Critical Approaches to Culture + Communications

A Weblog by Ron Burnett (Founded in 1994 and now celebrating 23 Years!!)

This site began as one of the first academic sites in Canada when the World Wide Web was in its early phase of development. I have maintained it through many iterations since 1994.

TALES OF IMMIGRATION: Documenting an Invisible Chronicle

by Jason Dasilva

(This is the fourth in a series of research projects being developed by Graduate Students at Emily Carr Institute.)

When the average viewer thinks of Indo-Canadian/American films, the image of Bollywood comes to mind. This genre stereotypes and marginalizes the communities, particularly affecting our understanding of the lives and experiences of new immigrants. The real life experiences of the individuals is often a struggle of cultural adaptation. As a filmmaker working on my Master of Applied Arts at Emily Carr Institute of Art+Design+Media, I will be documenting the contemporary South Asian immigrant experience through interview and observation - specific primary and qualitative research informed by an academic and theoretical framework with the goal of further understanding the Indo-Canadian immigrant experience. This will then culminate in a Masters thesis alongside a film script that will later be developed into a full-length feature film.

While South Asian immigrant perspectives have been documented in Canadian sociological and anthropological text and a few documentary films, it has never been given its proper place in Canadian popular film. I have seen consistently this in my experiences in the film industry. Over the past several years, working as an independent documentary filmmaker, qualitative research has informed my work with various immigrant communities. With my film Lest We Forget I worked with various South Asian, Arab, and Muslim service agencies to tell the stories of those individuals targeted after 9/11 -- profound incidents that would otherwise remain untold. In my short film Twins Of Mankala I worked with the UN Millennium Project to develop a qualitative research campaign on sustainable development in Africa. Lastly, in A Song For Daniel I connected to Iraqi communities by working with various mosques and Muslim cultural organizations. The film itself addresses the issues Iraqi-Americans face while their homeland is at war with their country of immigration. Without personal interviews that accompany the films, many of these valuable stories would never have been told. Portions of this film screned with Deep Dish TV at the Whitney Biennial 2006 with the support of curator Crissie Iles, who mentions our work as “art made politically.��? (Artforum January 2006)

I come from a diasporic background, Goa, India, I have strong personal connection to my thesis subject matter, and to the communities I will be working with. By documenting Indo-Canadian immigrants in my thesis research, I will be developing and recording oral histories, collaborating with regional social service agencies (Canadian Goan Association, British Columbia Immigrant Services, and the Indo-Canadian Cultural Center). By carrying forth interviews with members of various immigrant communities, a specific qualitative data will develop -- data which will then inform the larger narrative.

The direction I’d like the script to take is to tell the immigrant story of one woman from India and the complications that accrue in her life as she adjusts to living in a small B.C. town -- issues of disenfranchisement, isolation, and cultural adaptation. Without a valid support system in Canada, she becomes a character that speaks to the ambiguous marginalized immigrant experience that is defined in sociological theory as other.

There are a few mass media films that are of similar sentiment. These 1990’s releases include “East is East��? (Ayub Khan-Din) from London, “Sam and Me��? (Deepa Mehta) from Canada, and “Monsoon Wedding��? (Mira Nair) from the United States. These are of the comedic genre, complementing the whimsical atmosphere of the Bollywood genre. I’d like to create a drama, just as the experiences of these individuals are. As part of my research, I will also be turning to the work of writers such as Jhumpa Lahiri (“Interpreter of Maladies��?) and Shani Moottoo (“Out On Main Street��?), who have found a way to emphasize the South Asian immigrant experience through dramatic representation. Dramatic fiction is the appropriate genre to convey the real life experience of Indo-Canadian immigrants.

Investigating an area often overlooked in academic discourse, and then placing the result of the research conducted into a fictional framework will allow for these specific issues to be visible to a large population. With the dissemination being a popular film, the research will be applied to incorporate immigration history into our pedagogical discourse. It is my hope that this type of film will empower future generations.