Categorized | Taboo

Inside Multicultural Infernos: 90s South Asian Retro Style

Posted on 12 May 2010 by .

Who knew that a CBC 5th Estate segment from the early 90s could do more than just provide a friendly ‘blast from the past’. By ‘past’ I would hope to be referring to the funky hairstyles and dance moves which decorated the youth culture of those who were the object of inquiry for the archived segment titled; “Polite Revolution”.  Looking more like the cast of Dangerous Minds than the 5th Estate’s ‘gentle dissenters’, the youth told the cameras about their dilemmas of assimilation, and the obstacles of integrating the ‘traditional’ values of their parents with the more ‘open’ and liberal ideas of the society that they had grown up in.

Fair enough. But twenty years later, why is this is still a hot topic? Surely, in the past two decades, something—anything must have budged.

Charged with Vanilla Ice fraud, the early 90s are often discarded as highly irrelevant by those of my generation who were merely (yet thankfully) infants at the time. So when classroom discussions still revolve around “South Asian problems” of arranged marriages, honour killings, beatings, and domestic female incarceration, a part of me wants to spell out from my chair; C.O.R.N.Y.

Now, don’t get me wrong, we definitely have our hands full with some really archaic problems—that cannot be said to be remnants of the last decade but rather remnants of another century.

But who better to look for assistance in navigating this muddled time line than the reporter for the “Polite Revolution”, jungle correspondent Trish Wood, who took startled Canadian audiences on an expedition to observe South Asian gorillas- 50,000 at the time, lurking in suburbs west of Toronto. Asking tough questions to gorillas/ parents such as why they cannot let their children go to nightclubs and why their daughters cannot go out on dates, Trish Wood, could’ve been mistaken as a the burgeoning maestro for South Asian youth.

Unfortunately, Apache Indian sold more records.

As if the trauma couldn’t get any worse, the segment goes on to feature a South Asian social worker who describes how a mother once found her daughter talking to a guy on the phone, took a steel cooking spoon, boiled it, using a glove to hold it, beat the daughter mercilessly while she was stripped naked.

Turning to my friend with my eyes tingling with hot tears I asked what any person watching up to that moment would have asked…; “why are we so messed up?”

And yet, after three minutes of intensive brainstorming, my friend and I decided to ask another question. “Who are we?”

The term “South Asian’ in the Canadian context refers to those groups of people who have migrated from the southern region of the continent of Asia.  Meant to provide some sort of comradeship for people who come from countries with tension ridden relations such as India, Pakistan and Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the expansive term rarely takes into account the innumerable marginalized ethnic groups, languages, and traditions that are often in conflict for recognition and rights.

I feel like a broken record and I have only just begun. But seriously, how can a ‘group’ of people who obviously have so many differences and particularities, still be consistently responsible for the world’s arranged marriages and unfair treatment of daughters and sons.

How about another blast from the past, this one concerning my grandmother’s sisters and friends who were one of the first females to attend Aligarh University in India in the 1920s to 30s. These women formed a strong movement that advocated for the right to education and equality for all women. One of these women, Ismat Chughtai, went on to become a famous Urdu writer, and wrote the story on which Canadian film maker Deepa Mehta’s 1996 film “Fire” is based.

Providing the world’s largest testing ground for both the experiment and critique and modernity, I find it increasingly difficult to see a stark delineation between the ‘traditional’ values of ‘back home’ and the ‘liberal’ openness of where we find ourselves now.  The time line is too muddled, and, the ‘us’ versus’ ‘them’ compare and contrast exercise is becoming even less appealing.

Perhaps in this inferno of South Asian chaos, it is a lack of cohesion which is most frustrating, yet surprisingly exhilarating part. Maybe, within the precariousness of our category,  being ‘messed up’ isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Author: Sana Hashmi

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