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Every generation is defined by something, whether it is values, how we speak or the way we dress. As Tamil communities continue to grow in diaspora communities worldwide, it is very interesting to see how every new generation is a little different from the one that came before it. We can all agree that times change, and the way we are raised and see the world changes with the times. My parents’ generation is probably the most easily defined by being the first generation of Tamil immigrants, who were born and raised for most of their lives in Sri Lanka. But what separates the successive generations that are raised in diaspora communities?
My interest in this came from a few years ago when I saw my cousin’s 8-year old son at a party for the first time in 4 years or so. I used to speak Tamil to him when he was a baby. He was surrounded by five or six other kids when I said hi to him and asked him how he was doing, in Tamil. All the kids gasped and smiled, and said “wow he just spoke in Tamil,” and he responded in English.
It put the idea in my head that clearly a lot of kids born in the 2010s would see the ability to speak Tamil as something that defines older people, like me. When I was a kid, I would look at my older cousins’ perfectly pristine Tamil flow and think “wow they SPEAK speak Tamil.” Almost every single Tamil person I know in my age group speaks some level of Tamil, and grew up speaking it. But speaking Tamil almost felt like a secret superpower. Have you ever broken out your half-decent Tamil to a grandparent or older relative and see their faces light up in amazement? When I look at my friends’ nephews and nieces and younger cousins, most of them speak English with their parents. Of course there are exceptions to this; there are more than enough Gen Z kids who speak fluent Tamil. But maybe the Tamil speaking superpower will be more and more seen as a “millennial thing” as the next generations come up and sport more of a Tamil-English, Tamil-French or Tamil-anything mix.
Where we grow up may become another factor that gives hints to which generation we belong to. In Canada, most first-generation Tamil-Canadians are in and around the Greater Toronto Area. Scarborough is home to a significant number of these people, and was the OG stomping ground for many of our parents alongside downtown Toronto, Etobicoke and North York. Many Tamils I know who grew up elsewhere, like Ottawa, or places outside of Ontario, started off in Scarborough. As more of the people around me get married or start families, most of them are moving further out, to Pickering, Ajax, Markham, Brampton, Stouffville, and so on. Maybe Scarborough and other suburbs within Toronto will be seen as the places where Tamils in Canada got started, in a time before newer generations moved away and house prices reached the stratosphere. Time will tell.
The dating culture that we grow up in may be another window into defining how each new generation will be raised and differentiated. My older cousins lived under the strict no-dating rule, and getting caught could actually lead to some serious trouble, from what I have been told from older relatives. Talk of interracial relationships would not cross the minds of even the bravest souls. From my own experiences and those around me, the 90s generation has changed the conversation around this. We were for the most part neither discouraged nor actively encouraged in anything dating-related. Dating was never talked about, but when the time came that you brought someone home, it was usually accepted. We all knew that introducing a girlfriend or boyfriend to the family was not something you did after a first or second date. For the most part, we waited 6 months, a year, 3, 5 or 8 years in some cases to tell our folks.
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Looking at my friends, interracial relationships have not always been greeted with excitement; most parents needed a slight nudge to accept a non-Tamil girlfriend or boyfriend, but it was nevertheless accepted. When I look at younger relatives, it looks like there has been even more progress made. Kids actively discuss relationships with their parents, they introduce their partners earlier, they often get advice and input from their parents, and interracial couples are more readily accepted. Will the next generations be differentiated by an even more open approach to relationships?
We are always adapting and evolving, and it is eye-opening to see how each new generation defines its own flavour. What else differentiates us? Let’s wait and see.
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