When people leave their homeland, it is often done with a heavy heart. While the decision is not easy, those who make it often hope that doing so will improve their circumstances, or at least enable them to provide a better life for their children.
For Indo-Fijians in Vancouver, this aspiration is doubly important. Many of the estimated 7,500 Fijians who now call the Lower Mainland home are themselves the descendants of Indian emigrants.
Brought to the small Pacific islands to work in the British controlled sugar plantations during the 19th century, the largely Hindu community grew and prospered for the better part of a century, eventually forming the ruling class after independence in 1970.
By the late 1980s, however, political tensions and a military coup against the ethnic Indian controlled government launched a wave of emigration by this community to places like Canada and the United States.
For Angelene Prakash, Renita Reddy and Monisha Prasad, the decision made by each of their parents to leave Fiji and immigrate to Canada is vindicated daily.
This trio of young women, all in their early twenties, represent a generation of Canadianborn Fijians who have been given the best of both worlds – the political stability, great education and economic opportunities offered in Canada, plus the traditions, values, language and sense of community attached to their ancestral home – and they are now poised to fulfill the hopes of their parents. Talk about pressure. Luckily they have a strong support network.
“With Fijian-Indians, there definitely is a strong culture and I think the one thing that ties everyone together is that fact that number one, we’re all from Fiji,” says Prasad. “I can talk with someone from our community that I just met, and they might know my parents or maybe our parents even went to school together back there.”
Prasad also notes that while not all Indo-Fijians share the same religion, many from the community are Hindu. As such, those who attend temples and religious ceremonies are able to use the occasions for socializing.
The biggest gathering for the Fijian-Canadian community is Fiji Day, a celebration of the country’s independence, which takes place on Oct. 10. Soccer is also a major pillar of the Fijian expat community, with league games being a great place to interact, share news and stay active.
While having access to these traditions is important, there are countless Canadian values and traditions pulling them in an entirely different direction, which ultimately leads to the exploration of self-identity that many young Fijian-Canadians undergo.
“I feel more Canadian because I grew up here, but my grandparents are very cultural, so whenever we go to their house, they cook us traditional Fijian food,” says Reddy. “Also, prayers and little traditions that they do in Fiji, we still do here.”
Despite an intimate knowledge of the culture, trips back to Fiji can bring home the reality that the two countries are very different.
“People could tell that I wasn’t from there, just by the way I talked or the way I dressed,” explains Prakash, recalling a trip to Fiji a few years ago. “Everything about me was a little bit different.”
While there is a strong sense of connection within Vancouver’s Indo-Fijian community, its identity in larger circles often gets lumped in with the more populous Indian community, with which it shares an ancestral past, similar languages and religious practices.
According to Prasad, some of the ongoing issues facing the community are worries about jobs, finances and the loneliness that comes from being separated from their families.
“I think also that in some situations there are difficulties in obtaining information and access to various services.”