by Suli Adams As a woman with Asian heritage born in Africa now living in Canada, I find myself asking, where is home? I was born in Kenya, as were my parents. I arrived in Canada as an immigrant in 1975, sponsored by a cousin who arrived as a refugee from Uganda in 1972. How did I and so many others across East Africa come to call Canada their new home? It’s a complicated story. East Africa (Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda) was colonized by the British, who brought people from South Asia to build the railways in the African jungle. Many South Asians saw this as an opportunity to make a better life for future generations. The Asians were experienced in business and the economy of East Africa boomed, with exports of tea, coffee, and other resources. Tourism brought many Europeans to explore the mountains and the wildlife. Along the coast of the Indian Ocean, many resorts were built.
The coast was rich in Arabic culture and specialty cuisine, influenced by trade with the island of Zanzibar. The interior land was largely populated by Indigenous Africans and South Asians whereas the larger cities and the coastline included many Europeans. The culture and cuisine were influenced by the different populations, and this was reflected in the different identities of each region. East Africa was a paradise – the climate, the ocean, the animals, the tribes, the melange of cuisines, and more! The jungle developed into thriving, economically successful countries but left the Indigenous African population behind. Their nomadic and tribal lifestyle now seemed foreign in their own country. Economically, the Europeans and Asians were flourishing. This resulted in frustration and led to the strive for independence. Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda would go on to claim their independence from the British in the early 1960s. However, unrest continued to grow. Nationalism escalated and left many Asians stripped of their businesses, assets, and livelihoods but left with fear and uncertainty. In 1972, Ugandan president Idi Amin expelled the Asians and they were given 90 days to leave the country they called home. The people being forced out were mostly second- and third-generation Asian Ugandans who owned businesses, houses, vehicles – all to be left behind. As the 90-day deadline approached, life in Uganda became increasingly dangerous for Asians, who were subjected to violence, looting, torture, rape, and murder. The United Nations set up refugee camps and in the process many families were split up. Some Asians settled in Europe, but many live in Canada today. Over the next several years, many left Tanzania and Kenya, fearing a fate similar to what happened in Uganda. Kenya became affluent as Tanzania and Uganda worsened. Ugandans were trading gold and diamonds taken from the Asians at the Kenyan border for basic necessities. Uganda and Tanzania have still not recovered economically. Life in Kenya became much more harmonious for the Asians who stayed. Now, Uganda and Tanzania have begun to approach former residents to ask them to return and rebuild their birth country — but can someone go back and feel confident history will not repeat itself?
Recently in Canada, we have seen how Indigenous people have been affected by colonization. There has been unimaginable pain caused by children taken from their parents and stripped of their identity and other terrible details as facts are unveiled about the residential school system. Racism led to an incident in London, Ont. which left four members of a Muslim family dead and a fifth family member orphaned and injured. For those of us who left our birth countries to come to Canada, those feelings of fear, frustration, discrimination, and not being accepted, which these incidents bring back to the surface, are too familiar. So again I find myself asking, as a woman born in Africa with Asian heritage living in Canada, where is home?
Earlier this month, Canada Day was a time for reflection. Moving forward, we can make Canada Day a day of both reflection and celebration. Let Canada Day be a day where we recognize the Indigenous land we are on and celebrate with the Indigenous people from coast to coast to coast and enjoy their stories, drumming, culture, and food.
Let’s celebrate with all of the different cultures in our community with their music, dance, and traditions that make them unique. Let Pembroke help to make Canada home for all people and all cultures. Let’s make it a day to honour the Indigenous land and Indigenous people, live in harmony, peace, and respect for everyone, regardless of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Let’s make Pembroke a welcoming community which sets the example for others in the Ottawa Valley and across Canada to aspire to, and one which everybody can call home.
Suli Adams lives in Pembroke, Canada and loves bellydance. She studies with Aziza of Montreal, writes and dances as much as she can. Most notably she has been recently published in I Will Dance 'til a Hundred and One!: Communal Wisdom on Dancing as We Age: Turner LCSW, Janine: 9781977583574: Amazon.com: Books.