Akshay Sharma is one of our 2016 MGA-Mosaic Interns, and is working with us to develop proposals for future research initiatives. Below, Akshay reflects on his experience as part of the Generation Between Roots.
My father arrived in Wolfville, Nova Scotia from India with my grandparents as a ten year-old-boy in 1968. Although he was the only visible minority in his elementary school, he was able to retain his language and culture quite well (being born in India helped, he told me), while also integrating enough with Canadian culture to not feel a constant outsider. My experience has been different than his; I was born in Calgary as a Canadian with an Indian heritage.
Throughout my upbringing, I constantly grappled with issues of identity, am I Canadian or am I Indian?
Which side do I fall on predominantly? Is this even an issue?
At home or with my extended family, I certainly felt Indian, as I was surrounded by the language, food, media and other cultural traits of my parent’s upbringings. However, during school and out of the house with my friends, I felt like a native English speaker, the hockey-loving Canadian boy I was in a lot of ways. Moreover, I found that often, other Indian children, especially those who arrived in Canada recently, did not find me “Indian enough.” This dual identity was not necessarily negative, but it does raise complex issues surrounding the people of my generation who share a similar experience. Frequently, it feels as though we lack ownership of a space and identity within our diverse society, in that there is a pull from both flanks of your heritage to fall either on one side or the other. This results in the occupation of a sort of liminal space—you feel stuck in transition, living on the threshold between two worlds that you cannot escape.
The occupation of this liminal space is usually influenced by two forces: the force of your family’s culture which demands preservation, and the force of the society you live in, usually predicated on the mainstream cultural dynamisms its institutions perpetuate. The former forces usually involve an overall pressure to remain culturally relevant with one’s heritage from abroad: maintain advanced fluency in the mother tongue so you can communicate with relatives and grandparents, for example. While these kinds of pressures can be difficult for children of immigrants, they are not necessarily maintained by institutional forces outside of the family.
More difficult to grapple with, then, are the forces of mainstream society. Growing up, my education surrounding history and politics usually focused on the development of European societies and their colonization of North America. While knowledge of these topics is important, there could have been a greater variety of units studying world history, reflecting Canada’s demographic realities (there were some, to be fair). The seeds for the liminal space are planted at an early age—it is hard for young people to determine their place in society when there isn’t a clear space to cultivate their identity at home or school. Outside of education, there are also the representations that manifest in pop culture. Often, minorities are either portrayed as “fresh off the boat” immigrants, reflecting cultural stereotypes, or simply an obligatory person of colour who is usually not a main character. For examples, see how Indian people are represented in a popular movie such as “Deadpool” or the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory.”
These representations are not necessarily negative—they are simply an example of the narrow representation immigrants and their children often have in Western society. Moreover, these points are not meant to downplay or ignore the struggle new immigrants have integrating into mainstream society; this is a different problem that deserves its own approach altogether.
The reflections here are meant to shed light on a topic that is not often talked about, which is the experience of immigrants’ children in Canada and like countries, and the difficulty they often face in finding representation, identity and spaces in the societies they live in. The pressures to either blend in with the majority and lose one’s actually identity, or stay within the confines of one’s ethnic origins, should not be so strong. Most definitely, these pressures can be alleviated by better policy on multiple levels, ranging from a more diverse view of history and identity through education, but also from more accurate representations in pop culture and media. Luckily, these kinds of conversations are becoming increasingly frequent and we are already starting to see incremental change. It’s also my duty and those like me who have come from families of an older generation of immigrants, to talk about these issues of identity publicly and to carve out our own space, a space where we don’t have to fall on either side. Undoubtedly, it is possible to turn this liminal space into something real, unique, and permanent.
Akshay Sharma, Master of Global Affairs Intern, 2016
Akshay joined the Mosaic Team in May 2016 as an intern from the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto. Prior to the start of his master’s degree, Akshay completed an Honours Bachelor of Arts at the University of Toronto in Political Science, Philosophy and History. Previously, Akshay has worked as a research analyst at NeoSeis Technologies and as a compliance analyst in the G20 Research Group headed by the Munk School of Global Affairs. Akshay is interested in conflict resolution processes and regional cooperation as it pertains to promoting peace and diplomacy in conflict areas; he is specifically interested in the South Asian region. This summer, Akshay will be working with the Mosaic Team to develop proposals for future research initiatives, as well as policy analyses related to Canada’s diverse communities and their relationships with Canada’s foreign policy and peace promotion strategies abroad.