In the hustle and bustle of downtown life, I had arranged to meet a girl who likes calling herself an ‘activist’ now. Having spent a good amount of my life in that area, I tried thinking about a quiet spot to have an intellectually stimulating conversation with her but finally we ended up meeting at Tim Hortons for the ease of finding it and saving ourselves the trouble. Tania showed up with a bright smile in a flowing white skirt matched perfectly with her pink blouse, silver earrings and sandals; a perfect summer-casual yet professional look.
After exchanging pleasantries, we started talking about her life and experience in Canada over our hot coffee cups. Tania proudly mentioned that she identifies herself as a Bangladeshi even though she grew up in the Middle East. Like many other families, her parents moved to the western world so that their daughters could pursue further education. Tania grew up in various parts of the world and I was inclined to ask her what she identified as ‘home.’ Tania gets a bit confused over this question, she laughs and then replies with a strange look in her eyes, “Home to me is Bangladesh and home to me is also Middle East because I lived there.” But then she also mentions that Canada has become an important part of her life, even though she wishes to move back one day but she is not sure ‘how much of a reality it would become.”
Her response was neither strange nor unusual, her apprehension was understandable and many other South Asians can relate to her as well. But has that made her a confused individual? I don’t think so. Tania is strong about her values, culture and traditions for which she thanks her mother and her up bringing.
Her list of credentials and involvements in various organizations is long, but currently she is working full-time as a coordinator at Ontario Bar Association and continuing her education at the same time at Ryerson University. She graduated from George Brown College with a community work diploma and from Seneca she did a social work diploma.
Currently she is involved in the student union at Ryerson where she actively participates and organizes student campaigns, also she is part of Drishtipat (a human rights organization on Bangladesh) and she is a board member for South Asian Women’s Centre.
After listening intently to her for a considerable amount of time, I was not only impressed by the long list but also her time management, dedication and her passion that she mentions ‘lies in social work’.
Taking her diverse first-hand experience into consideration I asked her about the issues that South Asian youth face today in Canada. She replies instantly that they are numerous in number. She narrates her own personal experience; “When I came here with my younger sister, I felt like there were lots of cultural barriers. There are a lot of issues within the south Asian community and generation gap is one of the prime things. When parents come here, they have a certain expectation of raising up their kids, and when kids come here, they are kind of forced in the way of the hustle and bustle of the cultures, and sometimes within that hustle and bustle some of us make it through, knowing what our identities are while others lose themselves. Sometimes people send different messages and get lost within themselves. Identities are lost, I have seen it personally happen.”
Taniah also points out the inner conflicts she has to deal with being a religious practicing Muslim and a westernized woman, “I myself am a Muslim person and have high regards for Islam, one would call me a spiritual believer but there are times when I feel pulled and I don’t know what I should do as a Muslim person but also as an independent woman. Canada is a country that really really pushes and encourages independent thinking.”
Talking about cultural differences she says with a concerned look in her eyes, “ South Asian culture is a kind of culture where we go with what our parents and elders have taught us, or laid out for us because they are the wiser of us. But when lack of communication happens, because our culture is more conservative, parents don’t understand the changes the kids are going through. So, for me I think it’s the biggest issue. The lack of identity. Identity is a huge part of a human being whether you are a south Asian or not. Sometimes, often that becomes a problem for you and people around you. Hence ,the break down of families and all of that.”
Tania also mentions the cultural barriers and the stereotypical views attached with social work as a career as people in our community think that it is not worth the effort, “When I told my parents initially that I was getting involved in social work, they thought that it wasn’t paid work. Volunteer work is typically not recognized in our community because it’s not being a doctor or an engineering.”
Even though she understands the problems kids go through, she is still sympathetic to the parents and asks the youth to step up, “The awareness part also needs to come from the youth. It’s hard for the parents to settle into a new culture themselves. They have their values set, so I think that’s where agencies and help comes.”
I wished that my coffee had lasted longer so I could have heard more of her views, but the time was short and it was getting late. We departed our ways at the subway station, her train left while I pondered over the questions she had left behind. I started walking down the Bloor Street in the dark night with pleasant thoughts, more answers and new queries to pursue.
Author: Saniya Zahid