Canada Reads

How writing Canada Reads winner We Have Always Been Here helped Samra Habib deal with past trauma

Habib's memoir was successfully defended by actor Amanda Brugel during Canada Reads 2020.
Samra Habib is the author of We Have Always Been Here. (CBC)

In Samra Habib's memoir and authorial debut We Have Always Been Here, the Toronto-based journalist and photographer chronicles her story — from her childhood in Pakistan and becoming a young refugee to coming-of-age between cultures in Canada.

Growing up, Habib faced religious persecution in Pakistan and endured racist bullying in Canada, but later came into her own as a proud queer Muslim woman. Her work has previously appeared in publications like the New York Times, the Guardian, the Washington Post and Vanity Fair.

Actor Amanda Brugel won Canada Reads 2020 defending We Have Always Been Here.

Before the debates took place, Habib spoke to On the Coast host Gloria Macarenko about what it was like having We Have Always Been Here on Canada Reads.

Samra Habib talks to CBC Radio about her debut book We Have Always Been Here, which will be defended by Amanda Brugel on Canada Reads 2020.

Taking a leap

"The reason we had to leave Pakistan was because my family is part of a Muslim minority sect. We're called Ahmadis. People from the sect are persecuted and oftentimes they are killed. So we were fearing for our lives and that is the reason we ended up leaving for Canada. So fear, I learned while writing the book, guided my life choices.

As a result of writing this book, I started challenging myself a little more and dared myself to take bigger risks than I already had.

"I tended to make safe choices because all I wanted was to feel protected and to know that I would feel safe. As a result of writing this book, I started challenging myself a little more and dared myself to take bigger risks than I already had."

A journey of forgiveness

"It's about finding my place in the world, while feeling very much like an outsider my entire life. And it's also about forgiveness; forgiving my parents and at times, also myself. While writing the book I actually realized the trauma that I was carrying as a result of being a refugee. And it helped me realize that I just need to be gentle on myself. I find, oftentimes, that I'm hard on myself and I just need to allow myself to react to things the way I need to react because they're a result of the kind of life that I've lived."

Lending a voice

"For years I had worked on this photo project called Just Me and Allah. I travelled around the world photographing and interviewing queer Muslims, asking them about their relationship with Islam. It was after having that experience that I felt like it was time for me to lend my voice and share my journey.

    "I was realizing that a lot of young people that I was talking to were searching for role models. I thought maybe I could be that person — because trauma is a huge part of my life. But I've also, as a queer person, experienced a lot of joy, a lot of pleasure. That's also part of my story. So about three years ago, I decided to write this book."

    Healing through writing

    "It was very therapeutic. I felt like I met myself for the first time. There's a great quote by James Baldwin: 'Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.' That resonates with me. Writing usually is how I process what I am going through and what I am thinking. So it provided me an opportunity to figure out where the healing needed to be."

    The Canada Reads 2020 contenders

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