Immigrants in Canada, from the sub-continent, find passing the Indian values to their kids daunting. They strive to make every effort to tie the
Gen-Next to their traditional home cultural practices
It’s a normal Sunday ritual. Manav’s parents are getting ready for their regular visit to the temple. While Manav is aware of this routine, he has other ideas sprouting in his head. The 12-year-old wants to spend this time playing soccer with his friends, maybe gaming on his computer or just relaxing on the couch.
Manav’s parents immigrated from India a few years ago; their first child was born in Canada. Being first-generation Canadians, parents Mina and Rajiv are still rooted in their cultural practices and want to make every effort to sustain that through the next generation.
While Manav often switches from Hindi to English while talking with his cousins, he certainly feels more at ease with North American English. Born in a pluralistic Canadian society, it’s not a surprise that he swings from confident to confused about his Indo-Canadian identity. Who am I, where do I belong: these are complex questions for many Indian-Canadian kids of South Asian descent. While many Indians try hard to make sure the family maintains the connect with the country of birth, others find it plain hard or simply just give up. This may be due to a busy work life or even an obvious adaptation to the Canadian identity, that may be far more convenient when you are living abroad.
Over the last two centuries, the Indo-Canadian culture has developed into its own exclusive identity, different from that found in India and of other Canadians. Many young Indo-Canadians enjoy watching Bollywood movies as much as they enjoy Hollywood blockbusters. Indo-Canadian culture is linked to the different Indian groups’ religious, linguistic, and ethnic backgrounds. There is a true array of cultural practices found throughout Canada, including those with the Hindu, Sikh, Jain, Muslim, Parsi, Christian, and Jewish communities in India. And, all communities are encouraged to follow and practice their own cultures, languages, cuisines, and festivals.
Calgary-based insurance professional Baljeet Sidhu says that passing the Punjabi culture to kids has not been an easy task. Baljeet and her spouse have been in Canada for the past 16 years. Both spouses spend time at home teaching their kids to read and speak Punjabi. Their daughter is also enrolled in Gurdwara school for bhangra classes and language learning. Baljeet herself has been a volunteer in the Sikh community as well.
She specifically points out that a lot of personal effort goes into cultural upliftment. Parents need to spend time with kids – whether it’s watching native films together or even speaking their own language at home. Just spending half an hour on language exercises can do wonders. Sometimes, the Sunday temple or gurdwara routine may seem forced, but kids understand its importance when they turn 18 or 19. Baljeet says the Punjabi community has contributed immensely to the economy of the country. Punjabis tend to retain their culture by organizing public events like nagar kirtans or festivals.
Says Indrima Munshi of Winnipeg, passing the heritage and culture to kids is not easy but doable. Munshi participates in Bengali cultural activities on a large scale. Every month the Bengali association organizes plays, dramas, and recitations. Both adults and kids participate in such activities. Munshi is a busy marketing and insurance professional, but works from home mostly and has a flexible schedule. “I manage to participate frequently in such activities. It may be different for people with full-time shifts or both spouses working outside of the home,” she points out
Munshi has been teaching her kids Bangla from a young age. She practices Hindi with her younger son. “We can’t really pressurize children to attend Sunday schools or cultural activities,” she adds. Munshi is also part of the Bengali association in Winnipeg that celebrates festivals like Durga Puja, Rabindranath Tagore Jayanti, and Bijoya Sammelani.
Said Hardik Shah, 13, “I have friends of diverse backgrounds, but we all speak English. I don’t mind though going for Bollywood movies with my parents. I enjoy watching them and sometimes dancing to the songs.”
Organizations like the Gujarati Association also play an important role in promoting their ethnic culture. With the active participation of its members, the society achieves its objectives through various social activities, such as cultural shows, annual picnics, Anand Bazaar (food festival), celebrating festivals like Navratri (nine nights of dancing) and Diwali (festival of lights). Similarly, The Tamil Association of Manitoba is working towards the social and cultural life of the Tamil ethnic group in Manitoba.
According to Statistics Canada, a substantial majority of Canadians of East Indian origin feel a strong sense of belonging in Canada. While small, the proportion of Canada’s population who reported being Muslim, Hindu, or Sikh has more than doubled in 20 years.
Dr. Aera Thavaneswaran and spouse Ambika Thavaneswaran in Winnipeg organize prayers at the Hindu Society of Manitoba, Winnipeg. They point out how young people can be mentors to the kids at places of worship.
Bhaktimarga Swami, popularly known as The Walking Monk in Canada, promotes pilgrimage and has walked across Canada four times. He mentioned in one of his interviews that Canadian teenagers can play a role by holding kirtan and Bhagwad Gita lessons so that the younger kids can understand. Kirtan plays important in helping kids release a lot of energy and have some good clean fun without booze or drugs, as he mentions in his book: The Saffron Path. Kirtan is a “mix of mantra and madness, creating a release of good energy, a congenial bond, and the satisfaction of body, mind and soul”- he says in his book The Saffron Path, chapter 47 – ‘Colorado Cool- Switching Roads’.
Many point out how important it is to maintain their cultural bond so that kids don’t feel out of place when they visit India. Small things like celebrating festivals together as a community or traditional get-togethers can keep them closer to their roots.
When Winnipeg resident Kalindi Menon was young, she felt different at her school. She would see other children pass comments on her food. Today, she feels how important it is to maintain and build her cultural values at home and her family. Kalindi and her friends organize potluck and cook traditional food on different occasions. They sing songs in their traditional language; children are encouraged to just communicate in their mother tongue. The community also maintains its traditional clothing styles.
The Indian community has contributed to Canadian society in many ways, including in arts, business, politics, and sports. For example, the Indo-Canadian community has produced many successful entrepreneurs and business leaders. In addition, Indian cuisine has become increasingly popular in Canada and is now widely available in many Canadian cities.
Evidently, culture is passed down from generation to generation through family traditions and customs. Canada is home to a lot of Indians and every year more immigrate as students, permanent residents, and workers here. Creating a familiar land away from the homeland can be definitely a helpful tool towards cultural assimilation for many.
(The writer is a Certified Financial Planner in Canada. A former journalist and St. Stephen’s College alumna, she is an enthusiast about immigrant and cultural issues in Canada.)