Where are you from? The Life of a First-Generation Tamil Canadian Student
When I hear the question, “where are you from?” There are so many thoughts running through my mind.
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When I hear the question, “Where are you from?” there are so many thoughts running through my mind. “Should I say that I’m from the GTA? Should I say that my family is Tamil and from Sri Lanka? Or should I say that my parents were born and raised in Sri Lanka, but that I was born in Canada?” I still don’t know how to answer this question, and usually go with the third response, but when I am saying that, I feel like I’m providing too much information no one asked for! But, as a nineteen-year-old born in Canada, I have only been to Sri Lanka once in my life, so if someone asked me questions about life in Sri Lanka, I wouldn’t know much. 

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I am sure you can relate if you were born in a foreign country to immigrant parents. As first-generation immigrants, our parents continue to face so many challenges adapting to a difference in the cultures and languages in foreign countries. As the children of immigrant parents, we face challenges too.
Being a first-generation Tamil Canadian student, I have learned that though it may be hard at times, I can truly have the best of both worlds if I want to.
As a child, I was always exposed to the rich Tamil culture in so many different ways. I grew up loving music, so my mother enrolled me into Carnatic music classes at the age of 2 ½. My parents also put me into Tamil classes as soon as I started school. Furthermore, I attended numerous Tamil speech competitions too, so my oral communication in Tamil was also quite good.

Like many other children of immigrant parents, I led a pretty dual life throughout grade school. I was privileged to grow up with a good amount of Tamil friends, so most of us were in the same shoes. Even then, I faced some confusion about who I really was. At school, I talked to my friends about my favourite English songs, movies and television shows. After school, I’d watch English movies and television shows. During the evenings, I’d join my parents to watch Tamil serials, listen to Tamil music and run to Tamil class in between. On weekends, I would run from Carnatic Music class and violin class to basketball and swimming classes. That being said, I can imagine how difficult it would be for one to grow up with no one who was from the same cultural background at school. 
A lot of us first-generation Tamil Canadians, especially students feel a sense of pressure to be perfect, to make great accomplishments, to choose a conventional pathway when it comes to upper education, and to find a good balance in the Western and Tamil cultures. We see the struggles that our parents face and we do not want to let them down in any way. So we develop a sort of self-pressure. 
I got into (and still get into) arguments with my parents because of disagreeing with their ways of life. One common example is the curfews that we Tamil kids have. I have a curfew at 9PM and a lot of my non-Tamil friends don’t! So little things like these make it a bit difficult and frustrating at times. 
But, what we don’t realize is that it is indeed possible to have the best of both worlds. We are privileged enough to be exposed to our rich Tamil culture, the flavourful foods, and the vibrant festivities. But, we’re also privileged to grow up in a Western society with vast genres of music, fun movies and shows, etc. So, appreciating both worlds is not “faking it” but is rather a balance, and that’s what we need (even if we have curfews we need to follow)!

Shaaranki Kulenthirarasa
Student | Toronto Metropolitan University
Toronto,  Canada
Hi! My name is Shaaranki and I am a journalism student in Toronto, Ontario. In my free ...
Hi! My name is Shaaranki and I am a journalism student in Toronto, Ontario. In my free ...
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