There’s something about Tamil culture that gets under my skin. Before continuing to read this, I just want to be clear about one thing. I’m not bashing Tamils whatsoever. My opinions are grounded by the fact that I have married into a Tamil family.
Similarly, I am well aware that the content I’ve written also applies to the vast majority of other cultures, including my own.
Now that I’ve set the tone, this is what vexes me.
I am a Chinese-Vietnamese girl who grew up in Malvern with many Tamil friends throughout my childhood. For those unfamiliar with Malvern, it is a neighbourhood in Scarborough that is home to many black and South Asian people. It actually made me a minority in the community and the centre of “slant eye” jokes.
Now I’ve come full circle. My best friend is Pakistani and my husband is, well, Tamil. I’ve proudly gained a new set of parents, also known as amma and appa.
But it wasn’t always hunky-dory.
When we planned our wedding last year, I was surprised to learn that our cultural differences and rites of passages were not the centre of our disagreements (I use the word disagreement to be polite and respectful).
Instead, his parents had certain cultural assumptions about my family and me. It created tension by amplifying a very uncomfortable and palpable otherness that I hadn’t felt before. His parents labelled me based on my culture, and created a life story based on what they assumed about me – because I was non-Tamil.
An example of this is when his parents assumed I would leave my husband once I found someone “better” – because that’s what non-Tamils are like. It’s this very isolation and exclusivity that Tamils feel they have – this underlying otherness – that has me vexed.
Here I am today writing this because we are told the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But it doesn’t always have to be that way. It is possible to reorient a culture where assumptions can be transcended by openness and curiosity.
Using my own example, instead of fostering resentment towards Tamil culture, I’ve decided to carry this with me when we eventually have children.
More importantly, I hope to remind every first, second and third generation Tamil that there is always a FOB within all of us. No Canadian beaver-tail eating culture can permeate the beliefs we have grown up with in our likely segregated and just a little racist households. I sincerely hope that you can challenge your assumptions the next time you decide to respond with “It’s just a Tamil thing.”
Here are two examples to illustrate that I am your people too, even though my curry has a little more coconut and my skin tone is different from yours. I summarized two themes in two instances that I’ve often encountered.
“Are you sure you can eat this? It’s really spicy and Chinese people don’t eat spicy food.”
My thoughts: My grandma grew little red and green chili plants which were diced and added to the fish oil sauce we concocted. That shit was put on everything.
Try asking this: “Just a warning: this is packed with heat.” It’s short and sweet.
“Well, I know it’s frustrating that they won’t accept you right now. But they’ll come around. That’s just how Tamil parents are.”
My thoughts: No, just no. The judgments parents have about non-Tamil relationships are not strictly bound to Tamils. The same judgments exist within many interracial couples. The sentiments still are, “They won’t understand us because we don’t speak the same language.” Or “They don’t have the same values. They’re going to leave you.”
I know this because one of my sisters dated a Tamil guy and my other sister dated a black guy. The silent treatment they received was just as loud as it would be in a Tamil family.
Try asking this: “How is it making you feel?” Or “Who knows how they’ll change in the future?”
If you really think I despise Tamil people by this point, then you’ve got it all wrong. I love my amma and appa as if they were my own biological parents. What I am vexed about is the constant otherness or “you and them” dynamic – that the life of a Tamil is so different.
I grew up without the love and support of my father. I’m absolutely sure many Tamil women reading this can relate. It’s not just a Tamil thing, but a result of immigrants from war-torn countries. I know that to his family, I will always be non-Tamil, an outsider and just his wife.
Let’s not carry this into our future and let’s vow to reconstruct new Canadian immigrant realities instead.
Looking to create your love story, your way? Join the other couples who have dated and married through myTamilDate.com!