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Pardesan Ka Kam: an essay on Punjabi-Sikh women cannery workers in Northern British Columbia Pannun, Amarjit Kaur 1994

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PARDESAN KA KAM: AN ESSAY ON PUNJABI-SIKH WOMEN CANNERY WORKERSIN NORTHERN BRITISH COLUMBIAbyAMARJIT KAUR PANNUNB.Sc., The University of British Columbia, 1987A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OFTHE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OFMASTER OF ARTSinTHE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIESDEPARTMENT OF ANTHROPOLOGY AND SOCIOLOGYWe accept this thesis as conformingto the required stand dTHE UNWERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIASeptember 1994©Amaijit Kaur Pannun, 1994In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanceddegree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make itfreely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensivecopying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of mydepartment or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying orpublication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my writtenpermission.(Signature)_________________Department of oGyThe University of British ColumbiaVancouver, CanadaDate (1cJ -f / ‘7 VDE-6 (2188)AbstractThis essay is an ethnographic account of the lives of Punjabi Sikh women canneryworkers in northern British Columbia. Using the concept of difference as an analyticaltool, I am extending the analysis beyond the intersections of the differences of race, class,and gender to include regional, ethnic, age and caste variations among the members ofthis community in order to illustrate the complexities of being a South Asian Canadianwoman. By employing individual socio-histories and narratives based on work life, mydescriptions revolve around the difficult and rewarding aspects of being an immigrant inthe larger Canadian context. As well, I am describing the contradictions and tensionspresent in raising children in the West while continuing to be a member of an immigrantcommunity which bases some of its norms and accepted behaviours on a displaced Punjabicontext.111Table of ContentsAbstract .iiTable of Contents iiiAcknowledgements ivIntroduction 1An Interlude in the Cannery 3On Ethnicity and Difference 9Situating Knowledges 13The Gift of Stories 17TirathAunty-ji 19Jagdish Aunty-ji 30Discussion 39Concluding Remarks 44Glossary 46Bibliography 48ivAcknowledgementsTo the women who agreed to participate in this endeavour and shared theirthoughts, feelings, and food with me, I am eternally gratefuLMy deepest gratitude is for my mother and father. Their courage, love andknowledge as Punjabis and as Sikhs has laid the foundation for me to be the person I am.For the sacrifices they have made to be in this new place, I share their pain and sense ofloss.I would like to extend my thanks to Michael Ames and Elvi Whittaker, myadvisors for their support and encouragement. A warm thank you to Bruce Miller for hiswarmth and good humour - I shall miss our conversations in the halls. My friends andcolleagues Marie-France Dubois, Robin Fowler, and Denise Nuttall, I fondly acknowledgefor their critical and editorial advice.Lastly, I would like to thank my friends and siblings for their steadfast support inall things I have ventured to do.1IntroductionDisplacement involves the invention of new forms of subjectivities, ofpleasures, of intensities, of relationships, which also implies the continuousrenewal of a critical work that looks carefully and intensively at the verysystem of values to which one refers in fabricating the tools of resistance [andexistence] (Trinh 1991:19).This essay is a compilation of stories of Punjabi Silth women who work in the fishcanneries in northwestern British Columbia. These women migrate to work from theirhome communities for four or more months annually. The stories were told to me byTirath Aunty-ji1 and Jagdish Aunty-ji. The stories are their commentaries on cannerywork, on work relations, and on being South Asian Canadian women. Fragments fromconversations with twelve of the other ten dozen or so women that work in the canneriesare interspersed throughout the essay. The story within these stories is of me: a SouthAsian Canadian woman anthropologist and the daughter of one of these women who isconducting research in my home community.When examining the individuals and groups that make up the South Asiancollectivity (Buchignani 1985, Chadney 1984), especially with respect to women (Nadoo1984, 1980; Ghosh 1984, 1983), researchers generally have focused on the interface ofcultural contact in terms of accommodation or assimilation models (Ames and Srivastava1989, Dua 1992, Mathur 1990), which result in two dimensional portraits ofmultidimensional communities. By employing “difference” as an analytical category, Ihave attempted to extend my examination beyond the intersections of differences of race,gender and class, to include various differences transported in the migration processwhich still have currency in the Canadian context. These differences of ethnic, regional,age, caste, and class variations continue to shape our identities and our daily lives.1 In Punjabi, Aunty follows the person’s first name. Even when we speak in English, wefollow this pattern. When addressing the person directly, we also depart from English andonly use Aunty-ji as it is considered rude to address a senior by her/his first name.2In keeping with an emerging style of anthropological writing which rejectsseparation of story-rich ethnography and theoretical analysis, I chose to present the mainprotagonists of my research through narratives (Behar 1993, Tedlock 1992, Narayan1989). These narratives are strategic textualizations. The stories serve a purpose andrepresent particular points of view: “they are thus incipiently analytical, enacting theory”(Narayan 1993:681).I am attempting to demonstrate, by presenting individual socio-histories andnarratives, the process whereby “difference” and differences are conceived, gain currencyand are transmitted in a group of individuals comprising a minority community. Due tothe limitation of space, I am only including the narratives of two individuals in anattempt to put faces on the monolith that is the South Asian collectivity. Narrativeethnography also provides me with the opportunity to reconstruct the “role” of“informants”:Narrative transforms “informants” whose chief role is to spew cultural datafor the anthropologist into subjects with complex lives and a range ofopinions (that may even subsume the anthropological enterprise). At amoment in which scholarship has a “multinational reception”, it seems moreurgent than ever that anthropologists acknowledge that it is people and nottheoretical puppets who populate our texts, and that we allow these peopleto speak out from our writings. (Ibid:681)This aspect of narrative ethnography is especially important to me with regard to my ongoing membership in the Punjabi-Sikh community. My insider status calls for thedismantling of objective distance.3An Interlude in the CanneryIt is Sunday afternoon, and my parents and I are sitting around enjoying a cup oftea. The phone rings at 4:15 pm. My mother, I address her as Bibi, has been expecting acall from the cannery so she tells us she will pick up the phone. She picks up thereceiver, listens for a few seconds, and hangs up. I ask who it was. As she is telling methat it was the cannery calling, she is busy dialling Narinder Aunty’s house. She informsAunty that the cannery just called and asks whether Raminder Aunty or Kashmir Auntyis driving. After confirming that Raminder Aunty is driving, Bibi hangs up. She thendials the cannery number and passes the receiver to me. She tells me to speak to thepersonnel woman and to ask her when they are to report to work and to ask, also, ifnumber 105, Santokh Auntytsnumber, has been called. Also she wants to know howmuch work there is. I speak to the person on the other end, and she tells me Bibi is toreport to work at 7:30 am, Monday. The woman on the line tells me that they have notcalled number 105 yet, and there is lots of work. The personnel woman informs me thatbecause they have received such a large quantity of fish and are still expecting more, theplant is starting a night shift as well. After hanging up, I ask my mother why she did nottake the call from the cannery in the first place. She tells me that it is cheaper for her tocall back than it is to accept a collect call. Over time, the costs would add up if she tookcollect calls.Later that same night, my mother and I pack our clothes, and I pack my researchmaterials as well. We store the left-overs from dinner in plastic containers for lunch thenext day.My mother wakes me at 4:30 am the next morning, and we both get ready andhave our tea. Papa-ji, my father, also gets up to sit with us while we wait for RaminderAunty to arrive. My mom is always the last one to be picked up because our house is4furthest from town. Most of the women my mother works with live in the centre of town.Our ride arrives. All the women are dressed in sweat suits and have their heads coveredwith company-issued orange and green scarves. It is still dark outside as we all climbinto the car and proceed to make our way to the highway for Prince Rupert. KashmirAunty tells us all that she had frozen the dais2 and sabjts leftover from the langar at thelast sangrcindh celebration of a week ago, so we do not have to worry about food for theweek.Most of the talk in the car revolves around Narinder Aunty’s son’s wedding. Hemarried a gori he met at school. Apparently, rumour has it, he had previously beeninvolved with another white woman in town. She had become pregnant, and he hadabandoned her and convinced her to have an abortion. I had overheard a few women atthe gurdwara discussing Narinder Aunty’s son. Those women did not respect him forwhat he had done to this young woman. They believed that if you are going to take upwith anyone - Punjabi or white - do the honourable thing and get married and betogether. They felt that the young woman was the victim in all this, and that she, too, issomeon&s daughter.Everyone is asking Narinder Aunty what her daughter-in-law is like. We allinquire about what they had bought for the bar the menu they had planned for thereception, the gifts they had purchased for the girl’s family. The topic then changes todiscussion of one of the townswomen, and the arrival of her two newly born grandsons.Apparently, this woman is planning a party for everyone to celebrate the arrival of theirgrandsons. “Her health is much better. She looks like she has recovered from the cancertreatment,” Raminder Aunty intervenes. The woman being discussed is her sister-in-law...2 Punjabi words are italicized throughout the essay. Please refer to the glossary at theend of the essay for definitions.5The drive to Prince Rupert is magnificent. The highway follows the Skeena Riverto its meeting place with the ocean. We travel along with beautiful mountain peaks onboth sides of us and the river on our right. It is a beautiful way to start the day.I am dropped off at Gurminder’s house where my mother and her friends rent aroom together and share kitchen and bathroom facilities with the family. We make plansfor me to meet them at the cannery at noon for the lunch break.I walk to the cannery and weave my way through the giant, unpaved parking lot.I check with Personnel in the portable office to the left side of the plant and inform a staffperson that I am there to visit with my mother. I make my way to the cannery.The odours of fish and stagnant salt water permeate the air. The fish plant is alarge two level, wood framed structure situated at the water’s edge, to one side of thetown. I am first bombarded by the strong smell of fish as I enter the plant and thendeafened by the din of the machines - the harsh clanging of the trays of fish as they arestacked and unstacked and as the fish are unloaded onto collecting trays, the revving andbraking of forklifts as they shuttle back and forth transporting trays to various localesinside the plant, the incessant swishing and grinding of the mazes of conveyor belts asthey move fish and cans to their various destinations, the clinking and crunching ofcleaning machines where the fish are decapitated, slit and gutted and then passed on tothe women that stand on the lines to inspect and clean any residual blood and guts, theslamming of monstrous freezer doors as they are opened and closed, and the clinking andclanking of the cans as they jerkily move along in a continuous stream being filled withsalmon and then inspected and sealed.The environment is cold and wet from the constant cold running water washingaway waste from cleaned fish and the lines. The water from the hoses is kept ready towash the floors at regular intervals. The opening and closing of the freezers and the6melting ice as the fish are packed onto and unpacked from 4x4 foot aluminum trayscontribute to the bleak atmosphere.The perceptible smell of fish disappears after about 10-15 seconds as my olfactorynerve is overloaded and ceases to respond to the odour. As I gradually adjust to theclamour, the lunch hour horn goes off. The sudden cessation of noise is followed by adeafening silence. Everything comes to a standstill. Relief for the workers from thepandemonium is found in coffee breaks and lunch breaks when all the machinery andwork comes to a timed halt. Workers make their way to the rest stops. One stream ofworkers moves out of the plant, some to smoke and others to get fresh air and to grablunch from the concession truck. Another stream converges at the stairwell climbing upto the lunch rooms.For the last ten years, there has been a non-smoking lunchroom located at the veryback of the building. Out of convenience, and in order to maximize their break time, thePunjabi women, who are all non-smokers, continued to use the main lunchroom at the topof the stairs. Only in the last few years, when the smoke became a real irritant, havesome of the women shifted to the back room.The atmosphere in the lunchrooms and halls on the second level is boisterous androwdy as workers make their way to coffee urns, microwaves and tables, chatting amongthemselves constantly, in some cases conversing across the room. A group of Punj abiwomen I recognize from Terrace, Kitimat and Prince Rupert make their way to a couple oftables in the middle of the cafeteria style sitting area in the main lunch room. A couple ofthe women wave to me, recognizing me as Mohinder’s daughter. I do not go over becauseJasi Aunty has spotted me coming up the stairs and comes over to take me to my motherand her friends. “No we do not reserve tables, but over time people know which tablesare used by whom, and everyone continues to go back to those tables out of habit,”7Sarinder later responds to my inquiry of where people end up sitting in the lunchrooms.I make my way to the non-smoking lunchroom accompanied by Jasi Aunty. She isan old friend of our family’s. I cannot remember a time when we did not know her andher family. We have not seen each other in over eight years, and we spend our timediscussing her kids as we make our way to the back of the building. She has threechildren and they are all grown up now, of course. However, it is difficult for me topicture them as other than the little kids that we used to play with. She is havingproblems with her daughter who just graduated from high school. “She does not listen tome, and comes and goes at all times of the day and night,” Jasi Aunty tells me. I tell herI would like to visit her in Kitimat on the weekend, if they get time off, to interview her.She says that if I come I can also speak to her daughter and give her some guidance -maybe interest her in going on in school. I agree to speak to her daughter and thank herfor being willing to participate in my research.The hallway leading to the smokefree lunchroom is a maze with doors leading offin every direction. The smell of curried food and the sound of laughter and Punjabiconversation herald my entry into the room. The Punjabi women occupy three of the fivetables in the room. When the season is in full swing, the number of Punjabi women is inexcess of 120, with approximately forty women from each of the three towns. The numbervaries with the amount of fish the cannery receives. For a couple of weeks every summer,a night shift is added which brings in even more workers.“The atmosphere is that of a meld. It is mostly raunak-melã. Lots of talk andlaughter. Really, work is a time for all of us to get together and visit.” This is ManjitAunty’s description of work. All of the women I spoke to placed the emphasis of work lifeon the breaks and free time after work that they have together. The clamour of themachinery makes it impossible to carry on a conversation while they are working, so they8really only visit during their breaks. “The talk is non-stop. We never run out of things totalk about,” Jasi Aunty tells me. Everything is a topic for discussion, including their ownlives, each other’s lives, and the gossip that has accumulated in each of the towns sincethese women were last together.It has been a long morning for these women. There was a fifteen minute coffeebreak at 10:00 am, and there will be another coffee break in the afternoon. They areexpecting to work until 7:00 pm, at which time the clean up crew will come in to hose themachinery and floors down for the night shift. Since they are working until 7:00 pm,there will be another half-hour break at 5:00 pm.I meet with everyone and tell them about how I have spent the last few yearsaway from home. They ask me what I am studying, and this allows me to introduce myresearch topic and explain my presence at the cannery. They are all a bit leery of thekind of information I may want, but good-naturedly, some of them agree to speak to me.Most of the women say that they do not think they have anything valuable to say. Also,they tell me that since I had worked here before, for one season ten years ago, with thesesame women, why do I not write whatever needs to be written from the knowledge Ialready have? While we are all still talking, the horn goes off, marking the end of thebreak. They gather up their things, containers and remaining food, and drop them off attheir lockers. I follow my mother through the locker room. She adjusts her smock andscarf and puts on her gloves as she goes, taking the short-cut this time. Workers maketheir way down to the plant floor. The commotion and racket of the machinery as wecome down the stairs shatters what seems to have been only a momentary calm. Workersscatter to their stations, and I slowly make my way out of the plant.9On Ethnicity and DifferenceSouth Asian ethnic identities in the Canadian context differ in the negotiationsand experiences of them because they are complicated by differences among members ofthe communities in addition to differences of race, gender and class. These additionaldifferences include regional, ethnic, religious, caste, age, and class variations originatingin South Asia. The concept of ethnic identities found in anthropological literature onSouth Asians does not adequately address the diversity within the collectivity at the levelof these differences. The literature on South Asian Canadian women is problematic forthe same reason.Difference - phark - is as much a word in these South Asian Canadian women’svocabularies as it is in Third World feminist theory (Mohanty 1991, Spivak 1987, Trinh1989), black feminist theory (Collins 1990, Davis 1981, hooks 1990), and cultural studies(Appadurai 1991, Clifford 1988). These women use the word phark to describe thedistinctive treatment they receive in the workplace and to describe their situation inCanada. Jagdish’s response to my question “how do non-Punjabi workers and staff treatyou?” was “s&le nãl phark kar dhey hai (they make a distinction between us [and them]).”These women use the word to distinguish between themselves and members of thedominant community, as well as members of other minority communities. “Sãde vichphark hai (there is a difference between us),” was Tirath’s response to my question “areyou a Canadian?”In my discussion of the lives of the subjects of this research, I am extending thecategory of difference to include differences in race, gender, and class, as well as thevarious differences of regional, ethnic, caste, religion and age, in order to illuminate themultitudes of experiences reflected in this small group of women. Specifically, I amemploying difference in this paper to illustrate the positioned perspective South Asian10Canadian women. I also attempt to demonstrate how difference is employed in practiceby these South Asian Canadian women in negotiating their everyday lives.Difference is a palpable phenomenon in the cannery environment. It findsexpression in the concentration of South Asian women on the fish cleaning lines, ratherthan the canning lines, and of separate tables of South Asians, Euro-Canadians, andNative Canadians in the lunchroom. These women I worked with have created a well-defined space for themselves. They convey through every avenue open to them that theybelong there as much as anyone else in that cannery. They are self-assured as theyconverse with each other in Punjabi, and as they greet their non-Punjabi co-workers witha casual “hi, how are you” in English. They walk with self-assurance in their company-issued green smocks and scarves and black rubber boots as they make their way down thehallway or to their tables in the lunch room. Difference is elaborated in the form ofbringing Punjabi food for lunch and getting their noses pierced. Nose rings have becomefashionable again after a lapse of twenty years or so in the Punjab. The trend has beentransported to Canada as well. Consequently, a couple of women recently had their nosespierced. The company has a jewellery policy as part of their health and safetyregulations, and it was forced to address the issue by formulating a clause concerningnose rings. Since the formulation of the clause, women who have nose rings either haveto remove them while on the job site or cover the ring with a piece of medical tape.The differences between these women and the non-Punjabi women are many.However, rather than seeing themselves as marginal in some way, they revel in who theyare: Punjabi-Sikh Canadian women. This translates into various expressions such asbuying a beautiful silk salwãr-kãmeez or purchasing a new piece of jewellery in 22-23ktwith some of their earnings. The aesthetic is Indian, Punjabi. The aesthetic is Canadian,too. For example, the new house Narinder Aunty is having built will have a formal living11and dining room, and Sarinder Aunty just bought a dough making machine for makingchpãttis3.Difference is also palpable amongst themselves as their lives are now on differenttrajectories. For example, the number of children each woman has varies; the ages andsexes4 of the children vary; whether they married within the community or out of thecommunity varies; and where the women are making their homes varies. Half a dozenwomen from Terrace now make their homes in Vancouver because their children havemoved out of the Skeena Valley to marry and/or to find work.Although similar in many respects, their lives are played out in different ways.Among similar caste members, these women discussed each other using negativestereotyped caste membership attributes. For instance, a Jat woman characterizedRajput community members as untrustworthy. Differences in regional origins in Indiaand caste membership also surface in moments of conflicts and in marriage arrangements.Consequently, the “difference” of being South Asian in Canada must be envisioned as“differences,” which are multiple and intersect with each other in complex ways.The issues of gender can be broken down to illustrate how the economic situationof families facilitated a shift in thinking about women’s place and women’s work as wellas the participation of husbands and children in the home. Further, it is important tonote here that as members of Sikhism, we are taught that both sexes are equal, everyoneSome of the women told me about the difficult work they had to do in the village beforecoming to Canada. Now, when they go back to the Punjab to visit, they are amazed at allthe appliances available there. In fact, what they missed most were the old, manualmadhdnrs for churning butter. Now, most homes in the smallest of villages have purchasedelectric madhãnis.Male children continue to provide their families with higher status by the sheeraccident of their sex. Families with more boys then girls are considered luckier becausePunjabis are patriarchical people and the family line is carried on by males. Also, girls areconsidered unlucky because of the added risk of ensuring “purity”: girls can get pregnant andbring shame to their family if it occurs outside of marriage. There is also the expense ofproviding a dowry at one’s daughter’s wedding.12is responsible for her/his own well-being. In fact, this ethos is extended to the home. InJãpji Sãhib, the Sikh morning prayer found in the holy book the Guru Granth Sãhib,there are direct references to washing your own clothes if they are dirty and working inorder to feed and house yourself. As much as there is an emphasis on sevã in Sikhism,which loosely translates as “helping others,” there is also emphasis on helping one self.This liberating ideology may help to explain why Punjabi women do not perceivethemselves as submissive, like the stereotypical Indian women depicted in the academicliterature and in mainstream media (Dubois 1993, Nadoo 1984), but rather as enabledand powerful.The issues of class can be examined on a number of fronts. These women could bedescribed as working-class, due to their work in the cannery. However, even though theirspending habits may not reflect this status, in most instances, their families’ combinedincomes categorize them as middle-class, This economic position enables cross-classmarriages. Parents are also able to support their children in completing universityeducations and consequently, in moving out of the labouring classes.In seeking to convey the multiple realities of these Punjabi-Sikh South AsianCanadian working-class women living in northern British Columbia, I have sought topresent stories that supersede the hyphenated identities that are thrust upon us as wehave taken up residence in this land not of our birth (Thobani 1991, Jiwani 1992). Infact, these women have found ways to interact on their own terms with the dominantcommunity. In some instances, the dominant society is only tangential to their world asthey move through their lives. For example, when they go grocery shopping, they can gostraight to the Indian section of the supermarket. They can purchase fruits andvegetables they are familiar with and have created a market for in the northwest. Whenwatching television, their passion lies with the all day Saturday South Asian13programming on Vision Television, or with renting Hindi movies at the local Punjabigroceries. On the other hand, they also feel and act “at home” here in Canada. Theymingle with their co-workers and their neighbours, whether Punjabi or non-Punjabi.Situating KnowledgesThe experience of growing up in the Skeena Valley and travelling among the townsof Terrace, Kitimat, and Prince Rupert, was the foundation of my life as an “East Indian”(a misnomer as there is no East India and the term comes from the East India Company),a “Punjabi-Sikh,” an “Indo-Canadian” (a term I never liked and avoided), and the latestcatch-all descriptor, “South Asian.” I have never been referred to as a Canadian exceptwhen I have been travelling outside of Canada, defending myself against racists, neoNazis, etc., or when casting a vote in an election.Although there is a generation gap between me and the women I worked with, I doshare a past with them. Like many of them, I came to this country twenty-two years agowith my family. My father had been in the country for two years already, and wefollowed him on a tourist visa two years later to the Skeena Valley. He had foundemployment as a mechanic in a sawmill. With a new house on the other side of thetracks, furniture and appliances requiring payments and four young mouths to feed, mymother soon went to work.She found out about work in the canneries through a neighbour. And in thesummer of 1974, she travelled to Prince Rupert during July and was hired to work thenext day on the lines cleaning fish. We grew up with our mother going away for 3-4months each year. She would come home on weekends when there was a break in thework. More than half of the women of the families ciose to our family did this same work.Having a membership in this community as a daughter of one of the members of14the circle of women I interviewed and spent time with, and having lived in Terrace,allowed me access to intimate knowledge of their lives and histories. My relationship tothem was that of a niece. They are all, in a sense, my Aunties, and I address each ofthem as Aunty-ji in everyday conversation, and do so in this essay out of respect for ourrelationship. Ji is the honorific term of respect used when addressing elders.Membership also presented problems regarding access to information. Trustbecame an issue. My interviewees wanted to know who would see the information I wasgathering, who was funding my research, and why I was approaching them in particular.A number of times they asked me to simply speak to the cannery management people ordraw upon my experience in the cannery in order to acquire the information I wanted. Ialso had difficulty in convincing the women that what they had to say about their livesand work was important. They did not think their experiences were of any significance.Eventually, they spoke with me because I was known to them, and I told them that ourconversations would help me write my thesis. I also conveyed to them that non-Punjabiresearchers worked among us all the time, and I wanted to contribute as a Punjabi tosome of that literature.An outsider would have access to different information than an insider (Zavella1991, 1987). In this instance, s/he may have been able to acquire more in-depthexplanations on issues that are not openly discussed within the Punjabi community.Issues such as inter-racial marriages, marital tensions and problems with children’sbehaviour are frequently talked about in the larger community. In the Punjabicommunity, people rarely talk to each other about such issues because of the worry, “whatwill people think?” Also, there exists the consideration that a Euro-Canadian may beperceived as providing a more important audience than me.On the other hand, I had access to infbrmation that an outsider would not have15access to simply because I am. an insider. I also had the added privilege of knowing thePunjabi language. Paradoxically, because I occupy a privileged position of an insider,some of the information I was privy to has to remain “inside” because of my continuedmembership in this community.Another consideration for me is the way South Asians are profiled in mainstreammedia. South Asian “traditions” are typically presented as “alien” customs - dowries,arranged marriages, sex-selection ( Dubois 1993, Thobani 1991). As Sikhs, with the riseof the Khalistan movement (Oberoi 1994) and the media attention given to the turbanissue in the Armed Forces and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, we have foundourselves singled out for less than positive mosaic attributes.We constantly grapple with the issues of race even though most of us holdCanadian citizenship. The issues of ethnic identities are elusive to all of us. Onerespondent replied thus to my question “do you consider yourself Canadian?”Of course I am Canadian. I have a Canadian passport. I do not think Icould go back to India even if I wanted to because I gave up my Indianpassport. Also, I like it here. My life is here. All my children are marriedhere. Two of sons’ wives came over from India. I am as comfortable inpants as I am in saiwar-kameezes. But I am also Punjabi, I am a Sikh. Imarried all my children in our caste. You cannot let those things go either.I do not think about what I am first.. .Punjabi, Canadian. I am all thosethings. We cannot give up our roots. And the only way they [Euro-Canadians] would accept us completely would be if we painted ourselveswhite, and we cannot do that. I do not know how all that works. I live mylife the best I can.All of this makes my role as a researcher a tenuous one. I necessarily have to besensitive to the various audiences, knowing that readers will rarely be of South Asianorigin. The South Asian collectivity is as important an audience to me as the academicone. What is therefore responsible reporting? How do I respectfully present these storiesso that the information will be interpreted by the reader in a manner that is respectful?Because this thesis is a public document, all possible audiences must be taken into16account. The work I do cannot jeopardize the well-being of the individuals involved, northe community I am a member of and which I respect. This community is engaged in anon-going struggle for economic, political and social status. To be too free with informationwould presuppose “an equal society where everyone has the right to make the kind ofstatement or image they want” (Jiwani 1992:12).It presupposes that there are no structured preferences wherein one colourof skin is privileged over others. Difference in such an utopic landscapebecomes just that difference. And society becomes a cacophony of voices andvisions competing in a market-place, and accessible to all. The image isakin to the notion of this country as a mosaic wherein each part is valuedas much as another. The reality as we know it is quite different. Unequalpower relations are the norm. (Jiwani 1992:12).I have to be careful what information I reveal in order not to insult my compatriots in apublic arena which has demonstrated little sympathy for South Asians (Indra 1981,Thobani 1991, Dubois 1993). I have respected my respondents’ wishes to remainanonymous. I have only lightly touched on topics of marital tension and marital statusbecause these remain as sensitive topics for a couple of the women I interviewed, and theybelieved that pseudonyms were not enough. They felt that regardless of how I wroteabout them, I would be unable to protect their identities. Consequently, I had to altersome details to protect their privacy.I interviewed eight women in total. All of these women have been living innorther British Columbia since the early 1970s. Six were members of the group mymother has been with for the last sixteen years. These women have worked together,travelled together, and lived together during their annual migrations to Prince Rupert. Iconducted in-depth group interviews with these six women. In order to dampen theirfears that I was not on some reconnaissance mission from the government, I asked mymother to be present during the group interviews. My mother’s presence and sharing ofinformation way-laid their fears. I taped all of the interviews in order to use as many of17the womens’ own words as possible. All of the quotes included in the essay are directtranslations from the interviews. Most of the interviews were conducted in their homeswhile they were off work. I chose two of the respondents, Tirath Aunty and JagdishAunty, to describe in greater detail and thereby round out the picture of these Punjabiwomen cannery workers. I have used pseudonyms, however, because they requestedanonymity.I joined the women in Prince Rupert for a period of two weeks. I went to thecannery during their breaks to speak to them, to observe them, and listen in on theirconversations. I joined two guided tours offered by the cannery to learn about thedifferent operations of the plant. All this proved informative although it was still difficultto have the respondents speak freely about their personal lives because, in part, they wereunconvinced they had anything valuable to say.The Gift of StoriesThe following are stories told by Tirath and Jagdish Aunty-jis. The first storychronicles the life of Tirath Aunty-ji. She is a Punjabi-Sikh woman. She was born in asmall village in Jullandar district to a poor Jat family, the youngest of five girls and twoboys. Her father and brothers are all farmers. Her marriage was arranged by an aunt,and Tirath Aunty-ji was married at twenty-one to a man from Hoshiarpur district. Shehas three girls and one boy. She told me she is fifty-six, but she does not know herbirthday because there were no records in the village. She knows though that she wasborn in the month of March. Aunty-ji completed a basic elementary education in hervillage school, but did not go on to further education because the nearest high school was15 miles away and would have meant too much travel time. In fact, all of the women Iworked with, who are from rural villages, had found themselves in similar situations.18Their families have been involved in agricultural work for centuries. These women couldnot have received more than an elementary education unless a high school existed in theirvillage because their help was needed at home and in the fields. Also, young womenwould be discouraged from travelling any distance to school because their safety could notbe ensured. Another factor in not sending daughters to school in order to receive highereducation, was that parents could not foresee a paid work future for their daughtersbecause the opportunities were minimal.Today, even women in rural villages are able to travel to urban centres by bicycleor bus where high schools exist to complete a high school education at the very least. AndEnglish medium schools are now commonplace in most urban centres5. A few of thewomen I interviewed, whose families had lived in towns or had close relatives in urbancentres, had received secondary and post-secondary education. Consequently, they hadsome fluency in English, which is part of the general curriculum after grade six. This wasthe case with Tirath Aunty. She now understands English after having lived in Canadaso long, but she speaks it haltingly and tells me she does not have the fluency to carry onan in-depth conversation. However, she does speak and read English well enough to takemessages on the the phone, speak to neighbours, and do all of her shopping.Tirath Aunty-jiMy sister-in-law said to me, ‘You have three daughters. What else can you do? Youhave to go [to Canada].’ So I told my husband that we had to try this. We couldn’t offerour children any kind of future there.. .so we borrowed, took all our savings.. .and I told himI spent two and half months in Punjab in the spring of 1994, residing in both villagesand urban centres. My knowledge of the growing numbers of women receiving highereduction stems from direct observation of the activities in my relatives’ homes andconversations I had with women of various ages. Also, I became acquainted with youngwomen during visits to schools in the Punjab.19I would take care of my in-laws and the children... we had to make this work.Aunty-ji’s father-in-law’s parents had died during an epidemic while he and hisbrother were very young. They had been raised by their Mãsi As a young man, thefather-in-law had migrated from Amritsar district to Hoshiarpur district to take ateaching post. He had made his home in a nearby by village, purchasing a house and asmall plot of land. His sons later added to the family’s land holdings. It was notsufficient to provide a good standard of living, however. Furthermore, since Aunty-ji hasthree daughters, raising money to finance their future weddings and provide substantialdowries were looming problems: without sufficient dowries she would have been unableto arrange good marriage matches to well-educated and well-established men.I have lived without shoes so my kids would have shoes. We had a small plot ofland far away from the village where I would go to get fodder. I know what poverty is.. .1lived it. My kids don’t understand because we gave them everything, but I cannot forgetthose days. Even now when I go back to India, I find it difficult to spend rupees even withthe exchange because I have lived with so little.Tirath, following her husband, came to Canada in 1972 as a visitor. She speakswith humour and pride of her first encounter with Canadians.The immigration people took me and the children aside and started to question meabout what I was doing here. They brought an apni girl who worked for them because Idid not speak English. She asked me over and over what my real intentions were since Ionly had a visitor’s visa. I simply told her I was here to visit my husband. She insistedthat she did not believe me. She thought it was impossible that I had come for a visit withfour small children in tow. I made it clear to her that I had my elderly in-laws to care forback home and that I would be back at the airport to bid her sat srt ãkaal6 when I6 ‘Sat sriakaal’ translates to ‘Truth shall reign’ and serves as a salutation among Sikhs.20returned to India.. .1 wonder if she is still waiting.I barely made the connecting flight to Terrace after all that interrogation. Theyfound a Punjabi man going up to Terrace in the waiting area who knew my husband andasked him to help us if we needed anything since we did not speak English. My husbandwas waiting for us when we arrived. The two younger children did not recognize him aftertwo years, of course, and they were quite frightened of him. Also, they had notcomprehended how far we had come. In their minds we had simply gone to visit my natalvillage. Often, over the course of the first year, any time one of the two would get angrywith your uncle, they would turn to me and say “let’s go home.”Tirath’s husband, Uncle-ji to me, had purchased a house in a new subdivision amonth before his family’s arrival. She quickly learned about payments and purchasingitems on credit. He wanted us to have the best of everything - we had a new house. It wasa wonderful home, a television, all new furniture.The neighbourhood developed over the course of the year as the houses werecompleted and as more Punjabi families joined the men. It became a real mixedcommunity. But at first there was only our house and the houses immediately around ourhouse.. .for the first year.. there were only gor families which was good for the children... tohave those kids around them because they learned English quickly... and we learned howthe gors lived. Tirath recalls that as the houses were completed a number of Punjabifamilies moved onto their street. There was also a Greek family and a Chinese family intheir neighbourhood.The gurdwara was built in 1977. It continues to function as a religious site and asa community centre. It is a place where people met each other and new immigrants. Atfirst, we got to know the couple of men your uncle roomed with for the year he was in townbefore we had arrived, and then their frmilies joined them. There were two Punjabi houses21in our area, and we became friends with them as well. The men [of those two families]worked in the mill also.Tirath learned about cannery work through one of these families: . . . it was throughSucha Singh ‘s wife that I found out about the cannery... my husband drove me to PrinceRupert that summer in 1974, and I put in my application. I was hired that summer andgot called to work two days after I put in the application.In 1974, when Tirath started working, her children were still quite young, andtheir well-being was a concern to both her and her husband. The idea of daycare or ababysitter was not a familiar one as the concept was non-existent in Indian life. In India,childcare would be provided by a family member. Daycare was not a feasible optionfinancially since Aunty was away anywhere from five to 13 days at a stretch. All of theother Punjabi children were of similar ages to Aunty’s so they had playmates and theirmothers would keep an eye on them while the children played. Essentially, the two ofthem relied on Uncle-ji’s proximity at work and his shift rotation to suffice for childcare.When I first started working my kids were very young, but my eldest I felt couldlook after the younger ones. My husband was on shiftwork at the mill - there were threeshifts at the mill. In those days, I worried a lot in case there was a fire at the house, sincethe houses were wooden. Also there was the concern that the children would be harmed insome other way. Your uncle would come on lunch breaks to make sure the kids were allright. He would also call the kids from the mill. My oldest was ten when I startedworking. After the initial tension of leaving my kids, I enjoyed going to work once I knewthey were able to care for themselves.The most difficult time for all families was during the herring season in March andApril. At this time, the children were in school so they had to manage with school workand house work. The salmon season during July and August was easier as the children22were off on summer holidays. At the latest, the women may be called in for the first twoweeks of September, but this was rare.Initially, there were difficulties in organizing rides to and from Prince Rupert andto and from the cannery because the women were not acquainted with each other. Oncerides were worked out, and they had established a niche for themselves among the nonPunjabi workers at the cannery, work provided the opportunity to meet and socialize withother women from all three towns. The opportunity to develop close friendships spilledover to non-work life and provided social ties for the entire family.There [in Prince Rupert] we face no hardship, there are five-six-seven of us livingtogether - these are times of raunaq-melã, of fun and laughter. It is time to be with allthese other women - there were women from all three towns working in the cannery. I gotto know many of the women well. Of course then we did not have the close connections forrides and house-mates that developed after the first or second season. If I received a callfrom work, it did not matter if it was only four hours of work, I would even take thegreyhound bus to get to work. Sometimes my husband would drive me if his shift allowedit. I couldn’t refuse work because I had no seniority. And any money was good. But itwas difficult going on the bus and making our way through the snow. It is a difficulttreacherous highway in the winter.., although they have improved the highway since then.The kids were still in school for the herring season, it was difficult leaving them to fend forthemselves. Yes, it was difficult then.At first, it was a difficult adjustment period for the family as well. The husband’sand children’s response to a working mother has been analyzed in terms of family models.Depending on the family model each individual family member has internalized, it can besmooth transition or a situation fraught with tension and conflict (Zavella 1991;Lamphere 1987, 1985). Also, there is extensive literature on the double shift, describing23the dual burden of paid work and housework that most women in the paid labour forceare left to deal with when husbands do not take on the shared responsibilities ofhomemaker (Hartman 1981, Hochschild 1989, Hoffman 1974). However, the researchdoes not account for the effects of temporary migrations which characterize these women’swork lives. In this case, women physically remove themselves from home and town.They may be away anywhere from one day when the season is just starting to 13-14 daystretches when large quantities of fish arrive. In this situation, it is impossible for thefamily to wait for the “wife and mother” to come home and fix dinner or clean house.From the start, the families were forced to fend for themselves.In Tirath’s case, her work role was necessitated by economic need, and thetransition for her husband and children in taking up household duties was difficultbecause her children were so young. But the transition was made. There was also theadditional factor that young Punjabi girls have always had to learn to carry householdresponsibilities at an early age. As such, Tirath Aunty’s oldest daughter stepped in.Conflict and tensions arose between husbands and wives when there wereproblems at home with the children.. .were they being raised in the proper way, not losingtheir respect for their elders, respect for their religion or culture? Arguments flared upamong couples if the children were behaving badly. However, all of the women agreedthat they came to Canada knowing that everyone worked and that it was expected ofthem. There was no question that they would go back every season to the canneries.My husband did not have problems with my working. We had no choice really. Weneeded to buy things, pay off the house, the appliances. If the kids started misbehaving,which was not often, that was when he would complain that it was a result of my working.He would say that I should quit my job and stay home in order to provide discipline forthe children, but we both knew that I had to work. For the first year, I would sometimes24cook enough food, on the weekend when I was home, to last the children a couple of days.But my husband and children didn’t enjoy eating leftovers, and my oldest daughterlearned how to make rotiEs. Between my husband, who would make the dãl and sabji, andAman, who would make the rotis for everyone, it worked out fine. They took over the housethe best they could. And having girls means they have to learn to keep house and minejust learned to do it while they were still young.The work environment has become a friendlier place over the years, Aunty-ji tellsme. And she does not give any importance to the work itself because, as all the womenexpressed, they saw work as a means to an end. The social aspect of work plays animportant role for all the women. Although she is self-deprecating about her work, it hastaken its toll on her physically over the years. She and her friends are plagued by healthproblems from the long hours on their feet, the poor ventilation, and allergic reactions tothe organic matter in the air.The work I do is fttst-paced, but it does not require strength. The floor ladies don’tlike us talking or are on our backs all the time: “work faster, faster!” they say. It is notdifficult work, though, so in that we are fortunate. There is the noise and the smell of thecannery, but we do not notice anymore. When the call comes, the day before or thatmorning, we know ahead of time who is driving, and we all know each other’s numbers[employee numbers] so we know who is going. There is a cluster of us with the mostseniority, and we get called together. We verify with the driver that she is going andsometimes when the driver is not called or there are only a few hours of work for that dayonly, then it is not feasible for us to pay for the ride and rent and not make back what wespend.. .plus all the headache ofgetting organized With my seniority, I now feel confidentand say no if the timing or hours are not good.This season, we went in one day and put in four hours of work and personnel could25not say when the next call-in would be so we came home. After that, I have turned thecannery down a couple of times because they could not guarantee more than that day’swork. Because we are seasonal workers, my main concern is to get enough stamps(insurable weeks) to get U.I. (unemployment insurance), although I have enough seniorityto be fairly sure of that every season. This herring season stretched for eleven weeks. Itwas long and I made most of my stamps there. And this salmon season, there is talk of astrike by the fishermen. The season has not really started and we are already into lateJuly.I would not do this work on a full time basis. It is too difficult to be on your feet allday, I get bronchial infections every season.. .1 take antibiotics all season long. I do notenjoy the work itself but I enjoy working because I can buy things for my home, my selfmy family.. .go to India to visit.., cover the cost of weddings. We came here to improve oursituation, to work and provide a better future for our children. We have done the best wecould, now we want to see our children do well... and be happy.Aunty-ji is proud of her membership in the United Fishermen and Allied WorkersUnion (UFAWtJ) and has used the union when there have been problems at work. Theproblems Aunty has encountered have had to do with errors on Records of Employmentwhich in turn created problems when she went to apply for Unemployment Insurance.She recounted the number of times she saw her picture in newspaper articles and ontelevision news when they were out on the picket lines. South Asian women have ahistory of being active in political struggles in their places of work (Westwood 1984,Aggarwal 1987), and this history can be traced back to India (Guha 1989; Sanghera1990a, 1990b).I have walked out when the union has called strikes in the past, but usually it hasnothing to do with us in the cannery. Mostly the strikes have to do with grievances of the26fishermen, but we go out there on the picket lines when the union people tell us to. Theunion is good. We have good wages, and when there has been a problem we have gone toour shop steward. A couple of times our women, a couple of apniãn, have been shopstewards. Now, whoever is shop steward, the company and the union always use aninterpreter for us. But the company is good, too. All the people in Personnel know us byfirst name. We have been there for twenty years now, and they treat us well.Relations with other workers have always been good, she assured me. She issometimes discouraged that her English is not sufficient to really converse with her nonPunjabi co-workers, especially the women she has worked with for the last two decades.The only discrimination she wanted to elaborate on was the treatment they received fromthe forewomen. She, along with the other women, mocked the forewomen’s behaviour,and they laughed it off. They pointed out that they had learned to deal with the floor-ladies in their own way.Sometimes there have been problems on the floor.., the floor-ladies [forewomen]harassing us when we took breaks to go to the bathroom. The floor-lady tells us we were inthere for 7 minutes or 11 minutes. They always seem to watch the clock for us, but they[non-Indian] women take all the breaks they want and for as long as they want. A lot ofthese women smoke in the bathroom.. .so now we know we can take as long as we need to inthe bathroom, and we ignore their harassment. What can they do? They only give us thiskind of treatment. We have seniority... we work hard. We do not bother complaining to theunion about this discrimination because what could they do?... nothing really.I asked the women I interviewed to elaborate on how they felt they were treateddifferently from the non-Punjabi workers. Although there was no one thing in theiropinion, differential treatment showed up in the way things were done. They reiteratedtheir mistreatment over length of washroom breaks, or how they were moved around to27various parts in the processing parts more often than other workers.For years we worked on the lines cleaning fish. They rarely took us over to thecanning side where you make a little more money and the work is less strenuous, even asour seniority increased. If they needed us, they would take us over there. However, whenthey wanted to replace us [with non-Punjabi workers], they would tell us we are too slow.We are not too slow when they do not have one of their own available, or there is a lot ofwork.Over the years, things have improved. I have been patching7for the last few yearsnow. They also know we understand exactly what is going on even if we do not speakEnglish. But they continue to discriminate against us, treat us differently, but that is theway it has always been.I asked Tirath Aunty if she knew about the racist graffiti defacing the walls of thewomen’s bathroom. She told me that she had been informed about it by a young Punjabiwoman before. During summer holidays she told us there was written on the wallsomething about Hindus... not good things... she was quite angry and asked us did we notcare? I cannot read it for one thing, and I work hard for 3-4 months of the year. At theend, I enjoy myself being with my family, raising my children, and looking after my home.If we were in India, I would not have the opportunity to work outside the home. Some ofthe women in the cannery, of course, are well educated and they may have been doingservice8.We would not have had that opportunity, so I do not care what they write on thewall.I spoke to Tirath Aunty at length twice. She was also one of the women withPatching refers to a duty on the canning lines where female employees trim pieces offish steaks in the cans as they come along the conveyor belt. The job requires a “cleaning up”of the fish piece so it sits well in the can. The cans a-re then moved along to be sealed.8 In India, people refer to having a job as “doing service.” These women used the wordin the same context.28whom I arranged group interviews. A topic that repeatedly came up in conversations wasthe behaviour of children. I was aware that children’s behaviour has always been aconcern in our community. Thus, I purposely inquired about what impact they thoughttheir work had had on their own children? I also asked them did they think theirchildren were different from the children of those women they knew who were full-timehomemakers or those women that worked in town? All of the women I interviewed werequick to respond that their children were “good”: they had no complaints. I pointed outthat the impact of having a working mother could be positive since that was how I viewedmy own upbringing. In my opinion, we had learned to be self-sufficient, responsible, andindependent because we were given responsibility when my mother was working.However, their responses reflected cannery free-time talk.Much of this talk that circulated around the tables at lunch included gossip aboutother people’s children or gossip about children in the community who were misbehaving.Sometimes, women made indirectly critical comments to women whose children were notdeemed “good” by community standards - bad habits, dating without intent of marriage,“running around” in most instances. What came out of these comments and gossipsessions were the criteria of a “good” child. Parents who did not have “good” childrenfound themselves on the fringes of the Punjabi community or were themselvesembarrassed about their children’s behaviour to the extent that they isolated themselves.Gossip contributed to tension and distrust among women. Women whose children were“good” enjoyed centre stage: they talked freely about their children’s lives. Theseinterchanges were really about maintaining a central position in the community and notbecoming marginalized. Such centrality could be managed through maintaining Punjabicustoms and ways that were held in high esteem by community members. Thecommunity norms dictated that in order to be considered a successful Punjabi Sikh29Canadian, you obtained a well-paying job, got married to a nice Punjabi man or woman,and had a nice house and well-behaved children. These elements constitute a model or ablueprint of behaviour used by the women to gauge their own behaviour and thebehaviour of their children. It was only when deviations from prescribed behaviours wereperceived by community members that individuals and families became marginalized.We spoke Punjabi at home so my children are still quite fluent. We gave themeverything - good food, a home - what more is love? Our children were always good. Mydaughters brought no shame to our name. There were always stories circulating aboutother peoples children, but never ours. If anyone ever brought anything up about mychildren, then we discussed it with our children. But they knew better than to be the targetof gossip.Tirath Aunty-ji sent her children to university. At that time, she had seen it as arisk because other parents did not agree in giving children too much freedom.We trusted them to know the right things to do. My husband did not want to belike the other parents in town who married their daughters off right after high school. Itwas not my desire, but I did want them to be able to qualify for good jobs - work in a bankor a business. But I know they get a mind of their own when they stay single too long.My daughters are married to boys from here [Canada] who are well settled, theolder two. My son I worry about because he is not yet married and has no plans to getmarried, and my youngest is working. We have told them both that they should inform usif they meet some good person. My other daughters, they were introduced to a number ofboys before they decided to marry the ones they did. My sister called from Toronto andsaid she knew a family who was looking for a girl for their son. My husband does notbelieve in dãj and the family did not want daaj. We are all very happy. Shammi ismarried to a boy from Vancouver and she has a boy and girl now. We found out about30him through the Ajit newspaper [matrimonial section]. Now I am trying to convince theyounger two to settle down. It is a constant worry to have single children. A lot of worry.Once they are married and settled, then the load is lifted off our heads.I do not worry about inter-racial marriages because my children would not do that,although it is happening more and more. In Santokh Singh ‘S basement there is an apnigirl living with some gorã. They do not even have the decency to get married. Her motherused to gossip about everyone else’s kids, but this event with her daughter has shut her up.She is so ashamed that I do not see her around at all. These kids have no shame, no senseof respect for their families sometimes. And the girl is pregnant again. What kind of lifewill her kids have? You see how gorãs live. He may leave her at any time, and they arenot even married.My husband and I have bought a house in Vancouver, and we will be moving downin a couple ofyears. Lots ofpeople have moved down from Terrace so we can visit withthem, and we can join our kids. My niece and nephew also live their with their families.Everyone always complains that they do not like Vancouver or city life, but I like it. I likethe raunaq of the city. I like my life here, too. I know all my neighbours and their kidscome over and play in my yard all the time. Everywhere we go people know me and myhusband. They greet us by our names at Safeway. Yes, it is easy to get things done in asmall town, for instance, to see the doctor and do your banking. Everything can be done ina shorter time than in Vancouver. But now I am ready to move My husband does notwant to move because he likes his life here, but we want to be close to our children, too. Ilook forward to retiring so I can enjoy that time with my grandchildren. I am not likethese goras that want to work so much. I will retire as soon as I can and enjoy my life.Now we are all getting old. Of course I would miss work, but I would retire as soonas I could. Even when we retire, we [cannery friendsl still would spend time together. And31if our kids choose to support us, then I would happily take that support and play with mygrandchildren.Jagdish Aunty-jiJagdish Aunty is fifteen years younger than Tirath Aunty. Both her parents wereteachers and encouraged her and their other three children to pursue a college education.She attended a women’s college and completed a Bachelor of Arts degree. She was well-versed in English before coming to Canada, and now after twenty-two years here, she isfluent. She is the mother of three children, two girls and a boy. She loves living in theNorthwest. She enjoys an active lifestyle visiting and doing activities with Punjabi andnon-Punjabi friends in her community. However, she will follow her children to theLower Mainland in another ten or fifteen years, since that is when Uncle will be able totake early retirement. They have already purchased a house in Surrey to coincide withtheir future plans.Aunty had heard about Canada through neighbours and friends while still living inIndia and had ambitions to come. When her family arranged for her to meet the family ofa young man who had immigrated to Canada, she was pleased at the opportunity to comeoverseas.My husband’s family went to India and met me there through an aunt. I hadfinished my B.A and had not yet started working. I had always wanted to go abroadbecause I had friends, classmates who were living in other countries. We wrote to eachother and I found out about their lives here in Canada, too.When the chance to come to Canada was there, I took it. I came in 1972 and hadmy wedding here. Your uncle had already been working here for two years and his sisterwas here. She had also married a man who was living in Canada, and after moving to32Canada, she had sponsored your uncle. Once we had established ourselves, I alsosponsored my parents and brother to Canada. They live in the Fraser Valley.Paralleling Tirath Aunty’s story, Jagdish Aunty also began to work in the canneryout of necessity. She did not pursue a position where she could use her education becauseno one would recognize her degree in Canada. Having their education accepted on par isa common problem among South Asian immigrants (Buchignani 1985).I started working in the cannery a year after my marriage. We wanted a car andthere were mortgage payments. My sister-in-law was working there and Ijoined her.Seasonal work made it easy to take care of my children while they were pre-school age.And soon after my first child arrived, my husband sponsored his younger sister to comeand she lived with us along with my in-laws.Because of her fluency in English, Jagdish Aunty has developed a wide network ofPunjabi and non—Punjabi friends in Kitimat and at work in Prince Rupert. She alsoenjoys reading English and Punjabi magazines and books. She is hooked on “Days of OurLives,” a daytime soap opera. Most days, after watching the soap opera, she is off on herdaily two hour walk.I would get bored if I did not work at the cannery. The season is slow this year,otherwise by now it would be in full swing. I have worked with the same group for twentytwo years. I mix with all of us who have the same seniority, Indian, Native Indian orgorian. It does not matter to me. I talk to everyone, and I like sitting for lunch withdifferent women. I get bored with just the Funjabi u’omen because they gossip so much.Someone always has some information about a family who is experiencing problems: whohas left who, which mother-in-law is bothering her daughter-in-law. Also, I do not wantthe other women [non-Punjabis] to think that we do not like them or that we arediscriminating. I have things to do at home, too, bitt I really enjoy going to work.33Jagdish goes on to explain to me that most of the Punjabi women sit togetherbecause they do not speak English, and therefore, it is difficult for them to converse withthe Native Indian women or Euro-Canadian women. They can eat their Punjabi foodunseif-consciously. I think some of them are shy about what the others may think abouttheir food or facing some other form of discrimination.When we are laid off I miss my work circle and the routine of work, especially nowthat my kids are not needing me as much. I get bored quite quickly. My outlook is broadersince I have been working. I learn about new things and find out what is going on in theworld, and sometimes this information is useful in getting things done and making choicesin my life. I have learned about things to do and about school or job openings for mychildren.Compared to those friends who do not work, Jagdish Aunty believes that her andher husband’s combined incomes enabled them to spend more money on their children.They signed their children up for games and teams, toured with their teams around B.C.for tournaments. Also, she knows her income helped her family get established and hasprovided a good life for her children.My family benefitted greatly from my work. Because I work we were able to buyand pay off this house. My husband alone would have had a difficult time supporting thewhole family. My working meant that the whole family could have holidays in the year,and we could meet whatever needs my kids had.When I asked her if she felt that she was treated differently at work by nonPunjabi workers and staff, she unabashedly told me that difference is always present.You cannot get away from that [difference]. But the 3-4 months that we work, it can bedealt with easily enough. What stops us from really speaking our minds about thediscrimination we face and standing up for our rights at work is the language problem. If34we try, there is always the worry of misinterpretation. I worry that they [non-Punjabis]will read something else into the defense I put up and misconstrue my real meaning.Difference is a way of life. I know that we Indians contribute immensely to the Canadianeconomy. They cannot dispute that. They know it. We do not throw our money away likethe gores. We do not accumulate entertainment expenses. Rather, we save our money sowe can have the things we want for our families.The family’s combined income enabled it to help Aunty-ji’s in-laws before theypassed away in India. Her in-laws had lived with them in Canada but had decided torejoin family in India: My income helped them. I have always contributed money to thewell-being of my husband’s family. His sister stayed with us for years. We arranged herwedding and paid for it.Jagdish Aunty has held a number of positions in the cannery because she has hadhealth problems. After the first season of working with herring roe, she developed asevere allergic reaction to it. She went on to work on the cleaning lines, and there too shedeveloped an allergy to the fish. She approached her floor-lady with whom she had goodrelations and asked her to find another post for her in the cannery, away from the fish.Jagdish Aunty did janitorial work in the lunchrooms and did the laundry on the secondfloor of the cannery. She felt that her rapport with the supervisor and her English skillshelped her in being able to find work suitable to her needs.I only worked on the lines, cleaning fish, for two years, but I developed such a severeallergy to the fish that I was moved to maintenance. I worked in the laundry and thelunchrooms. After seventeen years, for a change, I transferred to the warehouse andworked with canned fish. Now I am working upstairs sharpening knives.As her children got older, Jagdish Aunty’s children wanted her to be around forsummer holidays and not be away for such long stretches of time. They especially missed35her during the spring months. The children asked Aunty to find a job in town.My children, as they got older, would ask me to find different work because they didnot want me working in the cannery, especially when we had 12-14 hour shifts. But thecannery work allows me to be at home most of the year and still have an income because Iam on UI when I am not working. The work pays better than any other job I could findbecause it is unionized there. And now I have been there for so long and have so manyfriends there that I could never leave.A couple of the Punjabi women Aunty worked with became her close friends. Onewoman was from Terrace and the other was from Prince Rupert. She also had twofamilies in town on her husband’s side. She visited with her relatives frequently, as wellas, with her friends. The friendships she had developed at work in the two neighbouringtowns provided outings for the whole family.We would go to Terrace, and they would come to Kitimat to visit us and to spendthe weekend. My children are younger then hers. My oldest is three years younger thenher youngest, and that has worked out well. Her son is getting married this fall. He isgood friends with my son. They are both in Vancouver and they get together themselves.Her son is a good role model for my son and all the kids are good examples for my kids.They look up to Manjit’s children. Her girls are also living in Vancouver. They come up tosee their parents, and we visit with them when they come. I like it that my girls talk toManjit’s girls. Her daughters are well-educated, and they have good jobs. They respecttheir parents and have done nothing to dishonour them. They are all still single, but theirvalues and ideas are good. My girls look up to them and hopefully will follow in theirfootsteps and get an education. 1 still want them to be married by the time they aretwenty-two. One of my daughters is fourteen, and the other one is seventeen right now. IfNoni shows no ambition towards more schooling, then I plan to marry her right after high36school. I don’t want to take any risks like some of the other women did, letting theirdaughters go to Vancouver or not being too strict with them. Although, you never knowwhat children are going to do. I am lucky that my kids think about me, but most do notanymore.Aunty was quite worried about her children’s future. She worried that they wouldlose respect for the Punjabi ways, marry out of the community, or marry someone she andher husband could not get along with. This worry had been exaggerated by the behaviourof her niece:My niece is living with a gorã. I think my sister-in-law should have allowed themto get married like they wanted. Instead, she told her daughter to break off with the boy.At least if they had been allowed to get married, it would not be such a shameful thingbecause so many kids are marrying gorâs these days. Was not Narinder’s son’s weddinglast week? He married a gori. And once they fall in love with someone, it is not good toforce your children to marry someone ofyour own choosing because they can still bringshame to their house by taking up with their boyfriend or girlfriend after they are married.You hear about that all the time, or they run off with the boyfriend or girlfriend aftermarrying a perfectly nice person. They then destroy two families.., their husband’s or wife’sand their own.My brother-in-law does not talk to his daughter, and he wants nothing more to dowith her, although my sister-in-law stilts speak to her. As far as he is concerned, shemight as well be dead. But the girl herself has disowned her family. She is now aChristian and denies being Indian. She has made all kinds of derogatory remarks aboutIndians to my daughters whenever they have spoken to her. They sometimes run into herin town. My nephew also took his sister’s action hard. He does not speak to her either. Hewent to India and got married early this year, and his wife is arriving soon. It made up a37little for the sadness and shame my niece caused her family.Aunty repeatedly stated that she constantly worried over the future of herchildren, especially since her niece’s decision to move out. Her recent acquaintance with awoman whose two daughters had taken similar action, added to her fears.Until my children are safely married and in their own homes, their marital statusis a constant worry to me and your uncle, just as yours is to your parents. Both ofRatan ‘sdaughters have left with gorãs. She has some semblance ofpeace with one who marriedand is settled with two kids, but the other one is no longer with the one she left home with.She is now living with a man her father’s age. What can Ratan Kaur do? I see her quite abit because her sister-in-law used to live in our basement suite. She has since bought ahouse a couple of houses away from us. I became good friends with all of them during thattime, and we are still close. She is not the same person anymore. She has lost a lot ofweight and is listless much of the time. I remember that she was a happy person, shealways dressed well. She always took such an interest in fashion and dressing well. Shedoes not talk about her daughters with me. What is there to say? She has lost herdaughters to this culture. She cannot have the joy you feel in planning yourgrandchildren’s arrival. She cannot visit with her daughters’ new families. What wouldshe say to them? We do not really have a lot in common with gorãs. All she has left toenjoy is her son ‘s family. His wife is from India and her own family has arrived inCanada so Ratan Kaur now has a circle of relatives around her.Jagdish Aunty was busy thinking of and planning for her son’s wedding. She hadsent word out to her friends and family to keep their eyes and ears open for a suitablegirl. She already had a standing offer from a college friend now living in Toronto.However, Aunty felt that her friend’s daughter was too short and small for her son. Theydid not make a good couple in Aunty’s opinion, but she had written to her friend to bring38the children in the fall for a visit and suggested that her son and her friend’s daughtercould meet in person. She was open to the possibility that they may hit it off.A number of times we talked about Aunty’s educational background. Both herparents had been teachers, and she came from a well-educated and well-establishedfamily. She had told me that she had wanted to study nursing and that her parentsthought that was a difficult career so instead she had majored in the humanities. Often,she spoke about her friends and cousins in India who were lecturers or scientists. I askedher if she ever regretted her decision to come to Canada since she may have hadopportunities in India to work in her field.The work I do is hateful and atrocious by Indian standards. In the eyes of myfriends in India, this is considered low quality work. My cousins and friends have goodwork. One friend is a lecturer at Ludhiana University, and a cousin is a scientist in Delhiworking for the government. Those who do not work married into good families.I may not have a high status job, but I am better off here than if I would havestayed in India. It was a dream of mine to be here. My children have all kinds ofopportunities to do what they want. The real joy in life would be to live in India, of course.That is the society I know most intimately, and I miss hearing my own languageeverywhere. But, I have established ties here, and my children are here so my life is here.I could have learned and improved my English because I had English from mystudies in India. But when I first arrived, I lived in a joint family situation. These people,well you could say, were illiterate so I could not improve my English skills around them. Icould not even watch television attentively because they would always talk since they didnot understand the program. I flnci with watching television, I can really improve myEnglish. And at the cannery, I used to sit with only other Punjabi women, and we wouldspeak in our language which held me back as well.39Now, many of my friends are white women and we get together a lot. Some of themlive in my neighbourhood so it is easy to see them. They also call me. And at work, I donot only spend time with apniãn. I mingle with everyone.I did start working out of necessity and difficulty because we had nothing. Now thereasons are still the same, but things have changed in that I do not have to work as muchovertime. I am willing to book holidays in the season because we are better off I worked alot of overtime because we did not have a house or car. Now I have more choice, and Iwork through choice. I enjoy work. It provides an outlet for me instead of sitting in frontof the television. That is no way to live. Unlike your uncle who wants to retire at fifty-five,I will work as long as my health allows me to.DiscussionUpon first arriving in Terrace from India, these women moved in the social circlescreated by their husbands who had journeyed ahead of them. These circles were theresult of men rooming together prior to family arrival or working together at the sawmillsin town9. As their families joined the men, the Punjabi population grew and consequentlyso did their social networks. All the women I interviewed remembered finding out aboutcannery work through female relatives who were already employed there or through thesedeveloping social networks.None of the women I spoke with had worked outside the home prior toimmigrating to Canada. They, nevertheless, came fully prepared to do paid work becausethey had been told by their husbands that women in Canada worked. Although womenThese bachelor communities or support systems were especially important to earlySouth Asian settlers and are well detailed in Buchignani and Indra (1985). For later settlersthey provided emotional and financial support while the men were establishing themselves.For more discussion on South Asians in Canada see Kanungo (1984).40do hold paid jobs in all sectors in India, the majority of the women who migrated to theSkeena Valley had been unable to do so because of their social and geographical locationin the Punjab. As daughters of farmers in most instances, they lived in rural villages,helping their families with agricultural work. Nonetheless, now having worked for mostof their lives in Canada, they enjoyed their employed status and the financial, social andpsychological rewards it has brought.Cannery work entails a unique migratory procedure. This special feature does notapply to women and men living in Prince Rupert who work in the cannery. However,individuals living in the neighbouring towns and employed by the canneries migrate toand take up temporary residence in Prince Rupert twice a year for up to 4 months intotal: in the spring for one and one half to two months during the herring season whenherring roe is harvested, and in the summer for two or more months during the salmonseason when fresh fish is harvested and canning is done. A group of 5-7 women rent aroom in a Punjabi home, sharing kitchen and washroom facilities with the family. Theytravel home during their time off. During high season, they may work for 13-14 daystretches without any days off.Cannery work, consequently, provides the Punjabi women with the opportunity tobe with each other without the responsibility of children, husbands, and homes. It alsoaffords them some financial independence. The work atmosphere is conducive tosolidarity and generosity among the women because they are all away from their homes.If a worker was hired on the spot, Manjit told me that they would do what ever they couldto help her:We will supply new women with boots in case they are called right ‘way. Here atwork we help each other out, everyone does.. .share your food.. .In town, that is notnecessarily so, but there the atmosphere is warm, everyone is in good spirits.In the Punjabi community, the cannery workers are referred to as41macchanvãlanãn - the flshwomen. At first, this term was used in jest among communitymembers, but now it has taken hold as a convenient name tag. I had heard the termoften in everyday conversations among the group and in my home. However, Manjit wasquite offended when a Punjabi woman not involved in cannery work said to her, when wewere at the Gurdwara for a wedding, “you mucchtanvalanan will be too busy to help withthe camp” [a Sikh studies summer camp for children held annually in Terrace]. Withoutoffering a direct response, we walked away and took a seat in the langar hail. When Iasked her why she was angry, her response reflected a cognisance of her social position inCanadian society as an immigrant South Asian women. “The job she does [dishwasher ina restaurant] is done by chirs [in the Indian caste system, a sub-caste of dãlits orhdrijans]. When they call us mucchianvaiann they are also referring to us by a lowcaste” [fisherfolk are classified as a subcaste of the südra caste which is the lowestregistered caste].When I asked Tirath and Jagdish Aunties about their discussions of their lives andtheir work in Canada with their relatives in India, they drew parallels betweenthemselves and the poor of Bihar, fully cognisant of their perceived sojourner andmarginal status in Canadian society. “We are the bhei-e1°of Canada,” Manjit stated. Shealso added, “we work hard so that our children can get ahead.” These women foundthemselves performing work in Canada that they could not have imagined doing in India -janitorial work, restaurant work, and fish processing work. In fact in India, much of thiswork is caste-designated and consequently as Jats and Rajputs [two subcastes of the highstatus Ksatrya caste], these women would be socially constrained to avoid such “low”occupations because such tasks would be considered beneath them.10 Bhe7-e is plural of bhai-a, a term used by Punjabis to refer to poor migrant workersfrom Bihar. These individuals travel to the Punjab for two years at a time to find work onfarms, in cities doing housekeeping and other work Punjabis would not do.42Regardless of the self-labelling, these women on the whole enjoyed their lives inCanada and identified with Canada as their home because of the ties they haveestablished and the opportunities they have:Harbans: We like our situation here.Santokh: I like it here. You cannot starve here.Harbans: You can work and you can feed yourself.Narinder: Women do mostly housework there. There are too manycustoms to worry about in our own country - what colourdupatta she is wearing [with regard to widowhood, strictcustom dictates that women wear white dupattãs or lightcoloured dupattãs unless they remarry to maintain respectfulposition in the community]. Is it white? So many things toconcern yourself with there in your own country. Here, noone really pays too much attention to that. In my case, myhusband died, and I came here and worked and raised mychildren. At the time of your uncle’s death, Shinda (theyoungest) was four. In India, I could not have raised mychildren. In fact I do not know where I would be right now ifI was still there. Now they are all married and well-settled intheir own homes [Aunty’s daughters]. And because I work, Ican help my son out with his tuition, pay for his wedding, andsupport myself if my son does not in the future.During the two weeks I spent in Prince Rupert, among my mother’s group and thedozen Punjabi women I met at the cannery, I began to notice the intensity of alliance-building and conflict among these women. The same tensions and contradictions surfacedduring group and individual interviews. For instance, in one group interview I asked howtheir relationships among themselves were in terms of compatibility and comraderie.Speaking animatedly, all three women assured me that they were like sisters. “We havebeen together for eighteen years. We live together and work together like sisters,”Sarinder replied. “After all, how could all of us still be together twenty plus years later ifwe did not share this sisterly relationship?” Manjit added. Alone, respondents expressedmore cynicism about their relationships and each other’s behaviour. One participantemphasized,We came to this country to make a better life fr ourselves and our children.We do not have much family here, but even family you cannot trust to be43loyal and supportive. My own family has spread rumours about mychildren. And we know not to expect loyalty or trustworthiness from coworkers. Everyone is in this to make a living. We put up with poor qualityclothes, inconveniences, poor health, racism because in the end, we haveearned so much money. No one wants to see anyone person get ahead. AllHindustãni are like that.While, together, on the other hand, all women echoed Sarinder’s sentiments,We all come from different places, different brãdheri, but here we do notdifferentiate among ourselves. Even in India, working people do not differentiatebetween brãdheri, whether one is a Sikh or Hindu. With us there is nodifference.., also things are changing everywhere in India.. .customs. . .before, tomarry you had to skip four family names.. .your father’s, mother’s, paternalgrandmother’s and maternal grandmother’s surnames. With illiterate people, theywould get into this rigamarole about names, jaats. ..but times are changingeverywhere.Work-related associations through room-sharing and ride sharing have developedinto friendships for some women. Three of the women I interviewed had developed lifelong friendships with their landladies and their co-workers in Prince Rupert. Thesefriendships were shared by all family members. Similar to any relationship, includinglooser relationships where women spent time together on the phone or in-person off-season, friendships had obligations or conditions attached to them. The expectationsoutside of work ranged from maintaining confidences to doing work at cultural andreligious functions such as weddings and ãkhand paths’1,respectively.In the off-season, families planned weddings and religious celebrations. All of thefood and matheãi was prepared by friends and members of the family. Any special help afamily might need, including aid in performing marriage related rituals, would be met byfriends.At work, expectations revolved around carrying one’s own weight after work inThe ceremony of a âkhand path is a complete, continuous reading of the Guru GranthSahib, the holy book of the Sikhs, over a forty-eight hour period. During the reading langaris prepared in the Gurdwara by volunteers and the family members who are having theakhand path in honour of a special event (a wedding, a birth or death, or to expresspiousness).44completing chores at the rented premises, such as shopping, cooking, and supplyinggroceries. Failure to carry one’s own weight could result in being ousted from the groupas demonstrated by this one conversation among three women regarding a fellow memberwho they felt was not fulfilling her obligations:Manjit: We have to move because it is just too far to walk fromGurminder house.. .it will be at least a forty-five minute walkeach way and my knee is already bothering me. I will askKirin if she has room at her house.Santokh: I don’t think she has room. Is not that group from Kitimatstaying there?Manjit: Not right now. I will ask.Narinder: Yes, ask because it is too far for me to walk as well.Manjit: Should we ask Suijit if she wants to move as well.Santokh: No!Manjit: Personally, I don’t care what happens to her.Narinder: What is the matter with her anyways? since she moved toVancouver, she treats us shabbily.Manjit: And how she acted during the herring season.. .she did not doany work. She ate everyone else’s food.Santokh: Ki, nãnakiãn dhey ghar al si?12I also witnessed some embarrassing displays of anger and contempt amongmembers of one close-knit group. This group of women had been together for eighteenyears. However, rifts developed between two of the members, of this group of six, thislast season when one woman reneged on her offer of aid at the other’s ãkhand path.Angry exchanges between the two women during my fieldwork resulted in group membersbeing left stranded behind, during call-ins in Terrace while the rest of the group made itsway to Prince Rupert. This incident was repeated twice with an innocent member gettingcaught in the middle the second time. The two women left behind on separate occasionsboth lost a day’s wages because of communication breakdowns among group members.Although all six of the women were back on “friendly” terms when I left, the underlying12 “Ki, nnakin dhey ghar al si?’ translates to “What, was she visiting her maternalgrand-parents?” It is understood among Punjabis in India that when one visit one’s maternalgrandparents one will be spoiled with love, attention, and food. No one expects one to workwhen visiting them. Santokh was suggesting that Suijit was acting as if they were hermaternal grandparents.45conflict had not been resolved because they refused to discuss the cause of the initialproblem.Concluding RemarksThe literature on South Asians has rarely dealt with the diversity that existswithin the collectivity. By providing individual narratives of two women living in thesmall Punjabi communities in the Skeena Valley and illustrating the differences andsimilarities between them in negotiating their situations, I hope to have demonstrated theimportance of taking into account the differences among us in order to understand whatsets us apart from the dominant community. These differences also illuminate what setsus apart from each other. I have argued for the extension of the notion of differencebeyond gender, race and class to include regional, ethnic, age, caste, and class variationamong South Asian Canadian women in order to illuminate, as much as possible, ourexperiences as South Asians and as South Asian Canadians.46Glossaryãkhand path the event of the continuous,complete reading of the Guru GranthSahib, the holy book of the Sikhs, over a 48 hour period. Anindividual or group or institution can arrange for khandpad to beperformed for any occasion, usually for weddings, births and deaths.apnã,-t,-e,-idn one’s own. In everyday usage in Punjabi, one’s own means belongingto one’s own community, caste; in the Canadian context, a PunjabiSikh person.bari the part of a bride’s dowry received from the grooms family. Usuallytakes the form of jewellery and clothes.bradher brotherhood, community, belonging to same caste, clan, or tribe.clãj dowry, the bride’s portion of the dowry.dãl split grain of legumes, curried soup of split grains.dupatta a piece of fabric of 2 1/4- 2 1/2 metres matching the salwar-kameez,used to cover head.gorã fair-skinned or complexioned, as a noun, means Whitemen,Europeans.gurdwara Sikh TempleHindustãni Indianjaat caste, clan.ji life, heart, soul; as a term of respect, i.e., Papa-ji.langar public kitchen; free meals served in Gurdwaras.maththi Indian sweets or desserts.mãsi mother’s sister, aunt.melã a fair, a gathering.phark difference, distinctionraunak mirth, boisterous atmosphere. 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