“Where are you from?” In a simple world, I would answer that I’m from Canada. If I gave that answer, I would look like a fool, though, because I know what the other person is really asking. They are asking for your ethnicity or culture. The expected answer from me would be, “I am Indian, but I was born in Canada.”
I have had this conversation more than a thousand times, but recently, I realized how inherently isolating the underlying presumptions are in these conversations.
The little addition of ‘but I was born in Canada’ separates me from other Indians who aren’t from Canada. However, why is this so necessary for me to include, yet I sometimes don’t even realize that I am including this aspect?
The reason is that my answer separates me from other people, other Indians. It separates me from Indians in Canada who were not born here, and it basically separates me from any Indian in Canada who doesn’t share the same identity.
For example, I had family visiting from Montreal, and when someone else asked them the same question, they answered in the same way, but added that they were born in Montreal. This adds a whole different layer to their identity, unique from my own, even though we are all Indians born in Canada.
A good way for me to explain this is by using Russian Matryoshka dolls. Each of these is one large doll that has four identical dolls, in descending size, nested inside it. Similarly, each person has smaller pieces inside of them that form their identity, with the smallest doll being the core of that identity.
This metaphor alludes to a more important question: If identity is like those descending Russian dolls, then what is my ‘core doll’ that only a few close family members or friends know? And what is my outermost doll—the identity I choose to portray to the world?
I feel that my Indian culture has influenced me in an undeniable way. For others, it could be their religion, their job, their passion for an organization … anything that resonates with them to the core. It is our perspective on our identity that gives us our unique characteristics. For example, two people could share the same religion, but their personal characteristics and life experiences will dictate what is filtered into and out of their identity.
I am proud to be Canadian. Being born and raised in Canada has given me a general openness to, and appreciation for, different cultures. Growing up around a variety of different people who all have unique perspectives on the world has allowed me to broaden my thinking.
Canada has given me many privileges that I am thankful for, and has defined my conception of what basic human rights should include, such as the freedom of conscience, religion and belief.
After being raised by immigrants in a land of immigrants, hard work, respect for the beliefs of others and a tendency to help other people are an ingrained part of what makes me the man I am today.
Being Canadian and Indian are the two aspects of who I am that I feel contribute the most to my identity. Yes, Canada is a diverse country with a lot of people, and my identity is ‘Indo-Canadian’, but what is the importance of all this?
As I grow older, I am finding out more about myself and the world around me. It is important for every individual to explore these topics of identity in order to understand their role in their community.
Living right on the border of Mississauga and Brampton, there is a lot of debate in my community about the latest Indian student population in Brampton. Community residents are saying that the new immigrants are raising the crime rate in Brampton, stealing from the economy and tarnishing the name of other Indians in the area.
Yes, the crime rate is increasing, but that could have to do with a general increase in the population and a few ‘bad apples’ in the immigrant community, rather than the community itself.
First- and second-generation Indians in Canada prefer to separate themselves from the new immigrants by saying things that highlight the tiniest differences. For example, they say that new immigrants come from a ‘different generation’ or that they were ‘raised differently’, to justify the supposition that these new immigrants just don’t belong to Canada.
Whenever I hear this, I think “When you originally came to Canada, did you not want the chance to prove to Canadians that you could become a contributing member of the community? Did you not adapt to this new country that allowed you to keep in touch with your roots and traditions?”
The answer is yes, yes you did. So why are you not giving the same chance to these new immigrants?
We are all human
I have met many new immigrants who have come to Canada, and they work harder than most of the people I know who were born in Canada—that includes me.
In a polarizing and technological world, it is easy to separate yourself from other people. It is easy to find differences. It is harder, and more necessary now than ever, to realize that we are all human.
These immigrants have to not only settle here, but carry the burden and responsibility of coming from a land that offered them fewer opportunities than Canada. On top of that, they have to adjust to a whole different way of life that involves different social norms and customs, and a new language.
In a polarizing and technological world, it is easy to separate yourself from other people. It is easy to find differences. It is harder, and more necessary now than ever, to realize that we are all human. Even if someone is from a different religion, culture or country, there will always be more similarities than differences.
We all share the same Earth. We all stare at the same night sky with the same moon. We all want peace in our lives. We all want the same protection and respect from others and from the law. We all want liberty and the right to pursue happiness. We all need love and compassion from other people.
At the end of the day, we are all human beings.