Where Did I Come From?
Written by: Tasha Ramdehall
Growing up in Canada, a place where diversity is celebrated, it can be very intimidating when it comes to finding your place in the mix.
With Parents who were born in the West Indies and myself being born in Canada, it was difficult to find my place here among so many cultures that call this place home. Though I look “Indian” it can be hard to connect with that part of my heritage because it’s been decades since my ancestors left India as Indentured Labourers to lands unknown.
I am considered “Guyanese”—but what does that even mean?
I experienced a different upbringing, one that is based on different cultural practices and traditions compared to my peers. This made it difficult to fit in— especially at a time when identity and fitting in are already big issues on their own. It was always easier to just say that I was just “Canadian.” I was born here, I was educated here, I’d never even been to this place called Guyana.
I was always asked, “where did you come from?” But how could I answer others when I did not know the answer myself?
There was always an insecurity around my identity and where I belonged with my peers. I had Indian friends who I could relate to on some level, but I always felt like there was some sort of barrier between us, preventing me from really feeling like I belong. I would see my other peers who had a closer connection to India (the place where the religion I followed originated in) and wonder why we were so similar yet so vastly different.
There were peers who were of Guyanese or Trinidadian descent, but I never felt connected to them because I wasn’t into the same things that they were. I felt I was different there too. So where did I belong? It felt like nowhere. I was stuck in an in between if you want to call it that. I distinctly remember there was one close friend that had that who always had those dreaded questions. Questions about my background and the part of the world I was from. Questions that up until that point I never had the answers to. They would always make me uncomfortable. I would get annoyed and irritated, feeling inferior. Later I realized that it wasn’t her questions that made me upset, but it was the fact that I didn’t know what to tell her.
I would see the similarities between us, in our traditions and cultures, but still it wasn’t mine.
Over the years this question has bothered me. The more I researched and the more I learned, the more surprised I was at my history.
I decided to take it upon myself to understand what it meant to not just be Canadian but West Indian as well. The things I found surprised me. The stories of the struggles, the travel over dark waters, settlements, plantations and oppression. Most of all resilience and the ability to adapt. I see so much of those qualities passed on through the generations that followed. From our forefathers who jumped on the ships from Calcutta and Bihar to those who jumped on planes at Chaddi Jagan Airport.
That same drive to live a better way of life and help those that they love seems to run through our veins.
Once I was able to understand where I came from and how it was a part of my identity, it shaped me. It became a matter of pride to be born into such an amazing community. There was so much that I could learn from them. With that learning came understanding. With that understanding came confidence. That confidence gave me courage, courage to pursue the unknown. One of the biggest lessons I learnt was that having no fear does not mean there is no fear— but that you need to do what you must, what is right, even when you are afraid. Something I feel that our ancestors knew very well. Now when I’m asked, “where are you from?” I have a confident answer. These lessons stuck with me. They gave me a new perspective which led me down a more positive path with being comfortable in my own skin.
So when they ask where I’m from this is what I’ll say;
I am from Indian labourers who wanted to better their lives and the lives of their families.
I am from those who traveled the dreaded “Kala Pani” or dark waters to a land unknown to try their luck.
I am from those who left the comforts of their homeland and were able to make the struggles of the new land their home.
I am from the plantations where my great, great, great grandfather worked in ruthless conditions to provide for his family.
I am from the traditions and religion that he brought with him to this new land which gave him strength and the foundation that he based the rest of his life on. That very thing that connected him to his family over the waters.
I am from the sweetness that my grandfather produced in those plantations which were distributed throughout the British Empire.
I am from the winding rivers and vast jungles that became home to those who chose not to go home.
I am from the community that grew from the freedom those labourers fought for and won.
I am from mixed cultures and traditions that banded together to create a unique identity, where every religion, every culture and every tradition is respected and celebrated.
I am from two people who were born to those who fought for the freedoms of our people and took on new challenges themselves.
I am from the new land that my parents, like my ancestors, travelled to in hopes of bettering their lives, coming full circle.
I am from the struggles that come with adapting to a new country, new rules and a new way of life and making it my own.
I am from creating a life from scratch, learning the ways of a new place and trying to make it your own.
I am from the land of the creators of El Dorado’s Liquid Gold.
I am from this land of snow and ice where two people were able to make a warm home.
I’m from a land as sweet as the maple syrup and reflected in the personality of its people.
I am from acceptance, tolerance and the appreciation of hard work, something that has been passed through generations.
So now when they ask, where I’m from, I can confidently say, I am from the “Land of Many Waters,” from “Sea to Sea,” but who knows where I’ll end up.