On July 14, Yasmin Asgarali was invited to ‘a book launch’. She knew nothing about the book, nor its contents, and patiently sat through all the speeches about its development, and subsequent cultural performances.
At the end, as she was mingling with other attendees while having tea, one gentleman greeted her and asked her name. And then he said “That’s why I recognize you. You’re in the book!”. She was taken by surprise. She was sure he was mistaken. So, she of course doubtingly asked “Are you sure it’s me?” to which he replied “Yes, you are featured in Chapter 3, and mentioned in Chapter 6.”
He accessed a copy of the book (Yasmin still did not believe him), turned to Chapter 3, and there it was: her photo and a page of information, collected during a focus group session she had attended three years prior.
The title of the book is A HISTORY OF INDO-CANADIANS IN OTTAWA – A JOURNEY ACROSS GENERATIONS by Hand Tandan and Prabir Neogi. Here is what the book says about Yasmin:
“Yasmin’s ancestors were from U.P. in India and had been in Trinidad for five generations when her family migrated to Canada. Yasmin’s parents went back to Trinidad when she was 13, but Yasmin and her three older siblings continued to live with their aunt and uncle until she was sixteen.
Young Yasmin missed Trinidad, especially since she was having a miserable time at school. She was the only Indian student and was bullied and harassed by other students. For her, those three years at school were mostly about survival. She used to write letters to her parents in Trinidad, letters she never posted because she did not want to worry them.
Fortunately for Yasmin and her siblings, she was befriended by a schoolmate of Dutch descent. That Dutch family eventually helped transition Yasmin and her siblings, and parents (they returned to Canada three years later) into a life in Canada.
Things changed when Yasmin started her studies at the University of Manitoba where she met a broader selection of Canadians. She was now admired for being ‘exotic’ as there was a genuine and honest curiosity about her heritage and culture. She thinks the reason for the change was related to Canadians becoming more familiar with people from different racial and cultural backgrounds. Another reason was that the people at institutions of higher learning generally tend to be more open minded and accepting of others.
After Yasmin completed her education, she met and married a white Canadian, whose professional interest was architecture. She moved to Ottawa where her husband was admitted to Carleton University for a course in Architecture. They had two children. Yasmin worked in the federal public service. Later, she was with the Ministerial Services Briefing Unit of HRSDC until April 2012, when she chose to retire early.
Still living in Ottawa, she teaches Korean yoga, engages in volunteer work, sits on the Board of Directors for two organizations, and spends a significant part of her time as a photographer and two small business enterprises. Her children, now adults are in permanent relationships and living on their own. Her son is in Toronto; her daughter in Australia. Interestingly, her daughter’s fiance in Australia has ancestral ties (on his father’s side) from four generations ago to Tobago, Trinidad’s sister island!