Exposing Hidden Roots Montreal North’s Collection of Racialized Authors and Artists Hopes to Uproot the Marginalized BY MARISSA RAMNANAN
“Sit down, get comfortable. This is home.” Empress Rosiclar was a step short of hugging me when I walked into Racines, a bookstore. The walls were splattered with color, music was playing in the background, and there was art. Everywhere. Racines is bookstore gold. Located in Montreal North, at 4689 Henri-Bourassa Blvd. East, the store has a feature that makes it special: it only carries books and art made by people of color. All of the art on the walls is created by local, racialized artists, Rosiclar explained. Rosiclar has worked there ever since the bookstore opened on August 5. Sophia Sahrane, a Concordia graduate and employee at Racines, said the purpose of the bookstore is not to find a balance between racialized and nonracialized authors and artists, because that is impossible. Instead, the purpose is to represent racialized people. “It’s an independent store, nobody funds us,” said Rosiclar. “We are very new, and it shows,” Rosiclar said. They’ve used up most of their funds, she admits, and this is why they are now only open three days a week. Their profit mainly comes from book sales and hosting events. Racines carries books written in English, French, and Creole. They have a wide selection of books written by Montrealers, like local activist Robyn Maynard’s new release olicing lack Li es. Local authors and artists pass by to sell their works at Racines all the time, said Sahrane. They also have works by international authors, including The ite unner by Khaled Hosseini and u by Kim Th y. If they don’t have a specific book that a customer is looking for, Racines will often order it for them. It’s all for sale, by the way, Rosiclar said, waving a hand in front of her. Everything, from the plants on the tables, to the statues—and it’s all affordable.
Books tend to cost between 7 and 13, and those on the bottom shelves are sold for 5 or less. They also have a handful of books that they give away for free. The people who come to the shop are diverse. Everyone has different languages on their tongues, different kinds of loves, yet are all under the same roof, attracted to this little literary safe haven. Racines isn’t just a bookstore, said Rosiclar. She continued that owner Gabriella Kinte’s main goal was to create a safe space, a second home for people. They always have music playing, and offer customers coffee or tea, she said. It’s not only about making money. “There is so much love here,” said Rosiclar. “That’s our main focus: love.” The bookstore is open to all ages and races, but is especially catered to Montreal North’s racialized youth. “Here, come, let me show you,” she said pointing to the wall by the couches. On it, words were painted in bolded black, “You are special. You are leaders. You are Dreamers. You are thinkers. You are respected. You are a friend. You are loved. You are the reason I am here.” This is Racines’ slogan, she explained. “We just wanna love people, and we want our customers to love themselves.” That’s the reason they don’t only sell books. It’s a place where people have freedom of speech, she said, “And we respect that. We let people express that in their art.” The space has posters and postcards depicting LGBTQ and fantasy art. They also sell dolls for children depicting women of color and t-shirts with political statements saying things like “Youth of Colour, You Matter.” Rosiclar skipped happily around the room while showing off the products, a genuine smile on her face the entire time. This place is important, she said, because
it’s the first of its kind in Montreal. Montreal North is a racialized community, added Sahrane. In 2014, 42.9 per cent of the community was listed as being part of a visible minority. “When we talk about segregation in Montreal, I think of this borough,” Sahrane said. “In Montreal North, of all places,” said Rosiclar, “the need is high for inclusive, diverse, safe spaces like these for people of color.” When she was a little girl, she said, she felt like she didn’t fall into the stereo-
“In Montreal North, of all places the need is high for inclusive, diverse, safe spaces like these for people of color” —Empress Rosiclar
type of “blackness” because she loved to read—she felt marginalized. And, when she did read, the characters in the books never reflected who she was. “I couldn’t really attach myself to a character, because their struggles were not mine,” Rosiclar recalled. “I remember when I was young, I used to put a towel on my head and pretend I had long, blond hair, because I was seeing that [in N O V E M B E R 2 0 17