By: Anna Press

On November 5, the Mosaic Institute hosted the Citizen Summit at McGill University in Montreal. The focus was on refugees in the 21st century, and determining where responsibility lies for the crises and the individuals living through them. In addition to plenary sessions, participants had the opportunity to attend workshops focusing on various aspects of the refugee experience. Below, read more about the “Knowing Yourself: Understanding Migration and Conflict through Theatre and Dialogue” workshop, delivered by Anna Press and Julien Naggar.

As part of the Citizen Summit, I hosted a workshop with Julien Naggar using theatre and facilitated dialogue to develop compassion for oneself and others in order to better understand conflict and migration. In order to warm up to the sensitive nature of the discussions, we began with a Theatre of the Oppressed game that explores family histories of migration in relation to those around us. We travelled through time to then return to the present, moving to a discussion of empathy and sympathy in order to examine our current understandings of the impact of conflict on personal and social identities through migration. Our facilitated discussion was based on theories and concepts stemming from my Master’s research on immigrants to Ontario from Turkey and Israel[1].

In both the morning and afternoon workshops, a number of similar themes emerged. The friction between self-perception, and external perceptions of one’s group identities was a particular point of interest. Any individual may self-ascribe to numerous group identities, yet these may not necessarily align with how others categorize us. On top of these possible areas for identity dissonance comes the question of how to grapple with negative external stereotypes that may even be true about a group that one belongs to. In a sense, there’s a feeling that people no longer belong to a certain homeland culture when the things that lead them to leave are the very things that people ascribe (negatively) to that culture – prejudicial or narrow-minded views, were the prime examples.

2-22In this vein, considerable discussion revolved around the question of the decolonization of oneself. When your family has lived through decades or centuries of oppression that continues to this day, how do you break free of that? How do you unlearn the behaviours of the oppressing dominant culture? These are not simple questions to answer, but it’s important to grapple with these concepts so that we can better understand how much we internalize through our families’ collective pasts and also through the external groups that aim to categorize us according to gender, ethnic background and so on without consideration for our intersecting selves.

We can’t know who others choose to be without allowing them the chance to reflect on themselves and express what matters most. By imposing biases on others, we restrict their ability to grow and we also minimize our compassion for the multi-faceted identity that they own. Being conscious of all of these questions and considerations isn’t an easy task, but I think that it’s only when we rise to this challenge that we truly recognize the value in ourselves and others.

[1] The thesis is entitled: “Identity Voyage: an Investigation into how Homeland Conflict Affects the Identities of Immigrants to Canada.” It can be accessed here: