When I came to Life Stories of Montrealers Displaced by War, Genocide, and Other Human Rights Violations, the Community-University Research Alliance (CURA) project had not yet officially started: researchers and community groups were still finding each other and pairing up. I was representing Isangano, Montreal’s cultural group of young Rwandans. Isangano had accepted the project’s invitation because it was an opportunity to walk our talk: we were deeply involved with community building, and it was a chance to strengthen ties between Rwandans by working closely with Page-Rwanda, another community group. It was also a chance to work with scholars, both Rwandan and non-Rwandan. Rwandan scholars were a much needed and fervently wished for change from the usual colonial attitude of Western “experts” producing and disseminating the only available knowledge about our situation. Non-Rwandan scholars gave us a welcome chance to open to the larger community, especially in the context of the sharing-authority concept permeating the participants and the whole project.
The wonderful texts featured in this publication were presented at CURA’s first conference, appropriately named for the core principle, “sharing authority.” Each text comes out of a very different project, and while every one has a distinct take on the concept, the articles have in common a very intimate, engaged perspective they speak from, a voice that speaks to me as a community co-applicant. Rereading these texts and writing this preface was an opportunity to clarify what I understand to be the weaknesses and the strengths of my work in the community and our larger work together.
Three years ago, I started a dialogue project in Montreal’s Rwandan community. Tuganire—let’s talk—was born out of the need to shake people up and create wellness within what I perceived to be a lifeless community of inert individuals. I felt we were not addressing our needs or sharing and taking advantage of our strengths. Discrimination, exile, migration, and immigration, and finally the 1994 genocide of the Tutsi in Rwanda, had devastated us and left us reeling, surviving certainly, but not living anymore. [End Page 5]
Tuganire was an empowerment project within the framework of community art. I was inspired by its inherent concept of aesthetic relationship and by author, scholar, and activist bell hooks’s ideas of love as action. Looking for partners in this adventure of collectively co-creating and revitalizing our community, I joined Isangano. I had worked with them some years before on choreography and meaning of the traditional dances and songs, and I felt the sound of their drums to be the closest thing our community has to a heartbeat. As empowerment should lead to concrete action, I hoped a collective project would come out of the dialogue: something we would like to do together. And something did: people wanted a Rwandan cultural community centre, and so we used dialogue to speak the place into existence and named it Umurage (heritage).
Initially, I had thought dialogue about or out of genocide would breach an “ethnic” divide; but instead there were many groups, even within the “same” group, and dialogue first ended up being about breaching the silences among us. In “Sharing Authority with Baba,” Stacey Zembrzycki speaks of a journey from a “safe and objective distance” as an historian to deeply personal and highly subjective narrative about her community (219). She tells of the transformation of the imagined community: the one she had made up in her head from her childhood understanding, as she gets to know it as an adult through her project, ends up being very different, much more nuanced and complex. I identified with the author when she said that her imagined community helped her navigate the real one. I found the same to be true in our dialogue project: community in a real sense is still far away, but we did start talking, and after three years we have hopefully laid the foundations for the more challenging conversations still to come. Or we did until the centre had to close. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
We took possession of the small space that was to become North...