In 2016, the House of Commons unanimously declared January to be Tamil Heritage Month, in recognition of the contributions of Tamils’ to Canada’s multicultural mosaic. It is only appropriate that, on this occasion, I celebrate some of the contributions of the Canadian Tamil community and why I’m deeply committed to preserving this important facet of my identity.
Remembrance, Resilience, Resistance
While Tamils are relative newcomers to Canada, with many immigrating in the early 1980s, it’s pretty remarkable to see just how much of a leap in success and prosperity we have made within the span of just one generation. The majority of first-generation Tamils came here fleeing war and persecution in Sri Lanka to find a safe haven for themselves and their children. They worked hard to rebuild their lives almost entirely.
I know this story intimately because it is my story too.
Growing up in Winnipeg, Manitoba was not easy. Our family struggled as new immigrants as we found our footing in Canada. There were months when every dinner was rice, lentils and spinach curry, and every lunch was mac and cheese or baloney sandwiches. Hand-me downs were moved around from cousin-to-cousin, while furniture and household items were collected from garage sales. My parents, who were both qualified professionals, ended up having to work odd jobs to make ends meet. But through it all, my family—especially my mother and my formidable trio of paternal aunts—made sure that my siblings and cousins never forgot our Tamil roots, culture, or our history. My appreciation for what they did has only grown deeper over time now that I’m a parent as well.
Fostering Tamil Excellence
I have brought this strong grounding in my Canadian Tamil identity to the work that we do at the Srinarayanathas Foundation. At the foundation, we’ve made the conscious decision to take a generational view of how we go about creating capacity, accessing institutional resources, and supporting initiatives that will help foster Tamil excellence for the next generation of Canadian Tamils.
This is why I have been excited about the Endowed Chair in Tamil Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough from the very first day of this campaign led by the Canadian Tamil Congress and Tamil Chair Inc. in partnership with the university. Being a U of T alumni is an added bonus. We have had the privilege of contributing to this campaign already and we look forward to renewing our commitment again this year.
Another key initiative that the foundation has recently supported is establishing a permanent home for the Canadian Tamil Chamber of Commerce. As an entrepreneur myself, I’m very appreciative of the role that chambers play in their local communities, and I want to do everything that I can to make sure that future Tamil entrepreneurs have all the resources they need to succeed. The role of chambers, much like the CTCC, are going to become even more critical, as small businesses are going to be the backbone of Canada’s economic recovery post-COVID-19.
One last initiative that I believe is important is the Tamil Youth Fellowship program at the City of Toronto that has been launched by the Urban Alliance on Race Relations in partnership with Tamils in Public Service, and the Tamil Canadian Centre for Civic Action. Civic engagement is a cornerstone of the values with which I was raised. My own political consciousness was shaped by my family and the endless debates we have had around the dinner table. I owe a debt of gratitude to my late paternal aunt who dragged us out to GOTV when we were just kids, and to my first and most powerful political mentor who is still my closest confidante—my father and our foundation’s patron, Navaratnam Srinarayanathas, who continues his own political advocacy for Tamil rights in Sri Lanka.
Staying Connected To My Roots
As with many diaspora communities, much of the Canadian Tamil community continues to be deeply connected to the issues and concerns of its traditional homelands in Sri Lanka. This is why I have been more directly involved with comdu.it.
Comdu.it is an international diaspora network of volunteers dedicated to co-creating sustainable impact with war-impacted and vulnerable communities in Sri Lanka. Much of the work has been in the traditional Tamil homelands of the North and East of the country where the majority of Canadian Tamils come from. Since taking on a leadership role in the organization a few years ago, I’ve come to recognize the importance of staying connected to the evolving issues and concerns impacting the Tamil people “back home.” And continue helping to build a resilient bridge for the next generation growing there and here in Canada.
As we start another new year, the foundation and I are committed to exploring more initiatives that will help create a generational impact for Canadian Tamils even as we look to support Canadians more broadly. I owe this to my Sofia and Leonardo as much as I owe it to myself.
Tamil-Canadians are one of the fastest-growing ethnic communities in Canada, and the passion and noble spirit of our communities has helped shape this country and taught us all the true beauty of charity. Visit my website to see how you can help engage with these communities and connect with enclaves across the country.