stop… in the name of love

Living in Toronto, I can’t avoid the Tamil protests going on downtown. Not because I am directly affected by them: I haven’t had any route I needed to take blocked and nothing’s been disrupted. Unlike the numbers of Torontonians who seem to have had their very important lives inconvenienced by the protests.

I’m not disgusted at the fact that young children have been taken by their parents to these protests. (Di Manno, can you pass any more judgment?) Rumours of SWAT teams and police on standby do have me concerned, because so far, these protests have been quite peaceful and non-aggressive.

I can’t help but wonder though, if alarmist privileged Canadians fully understand what’s going on here? If they can sense the difference in energy between the Tamil protests and the other neatly-organised, scheduled demonstrations that happen (the march for equality for women, the Palestinian demonstrations, Noone is Illegal, Darfur, etc.). The latter happen out of anger and a demand for fairness and justice. My sense of the current protests is that they’re happening out of love. Love and concern for family members back home. Demonstrators driven by fear for mothers and uncles and cousins, not knowing whether the violence has taken them. And frustration at being so helpless here, that all you can do is pack up your children, head downtown and ask your politicians to step up.

just be prepared to deal with all the passive-aggressive comments on media reports about how your neighbours were stuck in traffic because of your thoughtlessness. i have to ask the complainers: would you do the same for your family? would you grab a flag and stand in the street for hours because it’s the only way you believe you can affect the outcome? would you block a highway, if you didn’t know if your mother was dead or alive? would you take it further? or would you do nothing? just saying.

Democracy promises a voice for its citizens. It assures ways and means to voice concerns and produce pressure for desired outcomes. The freedom that has been promised though, is hollow. It only delivers when you’ve got a certain amount of privilege. When you play nice at being Canadian. If you’re lucky – and this is where persistence pays off – it will deliver when you can’t be ignored any more.

The expectation is that your heart belongs here, but for immigrant populations, it doesn’t. It’s left back in the old country, with blood relatives and childhoods. And when back home isn’t safe (and I know this feeling all too well), you risk losing it.

Some of the posts on message boards and comment sections are horrifying, complaining about the traffic and noise. Comments along the lines of “I really don’t care about the issues these people are demonstrating about.” and “Get off the streets, quit disturbing peoples[sic] lives and find other ways to get your cause in the news. Being street terrorists isn’t helping.” Some of the comments get into the bloody and complicated history of violence in Sri Lanka, with the typical they’re-killing-people-over-there-so-it’s-not-my-problem attitude.

But the comment that got my goat the most was this one, stating that the protests were “also unfair to all those immigrants who’ve accepted our hospitality by graciously leaving their issues at the border.” To put it in as mild-mannered a way as possible, as a non-Sri Lankan immigrant, that one really hurts my feelings. Am I really expected to leave my ethnicity, history, identity, and associated emotional baggage on the other side of Pearson Terminal 1? You’ve got to be kidding me. My family’s back home, holding on to a piece of my heart.

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