This past fall, I was put in touch with the New York Times newspaper who was interested in meeting recently arrived Syrian refugees, particularly to understand the children’s experience in Canada. Over the course of a number of visits, the NYT produced a series of in-depth pieces featuring Syrian refugee children attending Samuel Hearne Middle School in my ward. Incidentally, it is the same school the Ethiopian-heritage pop superstar, Abel Tesfaye (The Weeknd), attended.
As I accompanied the journalist, Catrin Einhorn, on one of her visits, we chatted about the children’s challenges with integration and adaptation, and their parents’ experiences of loss and despair. One father shared how he would spend time on Google Earth looking at their bombed-out house in their native village in Syria, while his daughter made a gingerbread house. It dawned on me, that our Tamil community, underwent a similar experience as we arrived in Canada as refugees. Ironically, this same neighbourhood, Teesdale (Pharmacy & Danforth) was once full with Tamil refugees in the 90s.
At our present time, the vast majority of our Tamil students in the TDSB were born and raised in Canada. As part of this reality, through much anecdotal conversation, many of our Tamil children are unaware of their families’ and community’s history and struggle as refugees to Canada. Thus, the theme for our Tamil Heritage Month in 2017 was born, “Roots & Routes”. Providing our children with the opportunity to discover and learn our roots and the many routes we have taken to find refuge in Canada.
The influential African-American writer and thinker, James Baldwin, said, “Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.” Many other significant and successful individuals and groups of peoples have all echoed the importance of this sentiment: Know Thyself. As time passes, and our distance with back home grows, we risk the reality of the next generation losing an important piece of their identity. It is imperative that the next or younger generation is aware of the struggle and sacrifice behind our refuge and origin in Canada.
Finally, in connection with Canada’s 150th anniversary, it is important we acknowledge the enduring presence of our Indigenous communities, and recognize the fact that with challenges, Canada has become home to many communities seeking refuge and opportunities. Thus, we will be asking students: How have your cultural roots, as well as your family’s route(s) to Canada, shaped and continue to shape your identity as a Tamil Canadian today? This question will guide our essay, original art, and public speaking contests. These opportunities will give students the opportunity to explore, reflect and creatively express their understanding of their roots and routes.
TDSB Celebration: Sat. Jan. 28th, 1-5pm @ Woburn C.I