How to reconnect with their cultures helps people find their most authentic selves

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For Tiara Jade Chutken, reconnecting with her Caribbean roots came at a time in her life when she was looking for answers.

“I felt like I was just in this very strange place in my life where I didn’t really know where I was going,” she recalls. “It was really overwhelming and it was a little tricky because I just felt like I didn’t know myself well enough.”

Chutken has Trinidadian and Guyanese roots. Since 2019, she has been traveling to learn more about her cultural identity. She says she’s never really examined her roots before or even known the names of her great-grandparents.

Growing up, she said there was no one in her classes who identified as Indo-Caribbean, or who knew what she meant when she recognized her Guyanese or Trinidadian roots. People very quickly thought that she was Indian.

“When I was younger I didn’t really have any information to explain,” she says.

“Okay, why do I look Indian?” she says. “Because again, … I never saw myself that way, I only saw myself as what I was: Trinidadian-Guyanese. My identity has always felt very invalidated.”

As part of a new series, Rediscover Culture, Radio-Canada Toronto is explore the ways the people of the GTA reconnect and learn about cultural identity and family roots and how this journey shapes them to be who they are.

Tiara Jade Chutken says her journey to cultural rediscovery began with reading books on Indo-Caribbean history, which helped start the reading spiral that helped her feel more informed. (Laura Pedersen / CBC)

Chutken says her journey began with reading books on Indo-Caribbean history, which helped start the reading spiral that helped her feel more informed.

Now Chutken has published a book herself, Two Times Removed: An Anthology of Indo-Caribbean Fiction, and is the editor-in-chief of Brown Girl Diary, an organization that focuses on the representation of Indo-Caribbean women.

“After literally, probably 10, 15 years of still feeling this invalidation and feeling a little weird and out of place and never seeing people like me, my whole Instagram feed is filled with faces that now look like me everywhere,” he said. she told CBC. Toronto.

“I finally came to accept who I was”

Roveena Jassal, a fourth-year student at Western University, says she has always struggled to fully embrace her Sikh and Punjabi culture. Despite having mostly South Asian friends in Michigan, it was still embarrassing to do so.

Jassal said she would talk to her friends about doing things to celebrate the vacation in Southeast Asia, and they would say, “We’re not FOB,” a hurtful term in the community that means “Fresh from the boat.”

“It’s not like you’re surrounded by someone from a different culture. [You’re] surrounded by your own people who are kind of in this bubble of a little shame, a cultural shame, “she said.

Tiara Jade Chutken, center right, with her family. She says that because of her looks, people quickly thought she was South Asian when she was growing up. She often felt her identity was invalidated. (Submitted by Tiara Jade Chutken)

She says that all changed when she entered college, where students who looked like her encouraged her to embrace her culture.

“I found my friends who happened to be Indian because I naturally wanted people who liked Indian culture. And that naturally meant following cultural things.”

“I felt accepted. Well, not only because I was surrounded by people who accepted me, but I think it was because I finally accepted who I was.”

A young generation curious to know more, says professor

Camille Hernandez-Ramdwar, a professor at Ryerson University specializing in sociology and Caribbean studies, teaches cultural recovery and has students in her class embarking on the same journey.

She says reconnecting with the culture can mean something different for everyone.

“For some people it is really important for their identity and they can feel very lost and they feel this very strong feeling that they need to find out who they are and where they are from,” Hernandez-Ramdwar said. .

Chutken’s research and learning inspired her to compile a book containing 16 works of Indo-Caribbean fiction. (Tiara Jade Chutken)

“For some people, it’s at the heart of who they are and for others, it’s just something that interests them.”

She says that while anyone, at any stage of life, can be on this journey, there is a sense of wonder, especially among the younger generations.

“This second generation of millennials is missing something and now the rising generation Z who are still looking for that meaning.” said Hernandez-Ramdwar.

“I feel like being Canadian is not enough because this generation always gets asked the same questions as mine, which is ‘Where are you from?'”

Roveena Jassal in an undated photo with her family outside the Golden Temple in Punjab, India. The recent death of her grandfather prompted her to learn more about her culture, which she now does through learning languages, dancing, and researching her family history. (Submitted by Roveena Jassal)

She says many people used to assimilate or keep their culture hidden. But now it has become normal to celebrate his legacy publicly.

“There is that strength in numbers and I think for this young generation they want to be proud of their roots.”

For Chutken, her own journey inspired her to help other women feel more connected to their roots.

“People of color, whatever their origin, have not always been able to see themselves, to express their culture and to feel comfortable in spaces, to feel represented and to know our roots for one reason or another, ”says Chutken.

“But when we find them, I think it’s a lot more empowering. You are able to get that understanding of yourself that we’ve been deprived of for a long time.”


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