What Influences Us/What We Influence

Sheniz Janmohamed


With the Pan Am celebrations in full swing, I decided to revisit the work of some of my favourite Pan American authors and poets. I opened books I’ve read and re-read, sifted through stories and poems and uncovered study notes from my university days. My influences vary from Jorge Luis Borges to Mary Oliver, from poetry to fiction, from Buenos Aires to Ohio.

Examining the voices of authors who I’ve been inspired by has allowed me to observe the multiplicity of my own identity; my own voice.


I am not sure that I exist, actually. I am all the writers that I have read, all the people that I have met, all the women that I have loved; all the cities I have visited.”    - Jorge Luis Borges


The question of where we begin and where our influences end is one that perhaps will never be fully answered. It’s a question that requires contemplation and reflection, but it’s also a question that provokes different responses at different stages of our lives.

We are so much of what we read, hear, see, and experience. We are also what we are defined by and what has been defined for us. The very idea of ’Pan-Americanism”contains so many identities and voices within it. By identifying as Canadian, we are also defined by our continent, by countries we’ve never been to, by languages we don’t speak. We are defined by what we are affiliated with, by the exchange between cultures, commodities and ideas. 

To think about ourselves in that context is fascinating and perhaps, in some ways, unsettling. It reminds us that we are not living in one space but it multiple spaces, and that our words and actions extend far beyond our reach. We are everything we name, create, define and dream.


A man sets out to draw the world. As the years go by, he peoples a space with images of provinces, kingdoms, mountains, bays, ships, islands, fishes, rooms, instruments, stars, horses, and individuals. A short time before he dies, he discovers that the patient labyrinth of lines traces the lineaments of his own face.”    - Jorge Luis Borges


I encourage you to think about your own Pan-American literary influences, your creative voice within a chorus of Pan-American voices, and how, where or if your identity, nationality and culture fit within the concept of Pan-Americanism. 


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