As the Lower Mainland gang conflict continues to rattle the region, Abbotsford poet Harman Kaur wants to push past “spoiled immigrant kids” stereotypes to issues unseen in popular dialogue.
In a recent interview on her book of poetry, which looks at issues from her perspective as a Punjabi woman in Canada, Kaur pushed back against stereotypes she sees online following violence.
“They always like to bring up the fancy cars and how much the net worth is of the house and all that stuff. Fair enough. If it’s vital, sure, say it,” Kaur said.
But she added those cars often come from parents working multiple jobs and taking little for themselves in a community that, as immigrants, sees being able to provide material items for their children as a sign of success. Kaur’s own father, with a master’s degree in English from India, still drives trucks for a living and can’t take time off to deal with back issues.
“I get that you shouldn’t be spoiling your kids. … You live and you die for your kids. My parents did that for me, and I’m most likely going to be doing some aspect of that for my own kids as well,” she said.
“But there are things that go deeper than that.”
Until recently, Kaur says, the community never talked about mental health, something she says impacts youth, parents and grandparents. She adds that a prevalence of alcohol abuse only makes matters worse.
“This is just a cycle of not being able to talk about your feelings, not being able to register what’s going on and then turning to alcohol,” Kaur said.
“In our culture, boys are told that they’re not supposed to express feelings; they’re not supposed to cry. And from this arises something that we know as toxic masculinity and this hyper-masculinity, where if you’re doing something other than that norm, you’re not a man. I think this goes to lots of communities. But I see it very prominent in the Punjabi community.”
And all of that can combine with domestic abuse, Kaur says.
“Put yourself in the shoes of a four- or five-year-old Punjabi boy, who is now seeing this in his house, who is not allowed to express his feelings,” she said, adding those emotions become pent up inside. “And this is how he grows up.”