Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Respecting the East, Embracing the West: A Tribute to the Women of the Maritime Sikh Society

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

Respecting the East, Embracing the West: A Tribute to the Women of the Maritime Sikh Society

Article excerpt


This article pays homage to the women of the Maritime Sikh Society (2) as they juxtapose values from the western and eastern cultures into one mindset. Their quest to preserve, transmit and share their Punjabi (3) culture is reflective in the cohesiveness of their community and religious congregation. Unfortunately, similar to most immigrants, this population dealt with a variety of obstacles in order to develop a bicultural identity and live comfortably in their third space. A third space represents a safe, mutually respectful, comfortable and authentic environment, which encourages an individual to be proud of his or her ethnic heritage and in turn, integrate it into their individual identity (Bhabha, 1994; Sodhi, Gamlin, Maracle, Earner, Komorowsky and Yee, 2001).This article also alludes to the triumphs these women achieved in order to re-invent their identities and positively communicate their culture to future generations.

Keywords: Punjabi women, bicultural identity formation, intergenerational communication.


Over the last forty-seven years, Sikh (4) women have left and a positive and altruistic impression in eastern Canada (Ralston, 1996). Aside from the assortment of barriers and triumphs encountered, these remarkable women simultaneously developed bicultural identities, which allowed them to pick and choose certain cultural aspects and live authentically in both cultures (Sodhi, 2002). Biculturalism entails, "the ability of a person to function effectively in more than one culture and also to switch roles back and forth as the situation changes" (Jambunathan, Burts, and Pierce, 2000). Essentially, these women in their pursuit to strengthen their new identity amalgamated values from both cultures. They were successful in transmitting and preserving these values in their offspring, as well.

This article will share highlights from my doctoral research, which explored the diasporic and lived experiences of Punjabi-Sikh women living in eastern Canada. The purpose of this study was to explore how parental attitudes influence intergeneration cultural preservation and ethnic identity formation among Punjabi women living in eastern Canada. The objectives of this study were first, to examine how culture and values are communicated, transmitted and preserved among intergenerational Punjabi women and second, to clarify intergenerational Punjabi women's perceptions and experiences concerning cultural preservation and their ethnic identity formation. This research was a requirement for my doctoral dissertation which I completed in December, 2001.

The primary reason for writing this thesis emerged from my interest of how culture is preserved and passed down to future generations. I was also fascinated by the development of ethnic identity of individuals engaging in this process. I was born and raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia by two Punjabi-Sikh immigrant parents. Their explanation for migrating echoes the words of several other immigrants: to provide a better life for their family. I was very fortunate to experience the main traits of the Nova Scotian and Punjabi cultures.

I didn't realize that my childhood differed from that of other Punjabi-Sikh individuals until I moved away from Nova Scotia to pursue further education. I thought I had preserved a tremendous amount of culture. My definition of preserving culture included: spending time with my Punjabi peers on a regular basis, eating Punjabi cuisine, listening to Indian music and performing Giddha (Punjabi folk dancing) annually at various cultural events. I truly believed I combined 'the best of both cultures.'

Being a product of two cultures has its advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is being able to 'pick and choose values' from both cultures that you would like to preserve and pass on to your children. I suppose our immigrant parents had that option as well. But not all parents pick and choose the same values. …

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