Brown Girl Boss: Sujaya Devi
Written by Priya Balakumar & Sujaya Devi
Meet our latest Brown Girl Boss, Sujaya Devi.
Sujaya is currently a faculty member with Sheridan College's Faculty of Animation, Arts, and Design for the Media Fundamentals program. She is a recent graduate from University of Toronto's Faculty of Information, with a Master of Information— concentrated in culture and technology studies. Sujaya’s talents do not stop there— she is also the author of the memoir Write Left which is a collection of short stories depicting her experiences growing up as an Indo-Caribbean- Canadian woman living in the GTA. Being a well rounded woman, Sujaya also enjoys spending her free time experimenting with photography and empathy-based research.
Being of Canadian-Trinidadian background, bridging the gaps between culture and identity has always been a topic of interest to Sujaya.
“To me, being Indo-Caribbean means many things. I think the one aspect of being Indo-Caribbean that resonates with me most is the intricate histories that each of us carry from our Indian ancestors, to the islands, and now to many other areas of the world. Being Indo-Caribbean to me means paying respect to our Indian (and for me Nepali) ancestors while also carrying those customs and traditions forward with us as our own identities evolve," Sujaya said.
Many of us have faced challenges with how we identify as Indo-Caribbean women. Though it may not be as black and white, our history is of a melting pot of cultures passed on from our ancestors. Similar to many of us, for the longest time Sujaya struggled to figure out what category she fit into.
She would look for “Caribbean,” “West-Indian,” “Other,” and inevitably opt for the “South Asian” checkbox while filling out forms.
“In 2019, while doing a survey in school, there was a new option that said “Indo-Caribbean” when we were asked for our ethnicity. I even sent a photo of it to my Trini friends and was excited that we finally had that option (at least on this survey). I learned that Indo-Caribbean was our term. At that point I added the term to my own vocabulary and began to identify with the term Indo-Caribbean,” Sujaya said.
When asked about any struggles or obstacles that she has faced as an Indo-Caribbean woman, Sujaya has a lot to say regarding fitting into her “own community” as well as society.
“It can be difficult to balance my identity as a Canadian-Trinidadian while also upholding my family’s heritage as Indo-Trinidadians. It’s always been a personal struggle with identity, trying to figure out just how Canadian, how Trini, or how Indian I am. I’m always told that I don’t look Trini, I don’t look Indian, and that I look mixed.
I’ve gone to events and gatherings where I don’t look like everyone else, people have assumed that I’m not Indo-Caribbean, and spoken to me differently. At times it can feel like each aspect of those identities are separated, and like my own people don’t claim me. Although sometimes it’s well-intentioned, or said as a joke, it can also make you think about what these types of interactions mean in the bigger picture.”
As Sujaya continues to break down societal stereotypes and barriers, she aims to empower young women in her community.
With her drive for success and determination, Sujaya was able to complete her Master’s degree while also holding a faculty position. Sujaya’s work ethic and love of challenges is what makes her a true Brown Girl Boss.
“I’ve had to learn to claim space. I’m a 5’2, 24 year old woman of colour. I’m not the biggest or most intimidating lecturer. There have been times where people are surprised that a young woman like myself is part of the faculty or that I teach and are skeptical about it. First people are doubtful because I am young and then they are doubtful about my abilities because I am a young woman. There have been times when I felt like maybe I had not earned my position but I had supportive people around me reminding me that some of these opportunities came to me because I deserved them.”
Sujaya explains that entrepreneurs often encounter people in their immediate circles who can criticize and doubt their ideas.
Her advice to young Indo-Caribbean women who are starting their own business is to listen to your intuition.
"People may not always understand your path. People may doubt your ideas because your ideas are different, but new ideas are what help you to succeed. There will be times where you end up convincing the people who doubted you. So have faith in your ideas and your abilities because they are worth something.”
As an entrepreneur who also identifies as a Indo-Canadian woman, Sujaya has learned to break down barriers and push herself out of her comfort zone. She hopes to be an inspiration to young woman who may be interested in working in a similar field.
Good things don’t come easy, and as we all know, hard work is what truly pays off in the end.
Sujaya explained that it took her the entirety of her masters degree to finally grow up and feel like she had a space where she was accepted.
“My professional, educational, and creative experiences have been aimed at connecting with students in and outside of the classroom to help provide insight, guidance, encouragement, and positivity towards their endeavours. Working with students, teaching at Sheridan College, has taught me that many of us have held back on our passions out of fear. Many of us are looking for a starting point, some positive feedback, and for opportunities to prove ourselves. I really believe that changing the way that we communicate in the classroom has the potential to create real change for students. Students can learn beyond the classroom.”
With this knowledge and experience, Sujaya has started using social media as an extension of her teaching strategies. She is always ready to lend a helping hand and share shed some light for those who may need it. “I’m happy to be part of anyone’s creative journey if that’s what they need. Whatever insight, connections, resources, and support I can provide through my community, I’m happy to share.”
Sujaya likes to think of herself as a “chill feminist.
“I won’t shame anyone into believing in human rights. I’m angry at many social issues and I think using a platform and a network strategically can lead to change. How we communicate social issues has an impact on who listens to us. I think that level headed conversations and real-life stories can have substantial impact. This is why my stories casually and humorously take on issues of racism, sexism, and discrimination: to start to conversations.” Being able to start these conversations about commonly taboo topics in the Indo-Caribbean community is key to the development of our future generations and an attempt to erase generational trauma. Sujaya’s determination to speak out and make a change!
We asked Sujaya where she sees herself in five years.
“I can definitely say that I enjoy learning, teaching, working with various communities, and finding opportunities to connect with creative minded people. One possibility is working with non-profit groups focused on bettering mental health, bettering education, supporting our own young women, as well as other minority groups. I would also love to work with organizations aimed at supporting young creatives through mentorship, real-world experiences, and events. Finally, five years from now, I hope I’m still writing, taking photographs, and learning every day.”
As an entrepreneur, Sujaya hopes to use her education, skills and experience to help others and serve as a strong role model and mentor in the community. Feel free to check out her book and connect with her on her social media platforms!