When my husband, toddler, and I shifted to Vancouver, BC, from Hyderabad, India, a couple of years back, concerns about identity struggle were the last of our concerns. We were busy figuring out a new country, and its radically different lifestyle. But, as days became months, and it started dawning on us that our child would grow up to be Canadian, it hit us for the first time – what will be her identity then? Would she learn the language we had grown up to love, would she revel in the culture we are so inextricably bound to? The question of her identity, and ours, has become a curious afterthought since, in our busy lives. It was refreshing to share the emotions with a larger community of people, who have braved the conundrum, and created a distinct identity for themselves. These are my learning from a migrant conference in Canada, titled, Migration of Bengalis:
About the Conference
I attended part of the two-day conference marking the 150th anniversary of Canada, at CK Choi Building, for the Institute of Asian Research. The conference aimed at documenting the settlement patterns of Bengalis (grouped by people who speak Bengali as their mother tongue, geographically rooted from Bangladesh and India.)
The conference was conceptualized and organized by Dr. Habiba Zaman and Dr. Sanzida Habib.
Dr. Zaman is a professor in the Department of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies, Simon Fraser University. She earned her M.A. in Political Science and Ph.D. in Anthropology from the University of Manitoba. Her areas of research interest include Immigrants, settlement, and work in Canada.Hailing from Bangladesh, she herself is an immigrant to Canada, and have hugely contributed in this field researching on various social aspects of the migrants, their unique challenges, and experiences.
Dr. Sanzida Habib is associated with Centre for India and South Asia Research Centre at the University of British Columbia. Both of these highly talented women have made significant contributions towards migrant women in Canada.
The Second Generation Bengali Youth and their state of Unbelonging
As mother to a child I have migrated with, I was keen to understand the tribulations of the second-gen Canadian Indian. The experience was somewhat like living through Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Namesake.
Three second-generation Bengalis, spoke about their feeling of “imposed bengaliness”. It was intriguing to find out their perspectives on what being a Bengali meant to them. All of their parents had migrated to Canada before their birth, or when they were very young. Although they are practically Canadians, their parents, and the local Bengali community, often expected these Canadian Bengali offsprings to be a “proper” Bengali. They needed to ‘fit in’ at school, and work, while retaining their ability to speak, read, and think in the native language. They were scrutinized on the depth of their understanding of their native culture.
The social judgment, the “aunty stalking” and “upholding the family honor”, in conjunction with their already mixed experience of life, made their personal identities a hotch-potch of emotions.
While these Canadian Indians and Bangladeshis have successfully inculcated the Bengali culture, as thrust upon by their parents and immediate society, they are constantly struggling with an undercurrent of complex identity crisis.
Round Table hosted by Ms. Supriya Bhattacharya
At the end of the session, there was a vibrant round table discussion, that touched upon issues like multiculturalism, employment patterns, and social justice. This was hosted by Ms. Supriya Bhattacharya. Ms. Bhattacharya, apart from being a Bengali language activist in the heart of Canada (read her story here), is a Masters graduate in Sociology and Family Studies, from the University of British Columbia.
Active members of the Bengali community shared their stories on how they first came to the “land of golden opportunities,” Canada. Issues like underemployment, social intimidation by prevalent community members, and the limited reach of the community in the country, were discussed. The involvement of the government in grants and funds were lauded.
What was heartening though, was the though that, overall Canadian migrants had realized their dreams and goals in this land far away from home. Despite their internal identity struggles, they have been welcomed to be a part of this nation, and are trying hard to put their best foot forward!
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