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Intersectionality and Being an Indo-Caribbean Woman With Mental Illness

Written by: Damini Maharajh

Just like animals are classified by their kingdom, phylum, order, class, family, genus, species, humans classify each other with labels.

There are many types of labels that are based on different factors of humanity such as gender, race, religion, socio-economic class, and mental ability in various forms. We as a group have gathered under the label of Indo-Caribbean women. We identify by genealogy, race, and gender. We are the female identifying, Caribbean descendants of Indians. If you would allow me one more, I would like to share my analysis on those of us who are afflicted with mental illness. I unfortunately cannot speak for my sisters who fall outside of my experience with depression and anxiety, but I hope those of us who are willing will reach out with their own experiences and find solace in reading and sharing.

I would like to begin by saying that mental illness is an illness like any other. Most have treatments and some do not, but whether therapeutic or medicinal, it's typically to manage the illness, not to cure it. If you feel you are afflicted with mental illness please go see your family doctor or speak to a professional.

Uncles opinion doesn’t matter just because his nephew went to med school.

Now if you are like me, you have at least one Caribbean parent and that parents culture has dictated the majority of your upbringing. You consider yourself to be mostly of that culture and are vehemently proud of it. In being proud of that association and growing up in that culture, you face conflicts but you also have free reign to criticize that culture of origin— so long as your parents can’t hear you. If you are lucky like me and have older siblings, you have people to help you in the ways of being a part of that culture but also people who will tell you how detached from that culture you are.

It becomes this inside battle between cultural identities and cultural norms.

If you are like me then your Caribbean parent moved to Canada when they were still in high school and understand Canadian culture better. Otherwise your parent moved here as an adult and is as unfamiliar with Canadian culture as any other adult immigrant. Basically, the younger your parent/ parents were when they arrived to Canada or the states, the more likely it is that they are able to relate to you.

We've had the privilege and curse of growing up in a different culture than the one we were raised in. We understood the feelings of other children with immigrant parents but we also had less Canadian born friends because we were different. The Indian kids were different than those we saw in those Bollywood movies we watched growing up.

Canada was nothing like what our parents knew from their childhood.

Our childhoods were identity crisis’ and unfocussed anger. Who was teaching us how to belong? Who was telling us why Ashley from school felt comfy in her spaghetti strap tank top and I felt ashamed to wear one? Why did I not understand that the other kids didn’t want to play with me because I didn’t look the same as them? Why did I not understand that my parents were just as lost as I was? That half of their anger was not because I wasn't a good daughter, but because they did not know how to teach me their values and traditions in an environment that supports none of their beliefs.

They were torn between preserving their legacy and doing things “better” than their own parents.

It's questions like this in my childhood that were a unique result of those labels; an Indo-Caribbean- Canadian woman in the generation I was born in to the family I was born to. This combination of labels resulted in an experience that many women of the same label can relate to. This is the concept of intersectionality. The idea that someone’s experience is a result of many facets of their life and not just one. The more facets that are the same, the more likely one is to have similar experiences.

The fact of matter is that, because of our unique intersectional realities that consist of opposing and contradicting values, we are more susceptible to mental illness.

Because of our people’s history of indentured labour, like any culture with a history of slavery or indentured servitude, we have an even higher susceptibility to mental illness. Let us come together and talk openly about our heritage, culture and relationship with mental illness so we can continue to heal together.

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