by Dr. Jasmine D’Costa
All our stories, be they Indo-Canadian, Chinese-Canadian, Asian-Canadians, etc., are stories of immigration. We all came to Canada in search of a new life, a better future, an existence that would be more human and some of us on an adventure. Our expectation, put very briefly, is the hope for a better life for us and for those of us who have children, for our generations to come.
Immigration, driven by the belief that a better life is possible, is the history of the human race—more typically a human ability. Those humans who answer the call deep within their hearts to move from their roots to another future, to a life, and indeed a perspective one has not imagined ever before, is indeed about freedom: the freedom to decide the course of your life. It is the freedom to hear and answer the call for more authenticity, more confidence and faith. When looked at with this perspective, it may glorify the very act of emigration.
For most of us, that glory does not seem worthy because emigration initially seems to be the opposite of a liberated life, a better life. Often, it almost seems like an ‘exile’ to one of hardship and misery—of being a foreigner and a stranger, of having to live in a desert. At this point, much is to be said of the people of Canada, who make valiant efforts to reduce this feeling of isolation with their consciousness and spirit of human-ness.
Some of us are in real exile. This exile is not the result of free choice, but perhaps the fault of the policy of their native land. Their exile is an unbelievable punishment. However exiles, such as we face, by choice or otherwise, can only be a journey into a new future if one is ready to re-invent oneself. Put very simply, only if one is ready to change attitudes and thoughts, and to make radical changes, the journey across the desert can be completed successfully, perhaps providing a basis for a new and better future.
In a sense, to accept all the new opportunities that will inevitably come our way, we have to accept the challenge to recreate ourselves. As Bishop Vercammen, of the Union of Utrecht, said in his homily, “Creation did not come to a definitive end once we were created, but is an ongoing process grounded in the commitment of our Creator.”
My own experience of emigration in the summer of 2004 to Canada is about recreating myself. I worked in India as a banker, with a very comfortable life, a stable job, privileged, loved, everything one could possibly ask for. I did not come for a better life. I came for life itself. I was alone, wondering what I could do here to survive. Every job advertisement depressed me. It seemed I had left my home for life itself, but was still trying to survive and move back at the bottom of the trajectory I had been successful in and left behind.
It has taken me a long search to identify my passions—for I was very conditioned by my upbringing that passions are not as important as putting food on the table. But gradually as I became more Canadian, got more influenced by my environment in Canada, I realized I had to reinvent myself, find my passions, and somehow make them pay. I am an artiste at heart. I love the arts in all its forms, and yet I was looking for jobs in the skills I had. My PhD, my experience as an international banker, my faculty experience in teaching at India’s leading management school—none seemed relevant in this country where I had come to live as a new person.
In my first month of coming to Canada, I saw an advertisement for a community project, Food for Thought, by Lakeshore Arts. I dived directly into it. The project resulted in my story being part of an anthology. I met Heather Dick, Director of Sirius Theatrical, who coordinated this project. I took lessons in acting from Heather at the Sirius Theatrical Company. It led to my career in acting and writing. We co-produced, wrote, acted in a theatre production, StreetHearts, and then I got roles in movies subsequently. ‘The Limits,’ which I had a principal role, won the best feature film at the Reel World International Film Festival and the best dramatic feature film in the Digital Video and DVD International Film Festival in Hollywood.
My writing career also took off and my first book of fiction will be out in Spring 2009. Curry is Thicker than Water, my first book of fiction, is about diverse stories from India. However, I must say that these stories were so part of my life in India that they would never have been written without my “Canadian Experience.” In a sense, this is “Curry from my Maple Tree.”
While my life here is not perfect and I am discovering the hard life it is to take this leap of faith, faith it is that will keep me at this—my faith that Canada is a fair society that its people are vigilant to keep it so. I am happy to be Canadian and I think that this is the only society that understands that also being Indian is not a contradiction but enrichment of the human race!