Keeping Cultural History Alive in Families


Keeping South Asian Culture Alive Through History

By Jasjit Sangha @jasjit_sangha & online at: Email Jasjit at:

Photo Courtesy: Jasjit Sangha

Photo Courtesy: Jasjit Sangha

Choosing to live a car-free urban lifestyle has both ups and downs. The advantage is that I live in the midst of a vibrant and diverse city and I walk or bike to almost anywhere I want to go. My children are exposed to a kaleidoscope of people in their everyday life and I am able to attend the many interesting events that the city has to offer. The disadvantage is that I am far away from my extended family and it can be hard, at times, to bring South Asian culture into their lives. Very often, mainstream holidays and traditions overshadow important South Asian events. This past Diwali was a perfect example. It was so close to Halloween that the kids attention was more focused on their costumes and the thrill of trick or treating rather than the significance of the festival of lights.

Imagine my surprise when a recent trip to the gurdwara made it possible for me to not only expose my children to the religion I grew up with, Sikhism, but also an important part of my family’s history.

There was a display set up to commemorate the Sikh soldiers who had fought in WWI and WWII.

Since my great-grandfather, Mangal Singh Chauhan, had fought in WWI, this caused a flurry of excitement as we searched the photos to see if my great-grandfather was included in them. Although he was not in the pictures, it provided an excellent opportunity for me to use history as a way to bring way to South Asian culture into their lives in a tangible way.

I told them the stories I had heard as a child about his bravery and integrity and how he had been honoured for playing a leadership role in the army.

The discussion continued when we got home as family members dug through old photo albums to post his picture online in time for Rememberance day. This kept his memory alive as I talked to my kids further about the role that the Sikh community had played in shaping world history through their presence in specific battles during WWI and WWII. I offered them a perspective that they would likely not be getting through school.

Photo: Courtesy Jasjit Sangha

Photo: Courtesy Jasjit Sangha

I hoped that by doing this they would be able to access some of the family pride I had growing up. When I was younger, my mother often recounted stories to me about our family members and the important contributions they made to Indian society (post pre and post partition) either through work, philanthropy or activism. Even though I never met them, knowing about them helped me feel rooted and special, despite the fact that I did not always feel that way in mainstream Canadian society.

For my kids, who are bi-racial, feeling a sense of belonging in mainstream society is easy. Living downtown, and in my particular family friendly neighbourhood, has enabled them (and me) to really feel like we are part of a community. The harder challenge is for them to feel an affinity for the South Asian community. I am hoping through using history, I can continue to weave South Asian culture into their lives, to make that part of who they are meaningful and memorable for them.

Although it does require some sleuthing to get the facts about historical events, finding ways to connect the past to the present for our children can leave a lasting impression on them and expand their worldview. They can make links to ideas or concepts they are learning about in school and realize that the South Asian community has played a pivotal role in society and globally, even though they not aware of it. It may even contribute to strengthening their sense of self – as it did for me.

Columnist, Step-mothering


For other moms raising bi-racial children, have you used history to make links to South Asian culture for your kids? How have you done so? How have your kids responded?

Would love to read your feedback. You can contact me at

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There are 2 comments

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  1. Shalini

    This is so interesting. Finding your place in history racially, culturally, in a way that matters to your kids so they see themselves as part of history.
    That’s definitely something to ponder. My grandfather came from India to Canada as part of the U.N. in the 1950’s. My other
    grandfather studied at Stanford before returning to Calcutta. My son will see himself as part of them someday, I hope.

  2. Catherine

    I’m a big believer in storytelling to keep the memory and the sentiment of connection alive. It’s wonderful you were able to visit the exhibit and then dig up photographs.

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