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A Generation Raised on Survival, Not Love
Growing up in Europe in the early 90s, there weren't many Tamils around. The survival mentality made me feel like two different people. I was the good Tamil at home and at Tamil social gatherings, but outside, in the "other" world, I was a person trying to fit in and thrive.
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I was browsing through my Instagram feed this morning, and read something that I've been struggling to understand for most of my life. The post goes like this: - People raised on Love see the world differently from people raised on Survival.
 
I am  Tamil. Born in Jaffna in the mid-80s, raised in Europe and Canada in the mid-90s. As an immigrant child I was told by my parents, almost on a daily basis, that there is evil around every corner. Murderers, killers, and kidnappers are waiting to take you. They always told me to stay close. Growing up in Europe, I saw a kidnapping happen once. It was some distance away, but close enough for me to see that both the victims and attackers were of South Asian descent. A woman and child were standing on the street as a van approached. Two men got out. One man walked up and shouted at the woman, while the other man tossed the child in the car. They took off almost as quickly as they appeared. The crime felt very personal. The attackers were shouting almost as loud as the mother was screaming. It felt familial. My dad and I saw this happen. He shook his head and turned away. I saw it happen, but felt so disconnected emotionally from that woman's pain. At the same time I felt grateful that it wasn't happening to us. This was 30 years ago. I was 7.
 
My parents would use these events, and ones we saw on the news, as reasons for not letting us stray too far. Non-tamils and any strangers were always spoken about as "them" and "they", and never as someone close to us. Growing up, it was ingrained in us that it was "Us vs Them", and "They'll never understand", and "We wont/don't do that".
 
As I got older, this created an emotional rift inside of me. I could never connect with people. Growing up in Europe in the early 90s, there weren't many Tamils around. The survival mentality made me feel like two different people. I was the good Tamil at home and at Tamil social gatherings, but outside, in the "other" world, I was a person trying to fit in and thrive. In reality, I was just doing enough to get through the day, in both worlds. Someone who's upbringing and framework was survival-first, can't make healthy relationships anywhere. It made me selfish. I always kept people at a distance. Survival to me meant that I had to be ok with shaking my head and turning around. Survival meant to disassociate. I had to be ok to cut off a chicken's head, in order to feed myself. I had to be ok to leave people behind, in order to survive.  My parents came from constant struggle. Generations of war and turmoil has told them to always be aware of anything that didn't look familiar, and be ready to cut and run. The way my parents looked at life, and what they were trying to teach, gives us 1st and 1.5 Gens this duality we continue to struggle with. A lot of us are merely trying to survive both worlds.
 
Code-switching is one way to survive. We code-switch in order to communicate with someone who's not part of our "tribe". Unfortunately we also use it as a way to police ourselves. We use terms like, "That's so white" or "Why are you so white-washed" when we happen to code-switch in the wrong circles. These phrases are meant to remind us to not stray too far from the tribe. Another reminder that we should remain familiar with the ways of the old, or else..
 
I've read a lot of posts and articles about South Asian parents constantly trying to control our lives and dictating every move. These behaviours come from generations of survivors. It is so ingrained in them, that they consider it normal. We 1st and 1.5 Gens are tasked with breaking a behaviour that started hundreds of years ago, but is so foreign to us. This isn't something we signed up for, but it is something we have to deal with in order for us to succeed in both our respective diasporas, and the rest of the world.
 

 

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Created By
Anton Sountharanayagam
I.T
Canada
Hi everyone. Sometimes I write stories. Sometimes I don't recycle.
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