INTERVIEWED BY KATE WEXELL (staff writer)
Amelia Alam is a staff writer for The Diversity Story and a student in the pre-IB program in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. Although she has spent her entire life in Canada, Amelia lives in the unique situation of being a first-generation Canadian. Her father is from Bangladesh while her mother identifies as Indian but grew up in Tanzania.
“My dad and his family moved to England while he was in his teens, but then he moved to Canada later on. My mom moved here when she was fourteen with her family for a better life.”
Her parents each speak multiple languages from their native cultures, but these have only been transferred to Amelia through her being given the Bengali nickname of Maya. This is a name that only close friends and family call her while traditionally she is called Amelia by others. Living in Canada, Amelia has grown up speaking English and has learned French during her public education.
“I was in French immersion starting in elementary school,” she described. “Basically, all of my subjects except for English and math would be taught in French from grades 4 through 8.”
Because Amelia lives in Canada, she described herself as feeling isolated from her culture. “I didn’t grow up in India. I didn’t grow up in Bangladesh. I grew up here,” she stated, “so that creates a disconnect. But I do have many friends who share my culture, and I still visit my extended family in England, as most of them have immigrated there. And no matter where I live and no matter what stage of my life I’m in, I’m always going to be a person who is part of my culture. I’m always going to be South Asian. That’s never going to change.”
he’s managed to retain her culture through learning more about Indian history, listening to Indian music, and learning about specific locations where her family is from. Most days, her family eats traditional Indian food, which she greatly enjoys. Amelia is planning to learn one of the languages of her parents when she gets older, and whenever the pandemic ends, she plans on trying to visit her family in Bangladesh to gain more knowledge about her ancestors.
Another way to honor her culture is through celebrating traditional Muslim holidays. Amelia’s father is a Sunni Muslim while her mother is an Isma’ili Muslim. Although in Canada they celebrate Christian holidays in a secular manner, they still keep in touch with the Islamic festivals of Eid ul-Adha and Eid ul-Fitr, among others.
“Thinking about culture has made me much more aware of how people from my heritage are portrayed: in books, in the media, at school.”
Although Amelia hasn’t experienced violent racism, as many others have unfortunately faced around the world, she did explain the microaggressions that she’s faced as an Asian woman. Since the attacks on the Twin Towers in the United States in 2001, there has been a rise of prejudice against Muslims. An example of this is the racial profiling many South Asians and other racial groups have to go through at airports.
“My mom was stopped for a random security check at the airport a few years ago. It was clear this wasn’t “random,” it was racial profiling, because obviously, my mom was a terrorist,” she joked.
Amelia also explained that she detests the model minority stereotype because of how it pits East and South Asians against Black and Indigenous people. She wants to continue fighting for people affected by racism, wherever and whenever she sees it.
She believes it’s important to share our cultural stories because it breeds acceptance. “The more we share about our experiences, the more we empathize with other people. It is also a way to learn about other people’s countries, histories, and how they deal with those histories. It creates acceptance.”
Apart from discussing her identity and using The Diversity Story as an outlet to learn more about the world and herself, Amelia enjoys acting, screenwriting, and narrative writing. “It is relaxing. If I am stressed out, I just have to stop and write for half an hour. Then I’ll feel a lot better.” She hopes to use her screenwriting skills to create projects in the future and is potentially considering a career in film.