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Diasporas and Dishwashers, 1988: A Photo Series Dedicated to the Resilience of the Tamil Diaspora

Tamil. A word that means almost nothing to foreigners. To some it’s just a language. To me it's the home of ancient history, war, culture and diasporas.

Tamil. A word that means almost nothing to foreigners. To some it’s just a language. To me it's the home of ancient history, war, culture and diasporas.

I appreciate the kings and artists of our ancient past and my ancestors for preserving and passing on these traditions. What I appreciate more are the immigrant parents and children of the diaspora who juggle majestic histories while trying to carve out spaces for themselves in a competitive community.

In 1988, the backbone of my family arrived in a country that would give him a different future. But it would put him through years of microaggressions, racism and limited work opportunities because of his stunted education and status as an immigrant.

My dad worked odd jobs, then moved on to a dishwasher job at the back of a Keg restaurant from where he never left. My mom stayed home and raised us until she started working full-time at a packing factory. We lived in a small, humble apartment in Scarborough that was infested with cockroaches and the odd mouse. We shared that apartment with a handful of other people – relatives who had just landed in Canada.

Appa and Amma – thank you for grinding, for working so damn hard when you first landed here so we could all have a roof over our heads and meals to eat. I remember my mom telling me that she and my dad would collect pennies and dimes they found on the ground to save up for bus fare – that is how financially strapped they were.


I want to thank the parents who deliver newspapers, wash dishes, do scrap metal and work in warehouses and factories. Sometimes it’s difficult to step out of your full-time job and get a diploma or degree because the entire family depends on your income to feed them. It’s so rough seeing your dad, whose name means the great king, shuffle through newspapers and junk daily with almost no sleep.

My entire life and career are indebted to your deteriorating knees, Appa, from working three jobs everyday even up till today, regardless of the weather and how sick you feel. So many people in our community go the sneaky route to make money, but you did it honestly and sincerely. You are the embodiment of resilience and I wish to be at least half as resilient as you are.

[caption id="attachment_20300" align="alignleft" width="1224"]Image of a South Asian woman cutting her braided hair with a pair of scissors. 1988 Photo series - Model - Mirusha Yogarajah, Photography: Vinsia Maharajah[/caption]

And a shout out to all the kids who immigrated here in the 80s and 90s. You dealt with culture shock. You dealt with racism and bullying. You’d be pushed to the edge where you’d try and assimilate. For some, it meant cutting off their luscious locks of coconut-oiled hair. For others, it was joining a gang and getting rough in the streets.

Even then, society wasn’t happy. They labeled you as outcasts. Some of you lost your lives on the streets. You dealt with so much while trying to grow, mature and accept two cultures as your own. Eventually, you’d be your own special group — Children of the Diaspora: Too Western to be brown, too brown to be “Western.” But by then, it might be too late.

[caption id="attachment_20301" align="alignleft" width="1118"]A South Asian woman in a saree and short cropped hair, is staring at her reflection in the mirror. In the background there is a ghost of herself in the past when she cut her braid off. 1988 Photo series - Model - Mirusha Yogarajah, Photography - Vinsia Maharajah[/caption]

If you are meeting someone who’s new to the country, treat them with compassion and learn about their experiences back home. Give them opportunities to bloom and flourish and shower nothing but love upon them.

To those who have already settled here, ask them about what they’ve faced adjusting to a new country while trying to preserve their traditions and culture. To those who were sent away as outcasts in the past, take them back or provide them with resources to improve their lives.

Many people have been through war. Sometimes all their soul needs is compassion and peace. Don’t judge. Build bridges and emphasize unity in the community. We don’t need to be a hostile overly-competitive community. We can help each other grow and prosper as a whole. After all, we are as strong as our weakest links.


Thank you for taking the time to read this article. If you'd like to share your diaspora stories with me, feel free to email me at vinsia.maharajah@gmail.com, visit my website (vinsia.ca) or contact me on Instagram @vinsia.

Related articles: I am a Product of the Diaspora It’s Time to Start Appreciating our Tamil Parents Why Are Tamil Parents So Embarrassing? My Parents & Yours Letter from a Father to my Tamil-Canadian Children

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