Editorials

An Anecdote of an Immigrant Kid and her Lost Childhood

Dear reader,

 

People often ask me why I joke all the time. It is because of something that happened to me seven years ago today. It was not traumatic, just an event that caused me to miss all out on all the fun stuff in life. 

 

My journey to finding my identity has been a difficult one. 

 

I, Rhythm Dang, was born in India and spent most of my childhood there. I was luckily born in a family with great and hardworking parents. My parents have never accepted any inheritance from my grandparents and know how to stand on their own feet: They have built their entire universe on their own. By the time I was almost five, my brother, Shubham, was born. I spent my very first years in a city known as Chandigarh in Punjab, India. Chandigarh is quite a utopian society, it is like the Indian Paris. In terms of our extended family, though, I always found our family culture a bit ambiguous: All my aunts and uncles spoke to each other in Punjabi, but they went to the Mandir (1)? All the adults spoke to me in Hindi but then they held Akhand Paths (2)? My name, in itself, is quite an oxymoron: Rhythm being a unisex Hindu name and Dang being a very Punjabi last name. very. Thanks to the Sikh influence that my family has had, we attended both Mandirs and Gurudwaras (3) in India, and my parents speak a mix of Hindi and Punjabi. Despite all this, living in Chandigarh, a primarily Sikh society, was never a problem for me. Most people spoke both Hindi and Punjabi and I never had difficulties identifying with my “Hindu-Punjabi” identity.

 

So yeah, it’s a mess.

 

At the age of 10, I, Shubham (5 at the time), and my parents made a voyage to a country called Canada. Yes, we were moving to the opposite end of the globe. Imagine having that conversation with your parents, but you are 5 or 10. India is a great country, but population control seems to be kind of an issue… Yes, we get to brag about being the world’s most populous democracy, but academic competition definitely manifests itself in this nation. My parents wanted me and Shubham to have an economically-secure future. So, they applied for Canadian permanent residency.

 

I still recall the day we left for Canada. Little did I know, that was the last day of my childhood. The plane ride to Canada was like my last rollercoaster ride.

 

It was around 2 am when we left for Delhi, which is also the capital city of India. It was a 5-hour drive to the airport, and I slept through most of it. Before getting to the airport, I remember we stopped to grab a snack. It was 7 am by this time. We said goodbye to my mama (or my maternal uncle), who voluntarily dropped us off at the airport. We spent about 3 hours at the airport checking in and exchanging Indian rupees for Canadian dollars. At about 10:30 am, we boarded the plane. I had gone on domestic flights before, so sitting on a plane was not a big deal for me. We reached Heathrow airport in England, it was 2 pm there. Our flight got delayed 5-7 hours. It was hard to digest the moment. I had never travelled internationally before, and I felt a sort of disconnection and unsettlement. Nonetheless, we boarded another plane to Toronto, Canada. After all the documentation, we stepped outside of the airport. It had been a 24-hour journey, and it was 8 or 9 pm when we went outside the airport. Even though it was summer, it was cold as it had rained the day before. I remember our relatives picked us up and I had a samosa in the car, it was cold.

 

I was 10 then, and I am 17 now. Since that day to today, I have not stepped foot in India. 

 

While my parents are very open-minded, a lot of my relatives are not. You know, the basic, quite conservative. I used to have a guy best friend named Vishnu in India, who I considered my brother from another mother. He was like Shubham but a few months younger than me. Despite this, some of my older aunts were always a little… how do you say this… sus? So, I had never even had the courage to speak to boys in Canada. I had a hard time making friends primarily due to my Indian accent. My English was good, though, as my parents had me enrolled in a luxurious private school in Chandigarh (not the marble buildings one, but sometimes celebrities showed up). The lack of understanding of Canadian culture did not just impact me. My parents, themselves, were often confused by the cultural norms. Even though Chandigarh is quite similar to Canada, the cultural differences were still vast. Shubham, still young, sometimes spoke in Hindi in a Canadian kindergarten class. Canadian. While being an alien to this country was a thing, I was also a pre-teen: The most maturely immature beings on the planet. So, while I was undergoing puberty, learning about menstrual cycles, pads, and bras, I was also dealing with being alienated.

 

Some years passed by, I was still confused about my identity. My parents worked endless hours of day-night jobs, and I barely ever got the chance to talk to them. My parents, despite both having Master’s degrees in India, had to study here again. They studied while having full-time jobs and handling their family responsibilities. Even sometimes I wondered, when did they sleep? Here in Canada, some welcomed me with a warm heart while others looked at us, immigrants, with a disgusted face. To some I seemed “too Desi (5),to others I seemed “white-washed.” To some I seemed “too Hindu,but to others, I seemed “too Punjabi.” Where to fit? When your identity is connected to so many cultures… How do you find your identity? I decided to completely get rid of my Indian identity as it pleased more people. I always pretended that I was not Indian to seem more “proper.” Often when asked about my race, I used to tell everyone that I was mixed because of my ambiguous facial features: I do not have big eyes, big lips, a slim face, slim waist, and dark brown skin like a stereotypical Indian girl. But as an almost-adult I think, why should I have to do that? Why should I hide my identity just to please others? 

 

Due to this shift in my life, I never got the same knowledge of Hinduism as the rest of my cousins, and I only go to the mandir on Diwali. Last Diwali, I even refrained from sitting in the Diwali puja (6). I am still a theist, but not deeply connected to a religion, specific supernatural figure or god. I barely speak or comprehend any Punjabi. 

 

It’s been seven years since I last saw my grandparents. They grow one day older every day. Part of this is the pandemic. In early 2021, in the comfort of our own home, I and my family officially became naturalized Canadian citizens. We took our oath cramped in the screen of a computer in our dining room. My “Canadian Hindu-Punjabi” or “Indian-Canadian” identity has always been an ambiguous one. Despite all these obstacles, I have connected with my culture through music. I have been regularly singing since the day my father bought me a guitar on my 13th birthday. I sing in English, Hindi, and Punjabi; I dance to both Bollywood and English songs. It is a part of my life now. Music is what sets the rhythm of my life. 

 

To this day, many assume that I must know a lot about India, but I don’t. I am still stereotyped as an immigrant: Many people do not consider me a Canadian even though I hold a Canadian passport. I immigrated here at such a raw age with no maturity whatsoever. I am still learning about both nations. I now have amazing friends in Canada who support me on a daily basis and thanks to all those who have believed in me. My family is feeling much more settled here: It really is true that time is the best healer. Yet, in mainstream media, we never hear stories of immigrant kids or the struggles they face. As a child, it is hard to see your parents go through everything. Racism and colourism; discrimination on the basis of accent, language, or religion; sexism and reverse sexism. All this just so you and your brother have a better life. Most times, our stories are left untold, hidden somewhere in an attic, never discovered or reread.

 

I feel that part of my childhood just never occurred. I feel as if my childhood was only seven years long. It started when I gained consciousness at three and lasted the day before I left for Canada. This is why I joke all the time now, why I goof around all the time.

 

From an immigrant kid who is relearning how to be a kid at heart and reliving the childhood she lost, 

Rhythm Dang

 

1 A temple for Hindus

2 A religious ceremony or event held by Sikhs and those who are a part of the Punjabi culture

3 A temple for Sikhs

4 A popular Punjabi snack which is in the shape of a triangle. It is filled with spices, mashed potato mixture. The outside of a samosa is made of a fried flour coating.

5 A North American term for a group of people who have ancestral roots in South Asia.

6 A 10 to 15 minute religious ceremony held by Hindus. Hindus who are very relgious perform puja every morning and evening at home. Puja can also be performed at a mandir and is typically longer then.

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