"It felt like we were going on a trip!"
The stories of immigrants are as varied as their countries of origin, the life stage when their journeys occur, and who they immigrate with. We learned from our conversation with Lakshita and Paula that their connection to their home countries and cultures remain strong and vibrant despite the difference in their journeys. And we get to hear about how they keep that connection alive, on their terms, with their answers to our question “What’s in your culture box?”
If you’d like to tell us your story, or chat about your thoughts on culture, family, and heritage, we always love to chat. Share any comments below, and please subscribe for our newsletter to never miss a Root & Seed moment.
Hey, my name is Anika Chabra and you are listening to Root & Seed, a podcast about tradition seekers, who are sparked to explore, define, and celebrate their family and cultural identity. This is our fourth episode of Root & Seed, which means we're more than halfway through our first season. Thanks for coming back!
Last week, we spoke to Aldo and Vicky to understand the effects that immigration has on generations that follow. They personified for us a real thirst to comprehend their family's story and have a genuine urge to understand it more deeply. We find that just so inspiring.
This week, in an effort to understand the full spectrum of the immigrant experience, it was a no-brainer for us to speak to first-generation immigrants themselves. We started with Lakshita and Paula, who both came to North America at different times and stages in their lives.
Lakshita is a 20-something recent immigrant from her home country of India. We talked about how she uses her Indian culture to connect back to her home when she's missing it dearly, how she's been inspired to make certain practices her own and how the duality of her identity is something she is still working on and navigating.
Lakshita made the decision to move to North America to seek better and broader opportunities for her career. She came as a student and just like almost half a million other international students who come to Canada to study annually, made Canada her new “home away from home.” We found her perspective on discovering the meaning and role of her culture so enlightening when she stepped away from her country of origin and moved for the first time.
So for me, I think it was mostly about moving away from my family. I've grown up living in India all my life and for me, that was my culture. And I just thought that is how things are around the world because I've only experienced Indian culture for the majority of my life. So I had very little insight into other cultures because I had not visited too many countries and my only exposure was TV shows or movies and that's when I started realizing when I stepped out that I missed celebrating with my family. I missed having those moments where we would just get together, celebrate, have good food, sweets, enjoy and relax. When I moved to Canada and whenI spent the first Diwali away from home, that's when it really hit me that, okay “I am not celebrating a festival that I had taken for granted that I would celebrate every year”. And then when I was away from my family, I was like, “okay, now how do I celebrate this?” Because that's how I've grown up, celebrating all my life. And now I don't know how to celebrate a festival that means so much to me. So that's when I started realizing that, “okay, I need to start finding my own way of celebrating the festival. Maybe, it wouldn't be the way my parents did it, but it would be my own version. And that would make me happy”. Last year in 2020, even though we were in lockdown and things were going crazy because of COVID, I still decided to spend Diwali, at least some of my friends. I didn't know all of them, honestly, most of them were just like friends of friends and everyone away from home, everyone wanting to celebrate because it's Diwali and we just decided to get together...decided to dress up. I have literally just one Indian dress that I carried from India and I wear it for most of the occasions, so I decided to wear that. We got together, got some food from our houses. So it was like a potluck. We decided to get something from our houses, some Indian dishes that we resonated with and felt very close to, we got that. We got some Indian dishes from the grocery store, whatever was available, not the best, but whatever we had. And it was a great experience because we were at least celebrating a festival that was close to all our hearts.
I think a lot of this has started to make sense to me, obviously when I moved from India, because I have more exposure to different cultures and started to see the difference between the Indian culture to another culture abroad.
So for me, everything about Indian culture, I can define it as.. spicy food, colours, Indian clothes, the togetherness, the sharing, the feeling of collaboration, the feeling of understanding what the other person is doing in the day-to-day, smaller things, going over the top in celebrations because we have so many festivals and we want to make sure we celebrate each one of them. I think all of that combined means culture to me.
When I just moved to Canada and I was celebrating the first Thanksgiving, um, I'd only always seen Thanksgiving in movies. And I was like “okay, this is fun, I'm super excited”. And then there was this whole spread of food brought in front of me, and I was trying to taste everything and understand what it is and I felt so unsatisfied because the food was not as flavourful for me, it was still very Canadian. It was still very bland for me and I don't mean it in an offensive way, but just because my taste palate is so strong in terms of experiencing all the masalas, the spices and the sweetness all together...for me was so bland that I felt like I needed to add Siracha sauce to make it more flavourful.
And that's when I started realizing that, okay, “This is how it is. Like, that's the difference in cultures and this is how it's going to be if I have to, celebrate a festival, that's not my own.”
Lakshita was so full of insights centered around holidays, both from her origin culture and now her chosen culture. We really did find it so interesting how she only noticed that cultural shift once she left her family. Now that she's made Canada her home, she has clearly made the effort to embrace her Indian culture in her own way and in a way that is possible, given her circumstance.
However, not all of us are the drivers behind the choice to leave our home country. It's often the choice of our parents, like in the case of our next guest, Paula, whose family immigrated when she was a teenager, a formidable time in one's life.
Paula is a chef, artist and illustrator and one of the most vibrant people we know. She's a lover of all things bright and beautiful, and truly embraces all the elements of a life well lived. This outlook on life makes even more sense when you hear where Paula is from. She was born in Colombia, a country, and a culture filled with so much beauty and vibrancy. Moving is a huge theme in Paula's life even today. And while she has called many North American cities home, she currently resides in San Francisco, California. Here's Paula.
I moved when I was in my teens. It felt like we were going on a trip. It didn't feel like we were taking our life somewhere else. My father was very into, “we're only taking a suitcase per family member.”
I never really questioned what had happened and never really why we did it, or, why all of a sudden, I was now more in Canada than in Colombia. I was not able to go to Colombia for eight years when I moved to Canada. And then finally we were able to come back and I try to make a point to go back once a year and really spend time with my family, spend time with the things I grew up with , and really get to know more. Recently I've been talking to my mom just about how we moved and how it happened from her point of view. And, uh, sometimes I forget that my parents are not just my parents, they're also people. So it's been really fun to, all of a sudden in my thirties reconnect to the roots that I've always had in me.
It's not that they had disappeared. It's just, I hadn't been paying attention. I was focusing more on trying to fit in than to understand “where did I come from?”
Do you feel like the pandemic had anything to do with you connecting with your culture more strongly?
I've always been a person that moves a lot. So ever since I was 12, I moved every year on the year. Finally, when I stayed in Toronto, we were there for a little bit longer. And recently during the pandemic, I've moved twice. I think moving again, it reminded me why does this feel familiar? And then I realized, yeah, you know, this is my childhood. I've done this before because my family does this. We move and we start somewhere else and now all of a sudden, I find myself with time...with time to really, be able to spend time asking the questions that I have never asked. I think that's what COVID gave me. It gave me the time to really get curious, to be like, “Hey, you know, I have time during the day to call my mom and just like, have a conversation.” Whereas before I'd be so busy working that would've never happened.
I think we've all heard the stories from all of us who have been immigrant kids. Like, you know, I saw my parents struggle for many, many years and, and, you know, lose their careers and their degrees and all that stuff has never really been fun or easy to kind of swallow, but it has made me an extremely resilient driven person because of what I've experienced that way.
While both immigrants, both Paula and Lakshita’s immigration stories were unique and affected by when they immigrated, their particular life stage, and who they immigrated with. Despite these differences, one thing is for sure, both of them have such strong ties to their home countries of Colombia and India.
It's for that very reason, we thought it would be fun to ask them what items they have collected and bring out when they want to connect with their families and cultures.
We asked “What do you store in your culture box?”
I have a lot of Colombian tapestry, very bright and beautiful artwork, that I've, you know, every time I travel home, I try to bring back. So that's really, really special. I have a couple of my grandfather's books that I've kept with me in Spanish, those are also really, really special to me. I have a Latin playlist on Spotify, which I every now and then I put on, uh, and my sweet, sweet husband, you know, puts up the salsa music, over the house. It's not in a box...it's in an app, but it's there.
You're going to find pictures of my family because I feel like I have major separation issues and seeing them around, even in pictures makes me feel like I'm okay. And someone's looking after me. So definitely pictures of my family. And then I have, just smaller, recipes or like scribblings of...of whatever my mom lets me know about how to do things and make notes out of so I don't forget and I'm, I'm keeping track of what she thinks and how she relates to things. Packages that I brought back from India or my mom sends me sometimes. So they are carefully stored so that I don't indulge in them and finish them as soon as they arrive, but just slowly I can snack on them and treasure it when I need it the most.
I have this perfume that reminds me of how my mom smells. So I put that in the box because I just want to, like, whenever I feel like I miss my family it's around.
We love that both Lakshita and Paula have found ways to nourish their souls culturally and admire the immense pride that both of them experience in their cultural connection. We could feel that energy even through our interviews over Zoom.
Whether you're an immigrant or not, and whether or not your life has been affected by one though, we wonder who hasn't? We invite you to embrace a deep sense of respect for the journeys of all immigrants.
We recently heard the saying “Go boldly through the doors that immigrants have opened for you.” I'll say that once again, “Go boldly through the doors that immigrants have opened for you.”
It's clear to us that both Lakshita and Paula have started a legacy for future generations and those generations will benefit from the decisions and actions of such bold, strong and courageous women. A big thank you to Lakshita and Paula!
We're really looking forward to next week's episode, where we talked to Sara and Kathy who've both realized and have embraced responsibility for tradition in their families and who have understood the importance and the role of tradition in their lives.
Be sure to check out our website, rootandseed.com for more inspiring stories and subscribe to our newsletter so you don't miss a Root and Seed moment. Root & Seed is hosted by me, Anika Chabra, Executive Produced by Jenn Siripong Mandel, and edited by Camille Blais.
Hosted by: Anika Chabra
Brought to you by: Root & Seed
Executive Producer: Jennifer Siripong Mandel
Edited by: Camille Blais
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