Homophobia and South Asian community in Canada

Homosexuality is not discussed much in South Asian cultures. Well, heterosexual sexuality is not discussed either so homosexuality which is considered abnormal is far from everyone’s mind. If you’ve read my previous posts, you would know I was 12 when I moved to Canada. It is here that I actually first learned about homosexuality. I know this makes me sound very ignorant but I did grow up in a small town. These topics were not discussed in good middle class homes. India does have Hijras (the transgendered/eunachs) but no explanation was given to me.  For the first time here, I realized that there were people who fell in love with another person of same sex.  It was weird to me and it took about a year for me to wrap my head around it. But, eventually, I came to accept it as normal and part of life. There were people who were different from me but they had the right to live a happy life. Sadly, not everyone from South Asian community comes to that understanding. I do think younger South Asian Canadians are more accepting. There are also older and wiser people who are  fine with it. Nevertheless, a silent majority still exists that is homophobic. Now, you won’t hear much about South Asians beating up any gay men or punishing a lesbian woman. Most of the older generation wouldn’t even recognize if you are gay unless you explicitly state it to them. Even then, they might just act awkwardly around you or avoid you.  But, they are quite intolerant when it comes to South Asian LGBT community. I feel it is much harder for a South Asian man/woman to come out of closet. Even if parents are accepting, the larger South Asian community isn’t. Again, the concept of izzat comes to play. You might lose izzat if your son marries another man. People might blame you for raising your son wrong. It is quite an awful thing. Now, I understand that these problems exist in the larger Canadian society as well. Sure, Canada is quite progressive when it comes to laws. But behind the thin veneer of politeness, there exists deep intolerance. The hope again lies with the young people. They are more accepting of people that are different from them. Although, even among young people, there is homophobia.  Hopefully, educating people helps with understanding. The western media is slowly doing a better job of portraying LGBT characters. My mom’s favorite talk show is Ellen and she doesn’t care about her sexuality. Progress!

I would love to hear from from people who experienced intolerance due to their sexuality. How did you overcome it? Please share your experiences as there are many young people who are being bullied and suffering  due to intolerance in their communities. Your views might help them and the broader community in accepting and dealing with homosexuality.

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Brown Parent Quirks: Ethnocentrism

Brown parents can be very ethnocentric. My parents are from India and according to them, everything of value came out of India.

I am watching TV. Suddenly, they are talking about yoga.

Dad: Our ancestors created yoga. We also created the number zero. Our shastras (vedic textbooks) talked about earth being round and revolving around the sun. We were far ahead of Medieval Europe.

Me: Yes, I know that

Dad: Look, the whole world does yoga and meditation but we Hindus created it. We also have the best food, clothing. The way we celebrate our festivals, our culture is amazing.

Me: Yes?????(Not seeing his point)

Dad: India is not all just negative. There is good stuff too.  We actually have family values.

Me: Okay.

Dad: You should talk about good things from India in front of others.

I don’t get the let’s praise India in front of others mentality. I like to talk about the negative aspects of society because I want to bring attention to them. India is very dear to me. I was born there and most of my family still lives there. I want India to be a better place for them. I love Canada as well which is why I blogged about Rahtaeh Parsons case. Both countries have many good things that are admirable but they can both improve in other aspects. India just has more harrowing challenges then Canada. Anyway, all cultures have given us something beautiful and I get to enjoy that. YAY for Toronto being a diverse city.

Brown Parent Quirks: Comparing children

Brown parents have a habit of comparing their children to other relatives/friends/neighbors/colleagues offspring.

Typical conversations in our family.

Mom: You know my friend at work. Her daughter is 12 but cooks all the food at home. Look at you, you are so old but lazy.

Me: Mom, I am busy with school.

Mom: Busy? You just laze around. Go learn to cook some dal.

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Dad: You know our neighbor  I was talking to him and he has a daughter around your age. She is a pharmacist. You know she has a good job and makes lots of money.

Me: But, I love History and Political Science.

Dad: What will you do with a B.A? At least go to Teacher’s college?

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Both Parents (when they vacationed in India): We saw some of your childhood friends from India. They are so smart, mature and pretty. Look at you? Who will marry you?

Me: Who wants to get married? Not me. Nope.

Mom (Horrified): Don’t say that! You will get married. Not now but eventually. If you follow my advice, you will be healthy and pretty.

 

My parents are perpetually annoyed with me

 

Happy Ram Navami

After the events of last night, and the new rape case in India, I was full of anger. All those negative feelings caused me a lot of anxiety.Today, I went to the temple and actually had great time. It really calmed me down. I prayed for the victims and for the recovery of the little angel. Ram Navami is a festival celebrating the birthday of Lord Rama. Yes, India is a land of festivals. Everyone in the temple was extra sweet today and we had delicious food cooked by the devotees. Anyway, I hope to be more positive and hope the good people outnumber the bad ones.

Brown Parent Quirks: Overfeeding kids

During Dinner

Mom: You are only eating this much?

Me: I am not that hungry.

Mom(putting more food on my plate): You are too skinny. Look at your bony wrist. Eat more.

15 minutes later

Me: I cannot finish this. Ah, my stomach hurts.

Mom: See, I told you don’t eat much. How can your stomach hurt by only eating this little?

Dad: Finish your dinner. Don’t waste it.

Me: Putting my leftovers in the fridge. I”l eat it later.

 

Next Day…

Me: Mom, where are my leftovers?

Mom: Your Dad ate it.

Dad: You didn’t want it in first place.

Sorry kiddo

I think most South Asian parents overstuff their kids because they did not have enough food  as children. Moreover with so much poverty and malnutrition in South Asia, being well-fed is a sign of prosperity.

 

Navratri festival begins today!

So, today is the start of Navratri festival. It is a 9-day festival hence the name Nav(9) Ratri(nights). During this festival, 9 froms of Shakti (Godess Durga) are celebrated. When I was a little girl in India, I always found Navratri to be one of my favorite festivals.  During the last two days, I would get money and Halwa(dessert) from my parents, relatives and neighbors. For some reason I thought I was getting money because I was special. However in reality during the last three days, pre-pubescent girls are ceremonially worshiped  This is called Kanya Poojan. Some of the wealthier neighbors used to give me additional presents like bangles, costume jewellery,  cosmetics, pretty Indian scarves, steel bowls etc. They also used to wash our feet and asked for our blessings. The blessing part used to make me feel so important. No wonder, I had such a big ego as a kid. When I was a little girl, I also thought I should create a religion and people should follow it. My religion’s rule was simple. Instead of getting money only on certain festivals, I should get money every day. My parents put an end to that dream.

In certain Indian states like Gujrat,  Navratri is celebrated by Garba and Dandiya Raas (folk dances). Here is a Bollywood Garba song. Enjoy 😀

5 things I like about Indian culture

1. Food: Well, this is no surprise. Indian food is delicious. I also like the diversity. Sadly, the food that is most popular among Canadians is from one region of  India.  There is more to Indian food then butter Chicken people. Although, I do love me some Punjabi food as my mom hails from that region.Right now, I am really loving the cuisine from Andhra region. They have the best rice varieties but good luck finding it in Indian restaurant menus.

2. Clothing: God, I love Indian clothes. I find Sari to be extremely elegant and Salwar Kameez to be very practical. Lehengas are sexy and sophisticated. I just love the use of color, fabric, embroidery, beading and the attention to detail in Indian clothes.

3. Dance: From classical to folk, I love Indian dance forms. Then, there is Bollywood which is a mashup of everything. I really cannot dance but I enjoy seeing other people dance especially if they do folk dances like Bhangra or Garba.

4.Wedding: Indian weddings are beautiful and intricate. I do think they could be less extravagant but i enjoy a lot of the symbolism that goes on in our weddings. My favorite parts are the mehendi (henna) night and the reception.

5.Family: Indian families are very close. In India, your cousin is like your sibling and your second cousin is considered like your first cousin. My dad is especially close to his cousins and we have large number of relatives. Family gatherings are fun and weddings a riot.

 

Sorry for the late post but I am sick again. So, tired.

The push and pull between East and West among South Asian Canadians

This my followup post to the Yin and Yang of being a South Asian Canadian women. In my previous post, I explained the concept of honor in South Asian culture. Now, I will elaborate on how Young South Asian Canadian teens have to always struggle between the more dominant western culture and the traditional culture of their parents. It can be quite a confusing time. First of all, many South Asian parents are conservative and many things considered normal in the West are taboo in places like India and Pakistan. Some of the taboos are premarital sex, drinking alcohol, women living independently etc. Now there are people in India who partake in all these activities and more. Nevertheless, there is a stigma attached to all this for large swathes of Indian population.

So, a South Asian teen curious about sex doesn’t really have anywhere to turn to. Luckily Canadian schools provide sex education but this isn’t discussed at homes. Teens curious about alcohol or dating hide it from their parents. They do all this precisely because they will be judged harshly by the South Asian community and might bring dishonor to the family. This frankly is a big problem as it puts many teens in precarious situations with no parental supervision. It is something South Asian community needs to work on.

On the other hand are South Asian teens who might embrace some ideals from western culture such as democracy, rule of law, equality for all regardless of race, gender, age or sexuality. However, they also adopt some cultural or religious values from South Asia. This means teens who might believe in abstinence before marriage, filial piety or even arranged marriage. These teens can also get judged for being too conservative, too fobby and not being Canadian enough.

In both of my examples, teens who emulate western culture get judged for being too decadent, full of vices. Teens who adopt some traditional values get judged for being prudish, religious zealots. I personally feel like we need to let people make their choices as long as it is not infringing upon others. Someone who believes in abstinence isn’t prudish. A woman who has premarital sex isn’t a whore. It is all about making choices that are right for you. This battle between east and west continues to happen. In the meantime, South Asian community needs to address taboo issues and get rid of the honor concept. The mainstream Canadian society needs to stop judging people based on clothing and appearance. A woman wearing a hijab or a man wearing turban can still believe in democracy and equality but they shouldn’t fell pressured to give up religious or cultural values.

 

 

The yin and yang of being a South Asian woman in Canada

As women of South Asian descent, we have to constantly juggle between the old traditional cultural values and more Western values. I just wanted to explain how patriarchy and cultural values from the old country can affect their lives in the new home.

Background

It is no secret that young South Asian women are pressured to uphold traditional cultural values. This includes mothers teaching their daughters to cook so they could feed their husbands in the future. This means that dating is frowned upon and parents would generally prefer to pick the groom for their daughters. This means that if a woman breaks the traditional gender norm, she can be ostracized. I don’t know if the general Canadian population understands the concept of izzat (honor). But, I would do my best to explain.

Why is honor so important in South Asian families?

In countries like India, where institutions do not work well and rule of law is weak, you tend to rely on the community. The community can mean your caste members, your ethnic community, your regional community or your neighbors and relatives. It is through these community networks that people can do business, arrange a marriage or get their kids admitted into a posh school. In order for the community to help you out, they need to be reassured that your family is honorable  Remember, India has a population of a billion people and everyone is fighting for limited resources. In order to increase your chance of survival, you need allies. The community is paramount in helping you succeed as it provides valuable networks. However, the community will only help you if they think you can be of some help to them. If you are an honorable and a productive member of society, the community is more willing to help you.

In India where most communities are very patriarchal, the concept of honor means upholding traditional cultural values. This duty falls on women’s head as they are seen as the gatekeepers to such values.  In such a patriarchal society, virginity is especially prized. Hence, the women are forced to uphold the izzat of the family and hence maintain her virginity until she is married. She must learn to cook, feed and take care of the household. That is seen as her primary responsibility. If she breaks through these norms, the family will lose honor and the community will ostracize you. If you understand this, then it comes as no surprise that single women (divorced, unmarried or widows) are seen as a threat.

Isn’t there patriarchy in Canada?

Yes, it is alive and well but we are talking about how much more rigid and severe it is in India. Canada is a much better place for women thanks to the sexual revolution in the 60’s. Of course, this doesn’t mean Canadian women should stop tackling issues like wage gap or rape culture. South Asian feminists continue to fight for their rights but India still has a long way to go.  It does seem that the middle class is slowly waking up and realizing the situation isn’t right.

But, you are in Canada now?

Here is the thing: Most South Asian immigrants assimilate quite well. Daughters go to school, and many parents let their daughters pick their own partners. They trust their children and let their children make decision as an adult. But, remember the concept of izzat. It still functions in Canada. Imagine you are a new immigrant and there are a lot of things you do not understand. You need help getting a job or renting a place. Who do you turn to? Well, South Asian community in Canada works kind of like the same way as community did in India. It is a way to network and build connections and succeed. Even within South Asian community, some families are more liberal, others more conservative. Even if you aren’t conservative, you have to put a facade that you are upholding traditional cultural values or else you will be ostracized. I will elaborate more on this on my next post.

 

Sorry for the long post. The second post will talk more about the struggle between complete assimilation to western culture and upholding some cultural values from South Asia.