Roots, Food, Culture, and Activism


Roots, Food, Culture, and Activism

This past September, I had my CBABC President’s Reception at the recently renovated and beautiful Heritage Hall in my neighbourhood of East Van. I was especially moved that the event featured the food from my cousin Nazir Bharmal’s restaurant, Cayenne Bistro.

This is, in fact, the food I grew up with, with its roots in the Gujurat region of India, where all my grandparents originated — a cuisine that was then strongly influenced by the flavours of East Africa, where my grandparents moved in the early 1900s, as part of the South Asian diaspora moving to that area of the world looking for
better opportunity.

That is where my parents were both born and raised, in Tanzania, before the upheaval of the late 1960s and early 70s when the colonial governments of that region were being overthrown, along with a rise in hostility toward South Asians who were seen, not entirely unjustifiably, as part of the previous power structure.

My parents’ community was part of the merchant class in those East African societies. When the disruption occurred, they were caught in the middle and lost everything. A large part of that displaced community eventually came to Canada as part of the first large wave of non-European refugee immigration to this country.

A similar tale to the one I have described above was more recently much better told by the renowned journalist, Omar Sachedina, both in his article in the Globe & Mail and then in a related TV special on CTV (although my parents’ similar path originated in Tanzania and not Uganda, as his parents’ journey did).

Then, in the late 1970s, my parents adopted my youngest sister, who was one of those then referred to as the “Boat People” from Vietnam, who came to Canada as refugees after the Fall of Saigon. My sister, Ayesha, came over as part of “Operation Baby Lift,” which rescued children from Canadian run orphanages in that part of the world.

All of this is to say, that this rich history and growing up in the largely immigrant neighbourhoods of Scarborough, just outside the City of Toronto, has informed my sense of who I am and what it means to be Canadian. One of the things I’ve learned is to never be complacent and to always be actively pushing forward and advocating to make our society more inclusive and welcoming.

At CBABC, we’ve come a long way. It was not that long ago that Jennifer Chow became the first person of colour to be CBABC President in 2015. Since then, she’s been followed by Margaret Mereigh, who was a strong supporter and influence on not just me, but our new First Vice-President, Scott Morishita.

At the national CBA level, it was only a few years ago we had our first person of colour to be President, Vivian Salmon, who is Black. Since then, we had our first Indigenous President, Brad Regher, who I learned was also heavily influenced and supported by Margaret to run.

Today, we have Steeves Bujold as the new CBA National President, the first openly gay man to hold that position. He is promising a bold and progressive agenda, including an emphasis on trans inclusivity within the profession, an effort in which our Second Vice-President, Lee Nevens, will be heavily involved. And I am happy to say that Lee will be our first trans, non-binary CBABC President in just a couple of years’ time.

I would hazard to guess that our present Board may be the most diverse we’ve had. I am so excited to be working with this incredibly diverse team, almost all of whom I’ve worked with in some capacity in the past — I can’t wait to see what we accomplish!