It’s Time to Start Appreciating our Tamil Parents

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My parents were born and raised in Sri Lanka. In 1988, my dad moved to Canada and painstakingly worked to earn enough money to sponsor my mother who came in 1990. Like all Tamils, they immigrated to Canada in search of an opportunity to raise a happy family in peace.

My parents experienced struggles firsthand. Every day was a challenge, every night a journey. The problems they faced back home became a story they would tell me. “I walked 8 miles to go to school barefoot.” Like many other children in Tamil families, I could not truly understand the hardships they had gone through.

How could I? I was born in Canada. My friends were mostly white and English-speaking. Every day I had enough food on the table and at night I had a nice bed to sleep on. On my birthdays I would get cake and gifts. What I did not understand was that the stories they told me are the reason I am sitting where I am today. What they could not have foreseen was that escaping one struggle meant plunging into another.

This was a battle to live in this new land. It was as silent as can be. But it was evident in how many Tamils that immigrated struggled to find adequate jobs. Those that could find low-paying jobs that yielded very little income, and often required them to work seven days a week. Many educated Tamils did not fare much better as most could not find work suited to their qualifications. They too were reduced to working for a meager wage as security guards and as gas station attendants just to put food on the table. Despite all of this, there was a sense of relief as the threat of death did not hang over them ominously as it had back home. Here, they had a real chance to survive.

Many Tamil immigrants of our parent’s generation brought young children with them, or had children in Canada. It was for these children – us – that our parents toiled day after day. We grew up being pushed to study hard and become a doctor or an engineer. We aspired to be many things but often it felt like they had already planned out our life for us. We were nagged about everything from the clothes we wore to the way we ate. Sometimes even the kindest words would seem like a slight to our character, as if our ear permanently converted their words into unpleasant static. We used white people as a comparison for our family lives and yearned for a household devoid of conflict and pressure.

What our parents could not understand was that we were growing up in an entirely different environment. We did not always share the same views as them. They could not understand our Westernized views and it made us frustrated and angry with them. We wanted to stay out late, go to parties, watch movies and have people over. But many of us were denied these luxuries. We felt as if we were being cheated out of something important because our parents could not understand.

Yet behind every word of anger was love. Behind every beating was their fear that they may not be able to see us happy in their lifetime. We resented them for all of this as we did not see other people living like this. But our parents had gone through the worst and they knew what it was like to have nothing. They knew what it was like to feel empty inside and count each day as a blessing because death was always around the corner.

While they did not always vocalize their unhappiness, their pain echoed in the empty chambers of their hearts. To them, happiness would be to give us every reason to smile for every tick of every clock. Their experiences shaped them and in their own way, they tried to impart to us the struggles they went through.

Yet what Tamil parents and children failed to understand was each other. We grew up feeling suffocated and yearning for more freedom. Even when we understand our parents, this resentment will persist because when we look back on our lives all we see are missed opportunities. Sometimes we are blind to how much our parents truly did for us just as they are blind to how we felt growing up. Their methods were unorthodox and perhaps not always favourable. But they did it for us, their children.

Although I never had a great childhood, I had it a lot easier than my parents did. They fed me, clothed me and loved me. Despite my differences with them, I know that behind every action there was love. The story about walking 8 miles without shoes is not just a story. It’s my legacy. Every breath I take and every move I make will become part of that story. Do you know how our parents want that story to end? “I have given my children a life. I’ve made them happy.”

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20 thoughts on “It’s Time to Start Appreciating our Tamil Parents

  1. Your parents toiled for minimum wage, still work their ass of in some restaurants for 6 bucks an hour. One of the most proud stories of brown immigrants are those from eelam. Rags to Riches.. What did second-generation achieve? You guys have overcompensated yourself with western values. Way westernized than other brown community. . Since most of you like to travel, try travelling to parts of India, Srilanka or Penang. Find out your identity. Then you know what your parents meant. Come back to our way of life. What C.N.N and Globe and Mail covers about South Asia is just like what Hollywood covers about American way of life. We know both are not the same.

  2. hthirumaran Opinion_Puli Also din’t you guys fall on same Indian seeman feet and Indian college student feet for eelam two months ago for them to protest? Come on thambi! Overconfidence udambuku aagathu chellams

  3. Opinion_Puli hthirumaran fair enough you have a valid point there.  I will take my point back.  By the way i am not the greatest fan of the tamil ealam movement that seeman supports.  Yes i believe in tamil rights but i believe that tamil ealam will be a logistical disaster given that half the tamil population lives in sinhalese areas.

  4. Opinion_Puli The expectation for the second generation to achieve something right now. Is totally far fetched. It is based on the premise of the rich get richer…this applies to their families as well. The rich families get richer. Give it another 10 years. Why? Because western culture is difficult to succeed in right now. The second generation are faced with a lot more economic troubles. House prices have increased exponentially. Jobs opportunities are biased. Though these are not the same troubles parents have gone through, to be-little troubles that the second generation will face is ridiculous. Right now, those that have graduated are just getting jobs. Give it a few more years and you will see second-generation Tamils in high earning well known jobs. The second generation won’t be rags to riches, but they are faced with an uphill fight against a monetized economy.
    And to counter that the second-generation has somehow not achieved anything is pretty hilarious. The second generation continues to push woman rights into the culture, not just law. Gay rights is because of the second generation. Fights against social class. Innovations in technology. 
    As for your comment about going to India or Sri Lanka to find your identity. I went and found nothing more then a country plagued with laziness. Streets littered with garbage and feces. People driving autos [and sleeping in them instead of working], or people simply begging for money. The people I met who were successful were people with Western ideals. The idea of rags to riches is a western ideal…south asian culture is based nothing like that. Just look at our “class” system…you are a fisher man, farmer, etc etc. And to move up is nearly impossible, and the person you marry [if they are of a higher class] has tainted their class.
    As for Tamil Eelam. To somehow put them on a pedestal is pretty ridiculous to me as well. They were known for war crimes [so were the Sinhalese]. But the method in which Tamil Eelam came to power, by forcing smaller parties to merge by force. The Tamil Eelam is what plagued Tamil people. Look at them now, fighting over $200 million in donations for selfish reasons. Not for the rights of Tamil people, but to become richer. So yes, rags ro riches. The Tamil Eelam did nothing, and most parents agree that they supported the cause and disagreed with the methods. Sometimes to be oppressed and fight back through peace is better than guns and weapons. Ghandi a fine example.
    Sorry for the long post.

  5. QuantumMath Opinion_Puli Hmm here is where we differ. I see the dirty streets but I also long to walk on the street hearing tamil kids playing hide and seek. I love to have a long conversation with the auto driver as he calls me anna and talk about his life. Its a brotherly feeling you have with your own people. I love the joint family, my uncles and aunts have in Cidambaram as i get fed with every good food possible. Cherish those few shy women who wouldn’t look up and speak.  I love how beyond the caste identities, the different cultural aspects that the same caste encompasses it; a Devar jayandhi festival, a  muslim bhai’s daughter’s marriage, a brahmin family’s religious procession and a dalit guy’s parai drums. These are things I value beyond the economic and bureaucratic failures of a country you’ve laid out. I haven’t been to S.L to comment on the culture. Pretty sure they have that too.
    Likewise I appreciate the temples we have in Scarborough. Tamil gods like, karupu samy, Ayyapan, muneeswarar etc. I fear the second generation will destroy it in the name of liberalism. As for tamil Eelam, whoever died for the war, my utmost respect. Netaji Subashsandraboss, Bhagat Singh and Vaanjinaathan are fine examples too

  6. Opinion_Puli QuantumMath No disrespect, but everything does tie back to economic issues and political issues.
    1. You see kids playing hide and seek in the dirty streets. I see kids that are plagued with a huge injustice in social classes. Where they have less  opportunities just because they are poor. Not like Canada.
    2. You see a brother in an auto driver. I see an economy that is spiralling out of control that people flock to driving an Auto.
    3. You see a shy woman who doesn’t look up and speak. I see a woman who is faced with gender class and forced to be house wives.
    I love my culture. But my culture does not define me; my culture changes. Canada’s culture is unlike any other. We are a cultural mosaic and yet we have a unified culture. And that is where my parents and I differ. Unlike other child and parent relationships, we can understand where we are coming from. My ideals are formed on feminism, humanitarianism  hinduism, associating with tamil ideals, western ideals, from islam and christianity and atheism and agnosticism. That doesn’t make me a better person; but I am saying that Tamil culture isn’t going anywhere. Just because it is combined with other cultures doesn’t mean it has gone away. Just because you add 1 and 1 together to make 2, doesn’t destroy it. 
    My parents? Want to protect their culture. Where they came from. What their heritage is.
    Me? I hate the idea of a stagnated culture. We are Tamil people, but we should fight to better ourselves. My parents know that I don’t identify with Tamil people as much. I’m not considered very Tamil in my family; but I’m okay with that. Because whether it is the person I date, or the person I am conversing with…I can whole heartedly say “I don’t associate with a culture…what is yours?”
    To tie it back to the article because I don’t want to go off tangent lol. My parents came here to better my life. That doesn’t mean that I maintain the same Tamil culture and just continue on with a better life to preserve it. The expectation of myself is; I should want betterment for those from my country and those that aren’t. And as difficult as it is to understand; the Tamil culture has stagnated. We aren’t improving because we are too busy trying to defend against other cultures and ideals infiltrating us. Who cares if they try to change us? Add our own morals to the mix, add our own culture. Be part of something greater. 😛 Whether it is libertarianism  socialism or communism, the idea of a world culture is much more exciting to me then preserving something that doesn’t work. Mind a world culture is an amalgamation of different cultures. Not the injection of 1 culture into the rest. ^^
    Again sorry for the long post.

  7. QuantumMath Opinion_Puli
     QuantumMath Opinion_Puli Just to remind all persons who talk about the backwardness of tamils.  Despite the many issues in tamilnadu tamilnadu is actually ahead of the indian average in terms of living standards, income and most importantly female education.  So while  I accept criticism  many bloggers, especially from canada need to realise this point.  Tamilnadu IS actually AHEAD of the rest of india.

  8. hthirumaran QuantumMath Opinion_Puli  Every-time some group of tamils say they are progressive and talk about bringing an amalgamation of culture, I realise one thing. They do something revolutionary.. A.K.A marry someone off a different ethnic background, convert to another religion. This is what I see.  A South Indian tamil marries a North Indian. Kid grows up speaking Hindi, once in a while eats some idli or wear saree occasionally in some function. Unless I am  the type of Indian tamil who watch bollywood and can speak hindi, I am an outsider. . Overtime, the identity dies out and it is “Oh yeah my grandma was tamil”.
    Not sure but apparently this is the reason why Tamils who wanna be more indian or more canadian end up. Punjabi wouldn’t die out in Canada, Hindi wouldn’t die out in Canada, Mandarin wouldn’t die out in Canada but i can bet on you, tamil identity will die out. Why? Cos we are too busy being ashamed of who we are, what we speak and trying to be somebody we are not. The second generation are guinea pigs and yeah lets welcome some changes but not the basic like loss of language or religious practices etc.
    Punjabis managed to bring Kabadi into Brampton, Would we bring back our silambam here? Too shy eh?The dark skin makes you cringe eh? But anyway good for you. You gave me a decent conversation than randomly shutting me down calling me unprogressive or pointing out my grammar. I donno. Aint so educated mate. Cheers

  9. hthirumaran QuantumMath Opinion_Puli As great as it is to hear that Tamilnadu is doing better then the Indian average [if this is true :P] it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t progress. Comparing yourself downward makes yourself feel better. Comparing yourself to others, upward…comparing yourself to possibilities that have yet to come out. That’s improving. And as great as it is to hear we are doing okay, we can do better. Don’t you think?

  10. Opinion_Puli hthirumaran QuantumMath I like to think of myself as a positive realist. I like to imagine the best in people. And you know what the most amazing thing on this planet is? People. But over the years we have put up so many barriers around ourselves, our countries, our towns, our cities, our villages, cultures, religions and food likes and schools and intelligence that we begin to hate another person for just not being born in the right town/religion/race. 
    The Tamil culture has stagnated over the years. We have traditions that do not make sense. Do not cut your nails after 12 or on fridays? Do not cross your legs in-front of adults because it is disrespectful> And there is a core difference between traditions and religion. These are traditions that parents uphold so tightly.
    The reason the Tamil culture/religion/villages/clans/castes will no longer exist as much? Because culture isn’t needed. Because my hope is one day where you are born really doesn’t matter. Just like being born a different color shouldn’t matter, or being gay shouldn’t matter.
    The world is changing around us. Why should we sit still? Who cares if our culture and religion get over-run by something else? Should we really remain the same because we believe ourselves to be so perfect?
    Things change. And a lot of the time it is for the better. Look at America…so over-run by religious critics that they have stopped innovating in science. They stopped research in organ cloning because people believe that 1 cell is equal to a life. That’s a cultural disposition that they are not willing to give up. Change isn’t always good….but a lot of the time it is. We shouldn’t be so caught up in the here and now…because all those barriers we put up…may be worth giving up for the future.

  11. Opinion_Puli hthirumaran QuantumMath   Thanks a lot for your opinion.  It makes a lot of sense.  These so called tamil liberals have a very one way street when it comes to liberalism. At least if liberalism worked both ways i’ll be happy with it.  For example a so called tamil liberal decides to marry a north indian.  Then this so called tamil liberal will go on about the backwardness of tamil culture blah blah blah without realising that the culture of their partner is far more regressive and caste predjudiced than their own tamil culture.  
    These so called liberals will go on about the caste system amongst tamils.  This would be fine if they genuinely wanted to challenge the caste system.  But this is not the case for if they really wanted to challenge caste system then why don’t they challenge the caste system amongst their north indian partners which is much worse than the caste system amonst tamils.  For all those here who rant about the caste system amongst tamils they fail to mention that tamilnadu has the highest percentage of reservations for lower caste students.

  12. hthirumaran QuantumMath Ok Quantum, during the sixties, a man by the name of Periyar fought against so many superstitions. He encouraged widow remarriages, fought for untouchables to enter temples in vaikam,kerala. He made fun of tamils distinguishing between left hand and right hands. It was pretty radical and the movement was called dravidIan politics. Read up on periyar or catch the movie at-least. So compared to Neanderthal states like assam and bihar, T.N is very advanced for a state in India.
    My problem with liberals like you is that you are not seeing the bigger picture. If an American could not agree with liberals, you think a large number of punjabis and gujaratis and chinese are going to assimilate and start thinking like you? If columbus was here, he would have found India in North America for sure = Brampton. So only the liberal tamils are going to assimilate here.

  13. hthirumaran QuantumMath The magazine has shown that our numbers are reducing here due to large number of divorces, lot of single women and men and of-course interracial marriages. http://www.tamilculture.ca/category/lifestyle/society-culture/page/2/
    This is the same for white population. They are too liberal and dont wanna get married. I can foresee a society where there will be a lot of Hindi speakers and mandarin speakers and politicians will do everything to appease them. so yeah, your idea is a good utopia but not practical.

  14. Opinion_Puli hthirumaran QuantumMath Again. To compare yourself to something of a lesser makes you feel better, but does not help you improve. If you constantly reassure yourself that we are okay, but comparing yourself to something beneath you then how do you improve? It’s like a D student saying it is okay because he is doing better then to F student.
    My ideals are not situated around American culture, they are situated around the progressive culture that is amongst my generation. And that is something a lot of people have a problem with.  It is people confusing that just because we don’t follow our own culture it must mean we have been influenced by Western culture and have now  left everything for them.
    Culture dies out. Religion dies out. Why? Because as a people we are supposed to improve. But in the last few decades we have been hugging these things so tightly; Americans, Chinese, Tamils, Indians, Muslims, Hinduism what ever. It isn’t just something I am asking of my people.  It’s something that is going to occur, in the next generation. Why? Because right now the only thing keeping this religion alive is the pressure from Tamil parents to marry within the culture. That pressure will dissipate in the next generation. So as scary as that is…it is inevitable and I am just trying to explain it to you.
    It’s okay if it all “dies out”. Cause something new is coming and we are holding it back with this silly belief that  everything is okay.

  15. Opinion_Puli hthirumaran QuantumMath The fact that people are divorcing isn’t concerning to me lol. A lot of Tamil [and brown] parents beat each other. And the expectation of what a woman deserves has shifted. So yes…people leave one another because as a person you deserve the best. Not a bad thing at all my good sir.
    Before it was arranged marriages and you were forced to stick with it until you died. Whether you loved them or not. Now there is independence and yes with independence comes less pressure to be married to a someone not worth it.

  16. QuantumMath Opinion_Puli hthirumaran After reading all this my only question to Quantum is, why do you bother identifying yourself as a tamil? Thats a primordial identity as per your perception itself. Why not leave?

  17. Opinion_Puli QuantumMath hthirumaran It’s not a fact of whether or not I identify with being a Tamil. I was born Tamil. But that is not going to stop me from growing lol. All I am saying is the value to preserve any culture, not just Tamil is redundant and pointless. Created by a generation afraid of losing something because they are so scared of the future.
    The future culture, and future beliefs is much more important then the simple preservation of something so out-dated. I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be an appreciation for it; but to state that a “Liberal Tamil” is somehow of a lesser then you for adapting to other cultures is pretty ridiculous.
    I can understand the need to maintain a culture. But in return, I think it is best if you play your own Devil’s advocate instead of me playing it for you. What are the benefits of Tamil culture? Do you think by adhering to one culture you are improving?
    Everything goes away. It doesn’t matter if the Tamil culture somehow disappears  If you influence your beliefs and culture into something that is going to come anyway. Whether or not the Tamil culture, or any other culture really disappears doesn’t matter. Why? Because there is a little bit of it inside the new culture if you so choose. So yes…Tamil culture will disappear [along with a lot of other cultures]  but it will be because of people like you who chose to defend rather then influence. ^^

  18. ninisha Honestly it feels like our people aren’t going to learn unless we force it on them. Dowries are part of an old pointless system that capitalized on classes and used them as leverage to feel better about them selves.
    I’m not going to tell you what to do. But you should expect betterment not just from yourself but from your partner as well. Growth is part of life and if his family; hell if he can’t grow past ridiculous customs like that then what kind of customs are you going to be forced into once marriage? There’s a lot to think about…but in the end it is up to you.

  19. QuantumMath ninisha 
    thank you for helping me reason out..where i come frm we still follow the sri lankan tamil clan and we have our own association. i havent shared my story but just talking about dowry they are all against it, both men and women. the last was during our grandparents time. But i guess back home it’s still going strong and it’s really not his or his parents fault…he has sisters and they need it to be married off. it’s totally unfair of me. 🙂 but i believe in miracles.  so let’s see..

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