by Guest Contributor Neesha Meminger
A couple of weeks ago I had the Toronto launch of my novel, Shine, Coconut Moon. I prepared myself in the usual way, going over what I would read, how I would introduce myself and the book to the guests, and anticipating audience questions during the Q&A. This Q&A, however, threw me off. I should have known better than to expect the usual, “So, when did you know you wanted to be a writer?” line of questioning from my Canadian peeps.
The questions they wanted answers to were more along the lines of: So, what would you say is the difference between Canadian racism and American racism? And, Would you say South Asians in the U.S. are more assimilated than South Asians in Canada?
Maybe I brought it on myself with the intro.
Before reading an excerpt, I talked a bit about how, while living in Canada, I never thought of myself as Canadian – I was always Indian or Punjabi or Sikh and then later, South Asian. It wasn’t until I moved to the U.S. and lived through eight years of the Bush administration, that I felt the most Canadian I’d ever felt in my life. That was when I realized that things I’d always taken for granted (free universal health care being only one of many) were values that formed and shaped who I was. They were the underpinnings of what I thought was right and just. And I was clearly not in Canada anymore.
But having to answer those tough questions for fellow Canadians was one of the most difficult things I’ve had to do yet. So much of the experience sits as half-formed thoughts that I had to somehow mold into coherent responses.
Things like the fact that when I lived in Canada, I reveled in my “ethnicity,” wore my Indian-ness with unapologetic joy. But the minute I crossed the border I shrunk from everything that made me appear “too” ethnic. I was hassled at the border several times when I visited home and tried to return. My partner at the time begged me to remove my nose ring and to dress more “corporate” so that I would get across. And the time that I followed that advice, the crossing was smooth and uneventful. I understood, then, on a much deeper level, why that push for assimilation was so strong south of the border. Continue reading