This Asian Heritage Month, we sat down with one of our Immigrant Advisory Table members, Ruchi Lall, originally from India, to talk about her experiences as a South Asian in Vancouver, what her heritage means to her, and how her heritage has shaped the individual she is today.

Ruchi, how did you find your way to Vancouver?

We applied for express entry for immigration to Canada from India. We landed here October 13, 2017.
I understood the profession of social workers was important in BC and there was a shortage of social workers here. And that’s why I was accepted as a primary applicant.
We came here to see a new life.

How has your heritage shaped the person you are today?

A lot! I’m Hindu by origin. I’m more spiritually inclined rather than religious, so, I have a spiritual guru. My whole values, and how I approach life, people – it’s all because of my culture.

You see, there is a lot of difference here in Canadian values and our values, which are both good and bad.
It is a standard thing us to take care of our seniors, our parents; there is no requirement for a senior home in India, per se, which is the norm here. In Canada, you see a lot of seniors here staying alone.

The first place I was living in Canada, I used to see a Chinese gentleman, quite elderly, and he used to walk every day very slowly for his exercises. I used to say to him, why do you stay alone? You don’t have kids or family?

And he said, “My wife died. My kids stay very far. I live on my own.”

So I used to share some Indian meals with him and we shared some nice moments – I could tell he was happy.

But in India, we don’t require that, it’s a standard. It’s a part of our life, our culture, and values, which I really feel is very important.

Does your family have any traditions that are especially important to you?

We have a Hindu temple here we go there frequently. I have my spiritual guru’s temple here; we make it a point to go once a month so that our child understands those values and continues to follow them.

Diwali is a very important festival for us. We still follow those.

The respect we give to our elders is very important too. We take blessings by touching their feet on all special occasions.

Donating/giving is an important part of our culture where kids learn to share and be grateful for what we have.

We still follow the elaborate marriage rituals which lasts for many days.

And clothes, traditional clothes, we still wear them.

What brings you joy about your heritage and culture?

I enjoy everything about my culture. It’s very welcoming. There are no formalities.

In India, whenever we wanted, we could just drop by our family and friends place, and say “hi, hello, this is what we’ve got, let’s have a potluck,” and stuff like that. Here, it’s a little more formal.

Family is a huge part of my culture. [In western culture] it is very limited to your spouse and your kids. To me, family is much broader. My sister’s kids are my children as much as my own children.

We support our kids for a long time, at least till they are married and often beyond that where the whole family lives together and supports each other – the joint family system in India is very common.

What challenges have you faced as an Immigrant of Asian Heritage in Vancouver?

Unfortunately, even though I was selected and accepted because of my professional qualifications, the first response I got was that I do[RL1] n’t have sufficient experience in Canada and that’s why I wouldn’t get a front-end social worker role at all.

I was able to get my license as a social worker, so I’m a Registered Social Worker here. But I accepted the fate that despite being qualified I probably wouldn’t be getting front line social worker roles.

But I still wanted to remain in my [industry], so I accepted my first job as a grant-writer with a non-profit and was there for two years.

My husband is also a qualified professional, and he has been facing similar challenges.

It is weird that we are accepted for our qualifications to come to a new country, but then we are told we don’t have enough experience here, so we won’t be getting front-end jobs. It’s quite a challenge in terms of getting jobs, even settling down.

In my journey, my son also had a lot of issues settling down being from a different country.

Kids can be bullies. He faced a lot of challenges in his first school. He was bullied quite a bit. So, I had to change his first school and move to another school because I realized the principal of the school was not supportive, and wasn’t reacting well to his bullying, in fact was blaming him.

There was a group of 5-6 boys who were trying to bully him. He picked up a stone.  He didn’t do anything, he just picked up a stone. But the kids complained to the school and so the principal called me and said “your child is very aggressive and he needs to be dealt with.”

And I was trying to understand what happened and why it happened. She didn’t mention about the five kids who were trying to bully one single child.

And she says, “if he wants to participate in any sports activities, I want you to come, and only then I can ensure he can join because I cannot trust his response.”

I was like, “okay, I don’t mind coming, provided you ensure the other five kid’s parents also come because I can’t trust their reactions.”

The principal did not agree. 

But my son so badly wanted to participate in the sports activity that I did join. I did not want to disappoint him. But these are the kinds of reactions that my son used to get.

We are trying to also adjust in our lives. There are a lot of adjustments as an immigrant.

I am fortunate despite all these challenges to find a few mentors throughout my career.  They have helped me throughout, though I did also face certain weird comments on whatever I did.

When I was grant-writer, I faced some challenges with some of the donors.

I remember one of the donors, who had never even met me, or seen me, or even spoken to me – I’d written him a letter requesting funds, a general trend that we write. And I accidentally mentioned his organization – instead of a Trust, I called his organization a non-profit.

He was furious. He called me because my name did not sound Canadian. He said he was sure I was not from Canada.

He blasted me as to how ill-mannered and how ill-qualified I was, even without listening to anything. I was struggling to understand what the issue was as the only mistake I had done was, instead of “trust” I mentioned a charitable organization.

And he asked me, “You do not seem to be a Canadian.”

And I said, “No, I’m from India.”

He said, “How can you people land here.”

And then he made a lot of racist comments.

Issues like that come up sometimes and used to cause a lot of turbulence in my mind. There’s a lack of confidence, and it still sometimes comes up. I do face challenges even now appearing in front of a large group, because of all these incidences…

Even when I was hired into my current position,  when someone I knew heard about it, they gave me the comment, “I guess you got the job as your employer is hiring a lot of racial minorities to show their representation, so you have been selected”. Not because I was qualified. And it was kind of sad that I had to hear such comments, but fortunately my team here is very supportive and values me for the diversity I bring in the discussions and thought process.

But otherwise, I have a lot of good people who have been very supportive. Some of them are Canadians and have helped me. I believe every country has good and bad. I just hope the bad is because of other situations and not because of racism. That’s my only hope.

How do you see those barriers being addressed?

For the school, the parent of another child [of South Asian heritage], who was also being bullied apart from my son, was very active with the school, and with the parent committee, and she took this matter up.

I guess the principal is no longer working at that school. I don’t know which school she has gone to, but I feel sorry for that other school.

What does Asian Heritage Month mean to you?

Narrate to us, narrate to the kids even, especially the next generation, as they need to learn and remember their culture; an opportunity to share our stories, what our gods meant for us, what each festival meant for us, what is the food and the cuisines that we eat, and also an opportunity to learn from others about their experience.

And it’s also an important opportunity to break the stereotypes, and if we continue this, it should help us even further.

What message would you like to give to newcomer Asians?

The message is don’t lose hope.

  • Stay strong on your values.
  • Adapt but learn from the new environment and culture you are living in.
  • Be ready to be flexible and meet wonderful people.
  • Don’t lose patience!
  • Stick to your guns.

And don’t feel let down when people say you need to start from scratch! Build your network and share your transferable skills with them.

Thank you for taking the time to share your story with us, Ruchi. Your knowledge and experiences will make us a stronger partnership.

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