal of Political Science.
“Going through all those different essay submissions is something I did at U of T and that showed me what goes into the publication process,” says Yu, who has stayed connected to the University through career panels and alumni mentorship programs.
With 800 submissions to comb through, Living Hyphen’s publication process is scaled up massively from any of Yu’s previous undertakings. Luckily, she can draw on the help of Living Hyphen’s publisher, her mother Jocelyn Yu.
Yu had approached her mother for help financing Living Hyphen, but quickly brought her into the editorial process to read the submissions. Together, they used Living Hyphen as a vehicle to engage in difficult conversations — often over tasty meals that help make the complex topics more palatable.
Jocelyn says the magazine and the many submissions she’s read have helped educate her on the experience of the younger generation of hyphenated Canadians.
One of the most special gifts of this project is being able to work on this with my mom, especially on a subject that means a lot to both of us but in very different ways.
“I have to unlearn many things,” says Jocelyn, who came to Canada from the Philippines when she was in her 30s. “Some are very basic in my core. But I was thinking if I publish a magazine with my daughter, especially this edition called Healing Across Generations, I should be willing to unlearn.”
“One of the most special gifts of this project is being able to work on this with my mom, especially on a subject that means a lot to both of us but in very different ways,” says Yu.
Living Hyphen has also grown to include a podcast and a stage play, both initiated by members of the community. Yu also leads workshops, which help recoup printing costs that aren’t fully covered by the magazine’s retail price. The writing workshops — along with storytelling nights — aim to nurture and cultivate the voices and stories of racialized storytellers.
To date, Living Hyphen has facilitated over 125 writing workshops across Canada with nearly 1800 attendees. Partnerships with public libraries and school boards across Ontario, as well as many other arts and culture organizations across the country, will help deliver the programming to even wider communities.
Yu’s work in the space has not gone unnoticed. Last year, the Toronto Star, the Globe and Mail, CTV News and more have provided coverage of Living Hyphen.
“Living Hyphen’s mission is to reshape the mainstream and to turn up the volume on voices that often go unheard,” says Yu. “And to find ourselves in those mainstream publications feels like confirmation of the fact that we have accomplished what we set out to do. That feels incredibly empowering and hopeful.”