UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The multi-identities of Canadian high school students of South Asian heritage Binning, Priya


This study examined the notions of culture and identity held by high school students, of mainly Punjabi descent, in a Punjabi 11 class as realized through their completion of a unit designed to allow them to learn about themselves and their attitudes and beliefs regarding what comprised their culture. Data was collected through a unit of study created to allow the students to explore their identities and included student journals, reflections and final projects and presentations. The findings suggest that while the students identified themselves as Canadian, a Canadian identity often appeared to be second to their ethnic or religious identity (such as being Punjabi or Sikh). What came to the forefront is that Punjabi students see themselves as having a unique cultural identity that they share with other students of similar backgrounds. For many, this essential group identity creates the foundation for their social networks. Two of the main factors that create this group identity appear to be religion and culture, both of which are taught at home by the family, supported by Punjabi media and validated by their friends at school. The expectations placed upon the participants by family are accepted and not often questioned and are instead considered to be duties that need to be fulfilled. Moreover, religion and culture are terms that appear, for some, to be interchangeable for many of the participants in this study and this does not pose a problem for them or their identities. There are also elements of being Punjabi and being Canadian that could be interpreted as being conflictual but are not perceived as such by the students, such as wanting to maintain traditional gender roles and marriage practices while also embracing the independence and freedom to choose your own path that comes with being Canadian. This study contributes to our understanding of adolescent Indo-Canadians by exploring what their notions of identity are and how they see themselves, within their social groups, school community and at home. Future research should be focused on a larger, more diverse population of Indo-Canadian teenagers to concretely substantiate the ideas presented in this study.

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