Embracing cultural roots far from the sun.
There are an infinite number of influences in our lives that can impact our association with our culture as we grow and mature. Our parents’ influence, immigration destinations, and even the ability to visit a homeland are all significant factors that shape how we see ourselves in the world. But there are also smaller influences that can connect us, such as the daily rituals and ingredients we may find in our kitchen, and the day-to-day relationships we form outside of family. In reflecting on her heritage, British-born Georgina Sahota revealed that even as she has moved physically further away from her ancestral homeland of India over the years, she has continued to find ways, both big and small, to celebrate and own her roots.
In her blog Little Sikh on the Prairie, Georgina reflects on how visiting India to see her mother’s side of the family helped her see where she came from while growing up in the UK, where discrimination was the norm, and diversity limited. “There are a lot of stereotypes / misconceptions about my culture that people don't always understand. The fact that India is so diverse, you can go 100km and be speaking a completely different language is shocking. Growing up in the UK, it was common that people would just loop all "brown people" in one group when in reality we were from completely different backgrounds.”
Celebrating Individuality In A ‘Melting Pot’
Upon immigrating to Canada, Georgina experienced a sense of relief—her new home seemed to be a much more “culturally diverse country, where minorities are celebrated and inclusion resonates throughout cities . . . I was even more removed from my Indian heritage as people in my new town really didn't see many Indian people (which is shocking) but there was an eagerness to understand my culture which I honestly didn't feel living in the UK. Moving to Canada made me own my melting pot of cultures/backgrounds/influences and I've never been prouder!” Georgina’s move to Toronto was a particular milestone that allowed her to more fully appreciate the uniqueness of her own roots, and others’. “[Toronto] is one of the most diverse cities in the world, it's opened my mind to so many different cultures including my own.”
Georgina reflects, "This is my chosen family: Not one single person in this image was born in Canada which really shows the melting pot/diversity in Toronto."
Still, questions and doubts persisted:
“In being British and halfway to being Canadian, does that make me any less Indian? . . . The further you move away from the sun, the weaker the heat. So, what do we do? How do we keep the rays strong enough to feel the heat?”
This sense of inner conflict, Georgina reveals, is not uncommon among children of Indian immigrants. After all, how can one’s culture be held onto in the West (the furthest point from the sun), when so much of it seems inextricably tied to the warmth of the motherland’s people, religion, and way of life? In navigating these kinds of questions, Georgina has realized that much of her past has helped shape her cultural identity.
“Culture to me is about the lived experiences such as festivals, community gatherings, etc. . . My parents always made sure I knew my Indian heritage by taking me to India every year, ensuring we went to every festival, every family gathering.” (To date, Georgina has visited India 14 times).
“One of my core memories is celebrating Lohri in India. Lohri (which just passed) is almost like a new year celebration/winter solstice. Traditionally, you build a bonfire, sing songs, and during the day fly kites. In 2018, I was lucky enough to be in India (after about 6 years) and spent the morning of Lohri on the roof of our house watching kites being flown. As a gesture, I bought some kites for our housekeeper's sons and they flew them on our roof. It was just incredible seeing everyone in the neighbourhood flying kites (no matter what age).”
Although trips to India aren’t always possible and times of celebration inevitably pass, Georgina finds other ways to embrace elements of her roots in day-to-day life. “I definitely celebrate through food and sharing that with close friends. I also ensure that my work colleagues know about festivals and special dates that are important to my culture so that they too can know more about me and who I am.”
And sometimes, it’s the smaller, blink-and-you-miss-them moments and rituals that bring memories and a sense of connection closer to home. “Making Cha [chai tea] definitely makes me feel very connected,” Georgina reflects. “The act of crushing up fennel seeds, ginger and cinnamon and putting a pot on the stove instead of boiling a kettle. That first sip always brings me back to memories of having Cha with my Nani on the veranda of her house in Amritsar.”
Georgina may live far from the sun, but she can still find its warmth in memories, celebratory moments, and even cups of tea.
What about you? Where (or when) do you feel most deeply connected to your cultural roots? Share in the comments below!