Community News & Events

In Conversation with 5x Fest’s Harpo Mander

Ain’t no party like a 5X Blockparty! This festival is back on June 11th with some of the hottest, boldest, most fiercest names in the game. Featuring Jasmine Sandlas, The PropheC, Khanvict, AR Paisley, Robyn Sandhu, Gurtêj, Aanam, REHMA, Shreea Kaul, TBM, Ikky and so much more.

Check out our conversation with Harpo Mander, the General Manager of 5x Festival.

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How and when did your relationship with Brown Girl Guilt happen?

Brown Girl Guilt has been a long time in the making. It started in 2019 as an Instagram post that I shared after having realized that guilt drove a lot of the decisions in my life — or prevented them. Upon sharing, the post was received so widely and wildly by brown girls everywhere because it gave them language to express an important part of their identities for the first time. Since then, Brown Girl Guilt has transformed into a podcast, online community and in-person community. Among all of it, Brown Girl Guilt continues to provide that language to express our experiences, understand them, and try to build a life that is rooted in the possibility of being different. 

Where did the vision for Brown Girl Guilt come from and how did the project come together?

Initially,  I always thought Brown Girl Guilt would be a one-time project. I thought I would write a book titled, “Brown Girl Guilt” that would be a collection of essays, but I felt called to stretch it beyond that. The desire to do so came from the realization that guilt as an emotion is incredibly deep and can be explored endlessly. Now, it’s become a part of my everyday life and something that I work on consistently. 

Can you share some of your influences?

My biggest influence is my city– Surrey. I love Surrey with all my heart and it’s a primary driving force behind all the work that I do. There are so many beautiful stories in the streets and homes of Surrey and I want nothing more than to be someone who helps share them. 

How do you define success?

Success to me is synonymous with the word joy. If you can find joy in the most mundane of items, in the work that you do, and the relationships that you maintain, then you are successful. If the way that I experience the world is rooted in pure, unfiltered, authentic joy, then I am successful. 

How do you feel your sense of identity influences your work?

I’m a self-proclaimed third culture kid who has navigated multiple competing components of her identity for years. As someone who is born in Canada to parents who were born elsewhere, I’ve always found myself looking for home. In some spaces, I felt too brown, while in others, I felt like I was too Western for my Eastern roots. After years of bouncing between these two spaces, I finally feel rooted and grounded in my identity now. I feel like I have built a home within myself. This identity navigation has immensely influenced the work that I do, as I now dedicate my life to building spaces that others like me can come and find solace in, form their identities in, and have fun in. 

You’re also the GM for 5xfest. How did this come about? 

I joined 5X as a volunteer writer for our digital magazine 5X Press back in 2020. After a couple of months, there was an opening for the role of General Manager and I stepped in. I’ve been in this position ever since. Although this is when my formal placement with 5X began, I’ve been involved with the organization for a very long time. I used to volunteer for the organization as a high school student back in 2011 and 2012 and to be in a leadership position in the organization is such a full circle experience. 

Why do you think 5xfest is important in today’s society? 

Organizations like 5X are the beating hearts of community. They really act as cultural producers by cultivating community and are safe spaces for people to explore their identities. An organization like 5X is doing so much grassroots work — it’s helping artists further refine their craft, make their art a full-time job, financially support artists and creatives, actively fight against discrimination and prejudice, and create more opportunities for South Asians and people of colour to work in arts and culture roles. It’s also providing a home where those who have often felt lost, outcasted, or judged to feel safe and free to be themselves. 

What do you think are the must-see events at 5xfest? 

All of them! Each event offers something so unique and different. Whether you like the loud energy of a music festival or strolling through an art gallery solo, there is something for everyone. 

What is a dream project you would like to take on?

I would love to create a docu-series on what I call “pockets of community” in Surrey. These are all the spaces in Surrey where people experience a deep connection of community, love, and generosity. The reason I want to do so is because having access to spaces like these can be so important in your journey of learning more about yourself. I’d love to write, narrate, and host the series one day.

What are your upcoming plans?

Currently, I’m working on establishing my new media company titled Itsharpo Collaborations. I’d like to tell the stories of other third-culture kids through words, audio, and video. Brown Girl Guilt is one project under the umbrella of Itsharpo Collaborations. I’d like to start exploring other projects, too. 

Where can people follow you and your work?

You can check out my website or on Instagram @itsharpo. Brown Girl Guilt is also a great resource and you can find us at or on Instagram @_browngirlguilt