Brown Canada Workshop: South Asian Women's Center Senior's Group
Author: Hadia Akhtar and Zohra Goawala
Date: 2012-06-22 15:56:33
Category: all categories
Metatags: Women, Seniors, Resilience, Personal Narratives, Muslim, Pakistani, Punjabi, Sikh, South Asian, Sri Lankan, Tamil, Toronto, Loss, Indian, Immigrant, Grief, Canada,



Hadia Akhtar and I co-facilitated a workshop with 20 women from the South Asian Women’s Center Seniors group.  The group came from diverse backgrounds and had a trove of interesting stories and experiences to share. Each story was unique, but also shared a sense of nostalgia and longing towards the homes and people they left behind. There were women who had been in Canada for decades and women who had arrived here merely a few years ago; all of them came together to reminisce their first memories in Canada.

The discussion was initiated with an introduction to the Komagata Maru incident and the treatment of immigrants in Canada. Once we started, we found that most of the women had strong opinions on the matter. A majority of them had not heard of the incident before, and were shocked and appalled that it took place less than 100 years ago. They understood the issue and contextualized it with the trials and tribulations of being the “other” in Canadian society today. After this discussion, a debate was sparked on the current Canadian immigration policies, with women arguing about the pros and cons of life here.

 There were a few Tamil workshop participants from Sri Lanka that viewed the incident through a different lens. They related the Komagata Maru to the incident in 2010 with the arrival of the MV Sun Sea and Ocean Lady ships carrying Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka. A comparison was made between the two incidents and they analyzed how disturbingly similar the two incidents were, realizing that the Canadian public’s attitude towards the refugees were still problematic. The consensus towards the end of the discussion was that the government had found covert ways of discriminating based on colour through the discriminatory immigration policies.   They empathized with the passengers from the Komagata Maru and realized that even though there had been progress, a lot more needed to be done.

After the discussion, the participants were given a set of topics to write about and they could write in their own languages. The women had inspiring stories of triumph and success, writing about the struggles they initially faced when they moved to Canada. They were also given postcards and participated in a letter writing activity. They wrote and drew on postcards to send to their friends and families in their home country. Here are some of the stories the women shared with us:

Once the workshop ended the women eagerly wanted to get pictures taken with us and wanted to carry on the discussion further, telling us more about their families and lives in Toronto. After hearing the personal stories and histories of the women, we all felt closer. It ended on a great note and we were told by many of the women that it was a wonderful experience.



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