|Sense and Sensitivity|
Immigrant life is tough and filled with challenges... So what’s new about this expression? Except for the fact that, in every aspect of life one has to learn to integrate and become a part of that social fabric.
In some ways, immigrant life in Canada is similar to the quilt, colourful and comfortable but only after going through the whole cycle of facing hardships and unseen challenges...
Meet Uma Parameswaran, author, professor, who migrated to Canada in the ‘60’s, she talks about women, society in general and books
1: How do you define the role of immigrant women?
In Canada, immigrant women come from many different backgrounds and educational levels. It is difficult to generalize except to say that the responsibilities associated with family take up a lot of an immigrant woman’s time for the first few years because her husband needs to settle down at his job. However, there are increasing numbers of women who are single when they come into the country and it would be interesting to find out how they fare. My work at the Immigrant Women’s Association of Manitoba has usually been with married women. My guess is that most of the single women from south Asia who enter Canada are well-educated and so do not feel the same constraints felt by women who come married and with families.
2: How vital is she for social and Economic progress?
In Canada, immigrant women make up a large segment of hourly-wage workers. So one can say the country runs on the back of immigrant women and since new immigrants come every year, the country can bank on cheap labour for jobs that Canadian-born women wouldn’t bother to take up. Women from Southeast Asia who have had their own domestic help in their home countries often become nannies because of necessity. Though this does not happen as frequently with South Asian Canadians (it is more common in the U.S.), there are a great many who work in garment factories and other low-paid jobs. That is just the basic reality. However, many of them go on to get better jobs after a few years because Canada is still one of the best countries for new immigrants.
3: In your opinion, how different are the challenges for immigrant women from, say south Asia to maybe Europe?
Much depends on whom you select to compare. If you take the same social and educational background, the differences are fewer. For example, the women who have recently emigrated from central Europe face the same problems of adjustment as the women from India in learning a new language, new kinds of jobs etc. However, race is always a factor for new immigrants. The new immigrants from Africa have a more difficult time finding a job than white immigrants from central Europe. The new immigrant from India, unless she comes with a job already in hand (which does not happen nowadays as often as it used to at the time my husband and I immigrated – in the 1960s) will not find a job as easily as a new immigrant from Western Europe. But if you compare women who have been here for twenty years, job-wise women from India are doing as well as women from anywhere else, often better than many others. On the other hand, if you are talking about the challenges within the social fabric of the south Asian community in Canada, I think we need a lot more support-networks for immigrant women within each ethno-centric community. From my experience, I can talk only about women from Asia. All our social interaction within the community tends to be at a more superficial level, of meeting at churches, temples, gurudwaras or mosques, or at parties. Those who have problems, especially domestic or financial problems, have few places to turn to in areas other than big centres such as Toronto and Vancouver. Also, immigrants tend to associate a sense of shame with failure at home or in the workplace and so do not seek help.
4: In the literary field, is she catering to a global audience or still limited to 'back home' stories?
There are an increasing number of writers. However, those who have established themselves as writers definitely tend to write mainly about India and not about life in Canada. I would like more writers, men and women, to write about Canadian realities rather than about Indian fictional spaces. The second generation, that is, those born in Canada are now emerging as writers, and it is interesting to see how they view the world. They set their work in Canada, and there is a kind of breezy irreverence in their work for ideas and artefacts associated with India unlike the first generation immigrants' nostalgia for traditions and culinary habits of the old country. However, the better known writers are of the first generation, and most of them highlight negative images of India, unlike the reality which is that first generation immigrants (not the writers) tend to romanticise India.
5: What is the modern woman reading?
The readership, especially in the Toronto area, it is worth a study as to how the news they carry is geared to “feeling good” more than to problems facing the community, more about social events featuring the new elite south Asians than about the sufferings of new (and old) immigrants. Reading a glossy magazine like Anokhi announces to one segment of our community that we have “arrived.” Reading an online magazine like Serai makes us aware of the other side – how far immigrants are recognizing the problems of the less-fortunate from their original countries. As to what Indo-Canadian women are reading by way of literature, my impression is: not much!
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