By: Reenita V
Connecting with my culture has been a process I have recently just begun. As a first generation Canadian, I grew up with parents who were heavily immersed in the new Western culture which offered new beginnings and opportunities. I grew up with the ideology that the Western world was where it was at. As I further developed, I found more comfort in the Western world and Canadian culture as my Indo-Fijian culture was pushed aside. I wanted to bare all (sometimes literally), I wanted to date my crushes, I wanted to attend movies with my friends without supervision, I only spoke English – I was a rebellious Canadian gal.
When I left my family in 2008, things started to change. In my mind, I was the independent women my mother wanted me to be, I refused the idea of marriage and children, I had no need to listen to my family nor connect with them as often as I should have. I quickly immersed myself in experiencing the French Canadian culture of Montreal and once again, ignored my roots. While in Montreal, I had the privilege of not being in the only Indo-Fijian in my circle of friends. When he discussed cooking, family or anything related to our roots, I was slightly embarrassed as I was not as connected as he was. I started to envy his connection and knowledge and started reflecting on where my family came from, the positive aspects of my culture and eventually just really started to wonder ‘Who am I?
When I moved to Toronto in 2013, I went back to school for Social Service Work and this is when thoughts moved to actions. While in school, we often discussed a service user’s heritage, their culture, experience, cultural differences and while doing so, we were asked to reflect on where we came from, our beliefs and culture. I could easily see the gaps. While my passport says Canadian, I am not just Canadian. I am a mishmash of Canadian opportunities, Fijian island living, with Sri Lankan and Indian roots. What I rejected as I child was a rich history, community, not to mention the ability to learn my language, cook amazing meals, be closer with my elders and understand where all these values are rooted.
As I actively try to engage with my community now, navigating those opportunities can be difficult. First, I have developed my own personal values based on my life experiences and I am quite proud of those accomplishments. Second, I am so far (physically) from the best teachers – my family. I find connecting with people who have a similar background can be difficult, I mean you can’t walk up to someone and say ‘Hey, your Indo-Fijian, I’m Indo-Fijian, let’s be friends’ how awkward and inappropriate would that be? But I do try and actively seek opportunities to connect with my roots in small ways such as my involvement with ASAAP, Indian films, attending South Asian specific events and even, as disastrous as it can be, cooking an Indo-Fijian meal.
None the less, the journey to figuring out who you are, where you are from can be incredibly easy for someone or like me, an incredible challenge and even so, a challenge I want, need to partake in.