Using the past as a guide for your future
Michelle Thevasagayam – Contributor
My parents’ beliefs and their ideas about culture are really different from my own. I was born in Sri Lanka, but due to various reasons, my parents chose to come to Canada. I’ve been in Toronto since I was two years old. Eventually my family expanded to include a brother and a sister.
Back in Sri Lanka, my dad grew up in a church that was governed by many, many rules, mostly those that limited the life of a women. For example, women there are only allowed to wear skirts that were mid-calf to ankle. No shoulders, no midriff, no cleavage or back showing. No makeup, no fancy hairstyles, no jewelry, and no tattoos. Also, you’re not allowed to sit next to guys or talk to them, without your parents present (or else it meant that you were having an affair — even if that is not the case).
Then my mom grew up in a Catholic home. She went to mass with her sister, and attended an all-girls Catholic school, too. My mom eventually changed churches, found my dad, fell in love, and got married.
They had many problems during their “dating” time — if one can even call it that. My parents are 11 years apart, and to make matters worse, my dad is Tamil and my mom is Singhalese. For those who don’t know, these two groups of people have been involved in a civil war in Sri Lanka for years, and so it was rare that they ever intermarried. Because of their cultures, my parents were persecuted and handled poorly by employers, neighbours, and even some family members. After I came into the scene, my parents feared for my well-being, and decided to come to Canada.
And so, here I am. There is a mixing of the two (or I should say three) cultures, in which I am included. There are aspects of my father’s beliefs that are still enforced at home. My mom has certain beliefs regarding life and intermarriage. Then there is the culture within Toronto, and its all-inclusiveness. Each of these cultures and their beliefs are different, and most of the time, quite contrary. Yet, somehow, I would like to think that I do a decent job of blending them together.
I go to church every Sunday, and I believe in God. Except I’d like to think that I’m different. There are things that I believe are Biblically true, and I don’t condone. There are also things I don’t understand. But all in all, I try my best to be a kind person, even if I don’t condone or understand other’s actions or beliefs.
My parents are different; not in the sense that they are spiteful people full of hatred. But, they are still very close-minded about certain things. For example, I had to push their limits on makeup and jewelry. I mean, I was the child that “rebelled,” but things are okay now. I can wear as much makeup as I want, and I can wear jewelry (except that I still don’t have my ears pierced and I’m still not allowed to — but that’s another story).
So, what I’m saying is that even though my parents grew up on an island, amidst a constant civil war, with strictly enforced curfews and people getting shot, their experiences shaped their lives and have had an impact on me. Although I live in Toronto and there are a lot of things I can do here that I wouldn’t have been able to do in Sri Lanka, I still respect my parents, their cultures, and their beliefs.
Yes, there are times where we differ belief-wise, and we argue until the sun goes down. Yet, at the end of the day, they are my parents, and their experiences, their beliefs, and their culture are important to me. Our collective experiences and cultures may be different, but don’t let that and only that shape what you believe. Sometimes it’s good to push boundaries and step outside comfort zones. So, my advice? Take everything with a pinch of salt. Think through things, decide what you believe, and stand by it.