Ilankai Tamil Sangam

Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

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It is Not Like the Tamils in Other Places: I’m a CANADIAN!

You Know, Citizen!

by Kumaran, Canada

This morning, two news items caught me off guard and provoked completely a unexpected thought process within me. The first one was a movie review about a non-conventional movie titled “The Gift of Diabetes,” which is being screened at a local film festival. The other is the latest news announced by the National Basketball Association (NBA), which restricts its players from wearing hip-hop culture-inspired clothing in public, off-court.

The movie deals with this Native Indian named Brian who was brought up by his family as a regular Canadian (this many years after the early European settlers to Canada).  In the sixties, his family moved to Winnipeg and, on his first day at his new school, his teacher took him in front of the class and told Brian’s fellow students, "Look class, Brian **Is** an Indian." The teacher did not have any ill intentions whatsoever. The teacher just wanted to bring life to the lessons on Canadian history. However, it left a lasting effect on little Brian. Brian, having been raised as a regular Johnny or Greg, did not know what was it like being an Indian. Brian sat through the class wondering what being an Indian is like and that afternoon went straight to his mother with the question. Sadly, the mother too, although born an Indian, did not know the answer. Brian had also lost his grandpa in his childhood (I am not sure whether that was before or after this incident), who was the only person Brian could think of who knew the answer to his question.

The second news item is about the NBA being concerned about the clothing sported by the basketball players when they are off-court but in public. As the majority of the basketball players are blacks, they sport clothing inspired by the hip-hop culture. However, the majority of the basketball fans are middle class white people. The NBA feels there is something wrong in this picture. Hence, the news of the ban that would force basketball players to where business-casual attire (dress-shirt and slacks) when they are in public and not playing the game. How many years has it been since the arrival of the first black slaves?

So, what is my point? Read the next paragraph.

A few months ago, in a Canadian city (which shall remain nameless) a couple of Tamil community volunteers went door-to-door in an attempt to increase the number of children currently enrolled in the community-run weekend Tamil school. They knocked on a door and a middle aged Tamil man invited them in. They explained the purpose of their visit and posed the question whether he would be interested in enrolling his children in the school. To the dismay of the volunteers, the man uttered the following:

 “Thambi! Canada is a wonderful country. The opportunities here are endless. I adore the way things are here and I want my kids to grow up to be pure Canadians. I don’t want to teach them Tamil or tell them where I came from. Let Tamil die with me, Thambi!. I don’t want to pass my burden on to my children…”

How many years has it been since our friend set foot on Canadian soil?

I, too, adore Canada. I cherish the friendships I have won here. I admire many aspects of Canadian life. Personally, I am very proud of what I have been able to achieve within a very short time of setting foot on this soil as a refugee. Yet, I also believe, no matter how many years ago it happened, as Canadians of colour, we can never afford to forget what happened to our fellow Japanese-Canadians during World War II or the head-tax once required to be paid by our fellow Chinese-Canadians.

We can also never afford to listen to stories like those about Brian or the attire ban imposed by the NBA just as news items.

No matter how many years go by, some things in life must always be remembered.

We must all try our maximum best to make sure, regardless of whether we are ever planning to resettle, that there exists a land where it will never occur to anyone to ever ask us where our ancestors came from!