Where I Come from

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Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press, 2003 - Biography & Autobiography - 291 pages

“Where do you come from?”

When Vijay Agnew first immigrated to Canada people would often ask her “Where do you come from?” She thought it a simple, straightforward question, and would answer in the same simple, straightforward manner, by telling them where she had been born and where she grew up.

But over the years she learned that many so-called third-world people resent being asked this question, because it implies that having a different skin colour (which is what usually prompts the question) makes a person an outsider and not really Canadian. This realization inspired her to look more closely at the question — and the answer. The result is this book.

Where I Come From is a reflective memoir of an immigrant professor’s life in a Canadian university. It covers the period from 1967, when Canada was opened up to third-world immigrants, to the present. The book illustrates the ways in which identity is socially constructed by tracing some of the labels that were applied to the author at various stages during her thirty years in Canada — “foreign student,” “Indian woman,” “immigrant,” “Indian feminist,” and “third-world woman.” She shows how each of these names has affected her relationships with other people and contributed to making her the woman she is now perceived to be: a feminist, anti-racist, activist professor. This multilayered story reveals the complex ways in which race, class, and gender intersect in an immigrant woman’s life, and engages readers in a conversation that narrows the distance between them, showing not only what is different, but what is shared.

 

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Contents

1 Beginning in Canada
5
2 An Immigrant Student in Toronto
29
3 Girlhood in Delhi
47
4 Bombay
67
5 History and Herstory
81
6 In Search of a Community
100
7 Being and Becoming
122
8 Returning to Bombay
136
11 Fair Play and Safe Places
208
12 Lunching with the Ladies
226
13 A Canadian in New Delhi
242
14 Life among the WASPs
258
Afterword
275
Notes
281
Glossary of Hindi Words and Expressions
284
Bibliography
286

9 A Third World Academic
154
10 In the Company of Mothers
178

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About the author (2003)

Vijay Agnew immigrated from India in 1970 and studied at the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto. A professor of social science, she has taught at York University in Toronto since 1976, and is director of the Centre for Feminist Research. She is author of Resisting Discrimination: Women from Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean and the Women’s Movement in Canada, which won the Gustavus Myers Award in 1997 as “an outstanding book on the subject of human rights in North America.” Her other books are In Search of a Safe Place: Abused Women and Culturally Sensitive Services and Elite Women in Indian Politics.