Celebrating Black History Month with Amir Issaa
Vic recently welcomed internationally renowned hip-hop artist Amir Issaa to its campus to mark Black History Month. The Italian rapper, author and activist met up with members of Vic’s Black community on February 2 for a special lunch in Burwash Hall followed by informal discussion in the Cat’s Eye. Later that day, on the St. Michael’s College campus, Issaa celebrated the English release of his book, Vivo per questo, with readings from his text in addition to a performance of his music. The day’s events were made possible thanks to the collaboration of Victoria University, the Department of Italian Studies, Istituto Italiano di Cultura, and the Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies.
Jackson Leslie, VUSAC’s vice president, internal, explains how the day came about: “I was approached by Professor Angelica Pesarini from the Department of Italian Studies when this opportunity arose. We were told that Amir Issaa was touring a select group of Canadian universities. Thanks to President McEwen’s support, VUSAC worked with the Victoria Black Student Network to offer students the chance to participate in meaningful discussions with Amir.”
The students were first treated to lunch at High Table with President McEwen and Issa’s team, including his translator. Students shared stories about their passions and interests in addition to highlighting their cultural backgrounds which included roots in Guyana, Jamaica, Belize and beyond. Issaa shared very personal stories of his experience growing up as a visible minority in Italy. Born to an Egyptian father and an Italian mother, he faced discrimination and micro-aggressions with queries such as, “Why is your Italian so good?” His own lived experience led him to be passionate about the Black Lives Matters movement in Italy and inspired him to use his music as an educational tool for young adults.
After lunch, the group retired to the Cat’s Eye for a more informal discussion. Students were encouraged to share some of their own writing with the group including a special spoken-word piece delivered by Vic student and don, Imani King. “Amir really seemed to enjoy the students’ work. He then spoke to us about how he uses music as an avenue to advocate for the different hardships he has suffered including the incarceration of his father when he was young,” says Leslie. “It was inspiring to learn about his creative process and understand how he uses rap lyrics to address the hardships he has experienced.”
The final highlight of the day was Issaa’s discussion of and reading from his book Vivo per questo that has been translated into This is What I Live For. Issaa’s current music and writing focus on the challenges faced by children born to immigrants in Italy and their quest to obtain citizenship. His recent works also warn of the danger of the rise of far-right nationalism in Italy.
“Black students are underrepresented at universities. The experience we all enjoyed with Amir led to some really great conversations about the different struggles and hardships we face,” says Leslie. “Black History Month, however, should also be an uplifting time that offers us a chance to build community. I’m passionate about exposing other people to my culture. It’s a time for those of us who are underrepresented to showcase where we are from and to celebrate what makes us unique.”
Jackson Leslie is a third-year Vic student who is a neuroscience specialist and fundamental genetics major. He hopes to attend medical school in the future.