Interview with Isabela Rittinger of the International Macanese Youth Forum
Hi! My name is Isabela Conceição Rittinger, and I’m a 17-year-old student from Toronto, Canada.
Who are your biggest inspirations in activism and in everything?
I think that my biggest inspiration is congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez both in activism and in general. As a young woman hoping to run for office when I’m older, being able to see AOC’s rise to power and how she became an inimitable force in the house, against all the odds, has been incredibly inspiring. In general, however, my parents are my biggest inspirations. They continue to support and assist me while also allowing me to work things out on my own. Watching my mother, a first-gen immigrant, has been immensely motivational.
Your family emigrated from Macau to Canada. What is your family’s immigration story?
My grandparents immigrated from Macau to Toronto in 1976. Macau is a special administrative region off the coast of Hong Kong, which was a Portuguese colony until being handed over to China in 1999. When my grandparents came, they brought their young daughters, my mother, and my aunt. For the first year, they lived in the basement of a cousin that already immigrated from Macau; after that, they moved to a suburban town where they still live. My grandparents live around the corner from us!
How did you start the International Macanese Online Youth Forum? What’s the story that started your passion for helping preserve Macanese culture?
I started the International Macanese Online Youth Forum with the support of the Casa de Macau Toronto, a cultural heritage club for Macanese now living in Toronto. Along with my grandparents, I am a member of the Casa, as I’m very interested in learning more about and becoming involved in the Macanese community. However, as I became more involved, I noticed that I was the only active member under the age of 50 or so, and there was a growing concern that the culture would be buried with the current generation, because of a lack of interest from youth. I wanted to create something that could connect other Macanese youth from around the world in order to preserve our culture.
What do you plan on studying/are studying now? What subjects do you like the most?
I am in grade 12, so I’m looking forward to heading to university this fall for political science! My favourite subjects are definitely English and history—I couldn’t do math if my life depended on it.
What do you love the most about being Macanese, and why do you think it’s important to be able to embrace your culture openly?
What I love most about being Macanese is the uniqueness of the culture: as a fusion of Chinese and Portuguese influence, art, architecture, food, and language of Macau is extremely specific. Because of the limited amount of people that can say they are from Macau and even more limited amount who lived in Macau while it was Portuguese, it’s a very close-knit community. For example, one person I befriended through the forum lived in Sao Paolo, Brazil. We quickly discovered that our grandfathers were close friends in Macau nearly 50 years ago!I think it’s so important to openly embrace your culture because it is absolutely something to be proud of, regardless of what it is. Art, literature, architecture, and music are the backbones of our society, all of which are propagated through cultural influences. Our culture has a lasting impact on our actions and our interests. Even more, it connects us with others in unique ways and allows us to make relationships with people we otherwise may not have things in common with.
What do you consider your biggest accomplishment?
I think that my biggest accomplishment was definitely when I met Prince Harry. I had the opportunity to participate in a government program in Grade 8, in which I served the Members of Parliament in Ontario Legislature. One day, Prince Harry appeared promoting the Invictus Games, and we were able to meet him!
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing Asian women today?
In my opinion, the biggest challenge facing Asian women today are stereotypes, both in the media and in the mindsets of many. It became strikingly clear during the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak that racism and discrimination are alive and well in North America. I think that women are disproportionately affected by these racial stereotypes because of the double-standards plaguing minorities. We are sexualized and fetishized by the media while deemed “too smart” or “bossy.” These double standards and suffocating stereotypes plague Asian women and force us to conform to the generally white, male images of Asian women, which is why this is the biggest challenge.
What’s next for you? Any exciting new projects?
My most recent project is the founding of my community’s chapter of the PERIOD Movement, an organization committed to ending period poverty and period stigma internationally. I started a petition asking the Canadian Federal Government to subsidize period products during the COVID-19 outbreak, which has so far received over 600 signatures. We are providing menstrual products to our community from home, packing pads and tampons to be distributed individually. I’m excited to see where it goes!
Isabela Rittinger is a 17 year old high school student living in Toronto, Canada. Along with her work with the Macanese forum, she also dedicates herself to climate activism. Isabela is an organizer for Fridays for Future Toronto, coordinating the writing team and managing the Twitter account. When she isn’t doing this, Isabela is working as the founder and president of the Durham Region chapter of the PERIOD Movement. Isabela loves to read, write and play with her dog, Henry!
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