South-Asian Muslims exist, but only for fellow South Asians. Why?

By: Anupreet Sandhu Bhamra

If one were to award a medal for cutting path to reach “Visible Minorities”, it has to be hands down, the business world.

It has been speaking Punjabi, Hindi, Cantonese, Mandarin and other languages in their print, radio and television commercials for some time now.

These are brilliantly done commercials where the sound over is Punjabi or Hindi film music while the video remains the same as in the English language commercials.

It doesn’t stop at the language; most have adopted the lingo as well. For example, the word desi is used a lot by companies trying to sell their product or services to, well, desis.

Desi is a Hindi/Punjabi word, which translates as indigenous, but in Canadian colloquial use, it has come to denote one of South Asian-heritage.

My point is: companies speak desi and desis connect. Even if the commercials are in English language (unofficial, official language of urban South Asia) people featured in them are desis and the message remains desi – of family values, festivals, celebrations, and of being a newcomer to Canada.

So what am I trying to say?

Two things.

First: it’s a laudable effort.

It helps desis (and desis of China, Philippines, Korea, Vietnam, and others) to connect with the product, and the services in their own language and in the context of their own customs. It is also a helpful means to reach out to the audience who are just learning to speak English or the seniors who cannot really communicate in any other language than their own.

But these commercials are made for a target audience and played during the desi programming on multicultural channels, or on overseas channels from back “home”. It makes perfect business sense and as I said above, I commend it.

Second: it’s one-way.

While the business houses are reaching the “Visible Minorities” by targeting channels of language and culture, it doesn’t translate into Canadian identity.

Business houses – don’t get me wrong. You are here to do business. All I am saying is how do we translate such an effort into forming a real multicultural identity?

What am I saying?

I am asking to continue doing what you are doing but go one-step further.

How?

It’s the holy month of Ramadan and no business house is leaving this opportunity to reach the Muslim population, who is observing this spiritual month by fasting from sunrise to sun down.

Commercials depicting South Asian Muslims in traditional clothing shopping for pre-fast meals and foods required to break the fast at sunset are doing the rounds on the South Asian TV channels these days.

It’s brilliant, but how do you go one-step further?

I want to see the same commercials with the same faces in English language during newsbreak at 6’o clock news, during afternoon sitcoms on non-South Asian channels.

My Muslim brothers, sisters and friends need to be shown, but they don’t need to be shown only to other Muslims or to people with South Asian heritage. It’s as if they exist, but only for one another.

Shouldn’t non-Muslims or non-South Asian heritage Canadians know it’s the holy month of Ramadan? That the way they shop for thanksgiving or celebrate Hanukkah or Christmas, Muslims do for Ramadan? Muslims have their own faith, their beliefs, are deeply religious, go through profound spirituality during this sacred month, but they are a part of the Canadian fabric.

One doesn’t need to be a student of religion to understand cultures, faiths and beliefs. All one needs to do is open eyes and embrace everyone around. If you are not a Muslim and have no knowledge of the holy month of Ramadan, please read on it, don’t feel shy to ask your Muslim friends (it’s hard for me to believe you don’t have one around you) and learn about Ramadan and “that Muslim” – see him or her as a fellow Canadian first.

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Categories: Canadian Identity

Tags: , ,

4 replies

  1. Another great post. Thanks for putting this out there. I live in Toronto and I do see the occasional “Happy Ramadan” commercial from the local news channel but your suggestions are great. I’ll be following your blog. 🙂

  2. Like Russell peters says- you are too good, too good.
    Anu you are certainly a great writer. Keep up with good work.
    I have read all your blogs before also, your work towards making this society a true multicultural one is marvelous.
    My feedback on this article is that There should be same approach towards any festival, any culture that is part of this society. If I go to a Christmas party at a friends house it’s considered cool and open and more accepting personality. But why no one wanna learn and have the desire to learn about other cultures? Not only Ramadan but Vaisakhi,or Rakhi, or any Jewish festivals.
    As a Muslim I liked this article maybe will help Canadians to know more about Ramadan but I personally believe it should go the same way for every festival.
    It should be a normal thing to know to be aware of instead of something “Muslims do (they do that fasting thing).

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