By Mai-Anh Vu Peterson
Flags are, by their very nature, a political manifestation of allegiance. They have the ability to elicit wildly different emotions depending on the beholder: a St George’s Cross is always guaranteed to mobilise me into alertness, while the Saltire gives me a little glow of burning pride.
I know there are many older people in the Vietnamese diaspora who don’t – or won’t – recognise the yellow star on a red background. One of my favourite games to play when I visit the US is ‘count the flag’, because the sheer presence and power of the American flag as a tool of national identity never fails to amaze me.
Needless to say, I am sensitive to flags, so it stands to reason that one failsafe way to get me to support an independent business is to hang the flag of a marginalised community in the doorway. My favourite independent bookshop and local bike shop, for example, are both draped in the Progress Pride flag, a welcoming beacon that says, Hey, we have the same values. Come shop with us.
Similarly, my local West Asian supermarket is actively engaged in the Palestinian struggle; they sell Palestinian flag lanyards to raise money for relief efforts in Gaza, and there are several posters tacked to the front door to educate on and encourage participation in the BDS movement.
Like many of its kind, it’s an immigrant business, and while it stocks predominantly regional produce to serve particular community needs – notably, produce of Palestine, Lebanon and Syria – it also has the standard offering of most convenience stores, or ‘corner shops’, as we tend to call them in the UK, as well as homemade savoury pastries that absolutely slap, and some excellent loose fruit and veg, which speak favourably to my eco-but-budget-friendly values.
And yet, while the products on offer are certainly appreciated by community outsiders like myself, the stock strikes me as just one thread of a very complex woven tapestry: contained within that one, small space is a whole history of a country left behind and a new community found.
Such is the case with the gloriously detailed set for Ins Choi’s Kim’s Convenience, a play-turned-sitcom about a Korean-owned convenience store in downtown Toronto, first brought to life in 2011, but which premiered in the UK for the first time in mid January this year at the appropriately named Park Theatre in London.
By Mai-Anh Vu Peterson