Amplify: A Letter to Mom and Dad
"Together we will amplify the voices of all the women who have been silenced by their culture."
In this piece, Amandha and Onella Narangoda recount the story of coming to Canada as a family, and both the heartwarming and challenging moments they have experienced as daughters of the family in the form of a letter to their parents. Through this letter, they amplify the voices of women and girls around the world who may have encountered the same experiences.
Dear Mum and Dad,
It was 2001 when our family set foot in a place that we didn’t realize would become our home. Although some details seemed familiar and reminded me of Sri Lanka, so much of my surroundings were a mystery. When I finally realized that we weren’t going back to see my Montessori school friends, grandma, or our sweet little cat Jenny, I felt overwhelmed. I spent each year since learning new habits, improving my English, and studying hard to make all the sacrifices you made worthwhile. Nineteen years later, I still can’t find the words to thank you for bringing me to this country. You gave up everything you had to give me everything I could want.
But still, some tough Sri Lankan cultural views still lingered in our home. I was five years old when you began teaching me to clean up around the house and cook for our family. My stuffed animals and video games were quickly swapped for brooms and dusting cloths. I grew up watching my brother go out to play with his friends while I spent my nights doing chores. Every time I questioned, “why doesn’t he clean?” you responded, “that’s your duty as a girl.”
As I got older, your words turned into, “you shouldn’t stay out too late,” “you shouldn’t dress like that,” and “good girls don’t do that.” I understand that you were trying to protect me, but your words were tainted with the message that because I am a girl, I couldn’t, I shouldn’t, and I can’t.
Then I graduated. Got high grades and acceptance to a stellar university. I worked tirelessly to make the most of my education and chased every opportunity to land a good job. I thought you would be proud. Instead you worried that I was too focused on being a “career woman.” Our conversations revolved around how I needed to find a suitable partner, get married, and become a mother. I was torn between wanting a career and wanting a family. Why couldn’t I do both? Why was I taught to hold myself back so that my future husband could be the successful breadwinner?
You were driven by our culture to shape us into this mold of a perfect ‘Sri Lankan girl’. But I wanted to take advantage of the life that you gave me when we moved here. A life that would have been so different had we never left Sri Lanka.
I was raised to remember who I am, where I came from, that it is no small thing to have my heritage and family name. My upbringing taught me pride. But mixed into it all is a fear and caution that has never left me: I must never shame myself or my family, or bring embarrassment to my culture, because I am a girl and must play the part.
My culture is flawed, and perhaps outdated, but I learned a lot from the sacrifices you made to bring me here. It taught me to not simply accept mediocre circumstances, that I could make my voice heard, and most importantly, that I can make change within my own family. I know that someday, I will raise my children with the best values that both Sri Lanka and Canada has to offer. They too will learn to be proud of their heritage and rich culture. But I never want them to have the fear, the worry that because they are girls there is one role they must play. I will teach my daughters that they are smart, resilient, and highly capable of doing anything that they set their minds to. And I will make sure my sons learn respect, compassion, and to magnify the voices of their sisters, mothers and daughters. Together we will amplify the voices of all the women who have been silenced by their culture.
At the end of the day, that’s all I can really do.
My culture is flawed but it has value, and it is something I will always carry with me. Nineteen years ago, you brought me to this country. Now I finally have the words to write this letter to you.