The Canada 150 Conference on Bengali Migration in Canada was a 2-day event that took place on 16th and 17th September 2017. One of the unfortunate issues for any immigrant population is the experience of regional stereotyping. One classic example of such regional stereotyping is bringing all immigrants of South Asia under one bracket. The immigrants from the countries of South Asia are not only culturally diverse, they look different, speak various languages, and possess different religious and political inclinations.
As a result when there is an effort to study and uphold cultural significance of a particular group, in this case, Bengalis, data falls short. The proceeding of this conference was a bold first step to talk about many such issues and record the first ever documented history of Bengali migration to Canada.
As per Dr. Habiba Zaman, “A key objective of the conference was to document the history and settlement patterns of Bengalis in Canada and their contributions, particularly as regards the Bengalis in British Columbia”
The conference sessions were chaired by eminent researchers in the field of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s studies, International studies, and scholars from Capilano University, and University of British Columbia.
The presentations touched upon critical issues on how racialized immigrant communities, in particular, Canadian Bengalis experience xenophobia that is downplayed or denied by the otherwise immigrant friendly Canadian society.
Historical account of Bengali migration was presented. It is interesting to note the initial migration took place during the ending colonial regime of British ruled India. Bengal was reeling from the aftermath of a politically motivated famine where 3 million people had lost lives. Also interesting was how the Bengalis created their own Canadian-Bengali subculture and maintained their patronage for art culture and music by forming cultural associations and promoting a community feeling.
Presentations also focused on the importance of learning the mother language. It was highlighted how these cultural associations are promoting cultural and linguistic diversity by celebrations in British Columbia. Personal narratives and life stories of some prominent immigrant Bengalis highlighted the struggles, the identity conflicts faced as a part of their lives.
Even though the conference was on Bengali immigration, former director of Center for India and South Asia Research (CISAR) Dr. Mandakranta Bose acknowledged that the conference was held in the ancient territory of Musqueam First Nations.
The second day of the conference focused more on identity issues. The interesting bit was presentations by second generation Bengalis. They reflected on challenges of an immigrant second generation Canadian and the constant process of figuring out one’s culture and identity. There were also two roundtable conversations moderated by Supriya Bhattacharya, a Sociology graduate from UBC and Dr. Sanzida Habib the co-organizer of the conference. Newer immigrants participated in the conference and they presented their accounts of experiences related to immigration and their stories of finding employment in the new country.
Overall this conference opened up many critical issues that need further research and study: for example xenophobia and marginalized racism faced by the immigrants, cultural conflict, adaptation of the immigrants etc. Most importantly this conference recorded the first documented history of Bengali migration to Canada and it is expected to be very useful for further research and studies.
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