January is more than just the first month of the year when Canadians are working hard to accomplish New Year’s resolutions. It is also Tamil Heritage Month, a time to recognize and celebrate the many contributions that Canadians of Tamil descent have made to the growth and prosperity of Canada. January was chosen as the month for Tamil Heritage Month since January is a very important month for Tamil Canadians. This is when the multi-day Tamil Harvest Festival, Thai Pongal, is celebrated.
The Tamil people are an ethnic group originally from southern India and Sri Lanka with a recorded history going back more than 2,000 years. Tamils began immigrating to Canada as early as the 1950s. With the outbreak of riots and eventual civil war in Sri Lanka in 1983, Tamil migration to Canada increased significantly.
Since the civil war broke out, Tamil culture and freedom of expression in Sri Lanka became marginalized, especially after decades of repressive policies by the government that saw religious practices prohibited and heritage destroyed. Even within Canada, when the Tamil community mobilized roughly ten years ago to create awareness of the bloody civil war and massacres of Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka, they faced racist and anti-immigration backlash, and were called terrorists among other things.
Despite the tremendous obstacles that Tamil Canadians had to overcome before and after their arrival to Canada, they have made great contributions to Canada’s social, economic, political and cultural fabric. Some of the notary Tamil Canadians who have contributed to Canadian society, as well as abroad, are:
Writer Shyam Selvadurai, author of Funny Boy.
Film Composer D.Imman, who has won numerous awards.
Film Director Lenin M. Sivam, director of 1999.
Rathika Sitsabaiesan, who was elected in 2011 as the first Tamil-Canadian Member of Parliament.
Table Tennis Player Pradeeban Peter-Paul, who qualified to play table tennis in the 2008 Olympics for Canada.
Many Sri Lankan Tamils are now settled in Toronto, which is currently home to the largest Sri Lankan Tamil population outside of Sri Lanka. There are other Tamil diaspora communities also found in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa.
Since 2016, Tamil Heritage Month is celebrated all over Canada to increase awareness and appreciation for all the achievements and contributions of Tamil-Canadians. Especially during this difficult time when everyone is stuck in their bubble because of government regulations, it is even more important to proactively be aware of and appreciate the experiences of those outside your bubble.
“Awareness is the greatest agent for change.” – Eckhart Tolle
To learn more about the Tamil diaspora and their heritage, click below:
Author: Valentine Ostaszewski, Marketing & Communications Director at VAHMS