Thangachi’s Corner: What is your background?

“Thangachi’s Corner” is a monthly feature that discusses relatable topics and issues relevant to the Canadian Tamil youth of today. For more information about this feature or to suggest a topic, feel free to e-mail us at!

Written By: Keerthana Raveendran

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Where am I from?

That’s the question I posed my grade four class last week when one of the girls walked in at the beginning of the period, readily prepared to burst into tears.

And it’s certainly a problematic question, isn’t it? After all, by “from”, I could be referring to the geographical location from which I arrived to Canada. Or perhaps I mean the country from which my parents immigrated here. It’s an altogether tricky question, especially when taking into consideration a rather diverse community made up of various cultures, languages and religious beliefs.

Needless to say, my problematic question yielded quite a few understandably problematic answers:

“You look Indian!”

“You’re from Sri-Lanka!”

“You live in Canada—you’re Canadian!”

“No—you’re a French teacher! You’re from France!”

Identity is a term we’ve been trying to define for decades in academia. It’s a delightfully fluid notion, and it was after hearing the assumptions of misguided students that I came to realize their confusion regarding the phrase.

Because that little girl who came into my classroom in tears? She had just been told that there was no way that she was Black—she had a lighter skin tone and a rather unique shape of eyes. She was of mixed background.

I posed another question instead:

How can you tell what someone’s background is?

Smart as they are, these nine-year olds were able to grasp a concept that some will continue to struggle with years into adulthood—that the only way to determine someone’s identity is to simply ask.

Only we know our own identities. We can choose to identify with a particular ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality or ability without feeling the need to defend ourselves.

And if I can be a bizarre mix of Tamil Ceylonese and Canadian with a little French thrown in there somewhere, a little girl who doesn’t conventionally look Jamaican can most definitely be Black.

Because when you ask someone where they are from, what you’re really trying to figure out is what their experiences say about them. What you’re really trying to ask is: What is your background?


I’m mixed.


Keerthana Raveendran, known by her flock as Thangachi, is an aspiring author whose motivation to write usually kicks in when she’s supposed to be occupied elsewhere. She is an avid procrastinator who sees potential novel ideas as movies in her head. Maybe one of these days, they’ll make it onto the page. Thangachi is currently a teacher with the Toronto District School Board and a student with York University, studying English for her Masters degree.


Read More by Keerthana!

“Dance Culture”

“Vanakkam: More than Just a Word”

“Tamil Titles: Yes or No?”

“Celebrating our Holidays”

“The Art of Tamil Cuisine”

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