1 December, 2022


Sinhala Ostentation – From The Island To Toronto 

By Natale Dankotuwage

Natale Dankotuwage

Sinhalese Immigrants from Colombo who have migrated to Toronto are an interesting phenomenon. I’m going to concentrate on this very specific segment of society because I am, by the fate of birth, one of them. Or so that’s what I’ve been told and raised to believe. But sometimes I feel nothing like them. Mostly because as a human rights advocate their prejudice disturbs me. 

The prejudice is evident in the selective ways they engage with others in Toronto. Judging others based on the neighbourhoods they grew up in, the schools they attended, and the last names they carry from an Island they left. 

From carrying over the Royal College dinner dances and cricket ceremonies. To prizing their fair skin babies. Sinhalese folks have subtle ways of garnering a sense of worth on foreign land. 

At a young age I would learn that certain last names were more reputable than others. And that certain last names married other last names everyone had heard of and learned to value. Though historically speaking, the Sinhalese never exactly kept last names. You’d either take on your father’s name as your last name or name yourself after the locality you originated from. Last names were something the colonialists taught us.  

I would also learn that my father had not attended the “best” school on the Island. He went to a “mediocre” school called “Prince College” in Kotehana. To a little child who admired her father a great deal the name of the school sounded quite prestigious enough.  And yet for some reason my father had learned somewhere – along the way – that his school wasn’t good enough. And he’d teach me the same. 

My father would tell me that when he was old enough to know better, he’d tell his mother to send his brother to “Ananda”. For he had grown to learn that it was a far better school. And as a result, till today my Father’s youngest brother attends all the annual cricket ceremonies in the Greater Toronto Area. 

Sometimes I’d look at my father as a mother looks at a child. And wonder, who had taught him to devalue these things. Where had he learned this? Nevertheless, from these stories I learned of the things that were of merit and the things that were not. 

My father left all of that behind in the 1980’s. To build a life in a place where the school and locality he was from wouldn’t entrench him with a certain social standard. My father went on to become quite a successful entrepreneur in Canada. 

I was born in Toronto. Raised in Uptown Toronto. In one of the wealthiest areas in the city. And then to middle school and high school in Richmond Hill another Upper Middle Class neighbourhood. When I look back at much of my upbringing, I realized how hard my father worked to provide us an Elite upbringing. Carefully selecting the neighbourhoods, we would grow up in. Even if it meant moving far away from the inner circle of Sri Lankan community boroughs unfolding in Brampton and Scarborough. 

As he moved up the social ranks, he opened various businesses and continued to keep company with all sorts of people. Regardless of their class or place in the world. Uncles I loved dearly, the father of the son I dated, spent their lifetime working in factories or as carpenters. They were dinner guests. Because from all the things my father taught me. The one thing he failed to teach me was something called “discrimination”. 

Because of the things my father taught me. The one thing he failed to teach me was something called “discrimination”. 

As time has passed a lot of these families have begun to progress.  Their children superseding their parents in social standard. And it errs, to say the least, to see the perpetuation in the prejudice that was susceptible in Colombo repeated here in Canada. In the way these family friends and their children choose social circles and even lovers. 

The very people who once congregated our homes when they were of a lower-income. Today of a higher standard now circulate with new friends. The Vaisakha’s, the royal college – the whatever other institutional bigotry. 

Even subtle acts of Shadeism are evident. Shadeism being the pedigree of prizing those of fairer skin more than those of a darker skin tone. Evident in how they slowly replace their friends of darker skin tones – with those who are of a fairer skin tone. It is all quite disturbing. 

As the Toyotas become Lexus’s. The houses grow bigger. So too the social circles have begun to change. And what is most fascinating being that they are perpetuating the social standards they learned in an Island that they disowned. 

But what is most painful, is that those we were willing to show respect, honor and dignity to when they were nobodies have decided to turn their backs on us once they became somebodies.

Why discrimination and prejudice perpetuates in our communities disturbs a part of me that has always sought to maintain the integrity of equality in my actions and thoughts. Not because I do not have the intelligence to discern, but rather because having the intelligence to choose one’s actions or thoughts; I choose humanity over and over again. Rather than choosing transitory social symbols that garner a false sense of superiority over another. 

*Natale Dankotuwage is a graduate of a Master’s Degree in Strategic Foresight and Innovation. She works in Digital Innovation with the Federal Government of Canada. 

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Latest comments

  • 10

    What she reveals is the agony of the immigrant which is common among many of them. Definitely it is not limited to Sri Lankans only.
    Many SL immigrants migrated against their wish due to socio-political instability in the island prior to 2009; they now live physically in wealthy countries but still chat with themselves (intra-personally) and ‘others’ (inter-personally) sitting in their ‘imagined’ backyard in Sri Lanka. This imaginary ‘living style’ is somewhat hilarious but pathetic. It has affected their lives and the lives of their kids seriously.
    However, that is the naked truth. Many have their false cultural pride which is the case discussed mildly in this article, but this mental sickness is much more severe than it appears to the outer world. They do not understand that it is very difficult to create and maintain outdated ‘cultural ghettos’ while being a living member of the developed society because the very development of this society rests on denial of such unscientific ideas and beliefs such as caste, social and linguistic discrimination, racial supremacy, etc. etc. What they try for with themselves and their ‘unfortunate’ children leads to contradictions and chaos in personal and family life.
    They should learn how to ‘unlearn’ what they had negatively learnt back in their countries. There is no other way out for them! If the ‘sickness’ is persistent, then, they definitely need psychological attention!

    • 1

      Natale, you are sensitive, honest, young and brave, and will overcome your angst about cultural “belonging” in Canada and Sri Lankan with time, and shine bright..
      The search for belonging is life-long, more acutely felt among immigrant communities and first generation kids who are sensitive to being ‘outsiders” in both their parent’s “host” and “home” countries.
      But at another level this is the problem of being human – what the Buddha termed “Samsara”. In the western tradition a sense of un-homeliness that is the HUMAN CONDITION. I have been to some of those old-boy old-girl school gatherings in Toronto, London, WDC and NYC. There is a certain insularity, nostalgia and insecurity that draws your parents generation back to their high-school circles – partly due to racism they experience in Canada or US. Its also a factor of their aging and reaching out to long lost friends. The aging brain returns us to long-lost memories as therapy and balm in their long hard struggle for success as immigrants.
      It is sad that they chose to exclude some and forget their past struggles tho..
      But there are many who are inclusive too –

  • 8

    Natalie, I am sorry but I cannot join the cheerleading commentary wagon here because I am sure you can do much better than this. You are addressing a common phenomenon in many immigrant societies, and labeling it Sinhalese, which is rather immature. I wish you could discuss this in a broader anthropological sense rather than in rather a personal and bitter outlook. Former would have resulted in a deep intellectual commentary whereas this has turned out to be both narrow and shallow.
    I hope my comments will encourage you to look at the socio-anthropological phenomenon of segregation vs integration, and how that changes from the founding population (the first generation immigrants), and down to second and third generations. If you study the Sri Lankan immigrants in Toronto you will see the similarity in the progression of these processes both major ethnic groups. It is quite revealing to look at the electoral map of greater Toronto at the ward level in relation to ethnic composition and how that changes over time.
    There is a Sinhala saying (perhaps the same is in other cultures) about the “grub in the bittermelon”. unless the grub moves out of the bittermelon plant it will always only experience the bitterness, so it is important for the grub to exit the bittermelon plant in order to analyze the phenomenon that goes on in the plant world _BTW I am not calling you a grubby any means : )

  • 0

    Natale, I spelled your name incorrectly in my previous comment, my apologies for that.

  • 16

    I as a boy growing up in Jaffna saw discrimination and wondered why? I’ve seen the same discriminating mentality among our people in England where I lived for 20 years and wondered why? I moved to Canada and am seeing the same mentality among our people and still wondering Why?

    Though this sort of thing is less in the 2nd and 3rd generation immigrants, it is still there? At least here in Canada we have a functioning democracy which respects and abide by the constitution of the land. We also have a charter of rights which we value and every new citizen is given a copy of.

    Basically what we have in Sri Lanka is a nation controlled by Thugs and uncivilized arseholes. This is a fact and there is no denying it.

    • 4

      Karthigesu Nirmalan-Nathan

      “I moved to Canada and am seeing the same mentality among our people and still wondering Why?”

      You mean the Tamils are discriminating the indigenous people as well as the descendant of Kallathonies from South India.

  • 3


    If one needs to contact you by e-mail, how can this be done.

    Can you pls publish your e-mail

  • 0

    Dear Natale,
    How much have you been listening to your parents’ laments, complaints etc etc… Have you seen those for yourself? There are 50 million Tamils living in Tamil Nadu, and THAT is their homeland. All those “innocent’ “refugees” you see in Toronto are those who made hey while the sun shone, and pretended “extreme hardships” to gain sympathetic refugee entry into Canada. Please don’t try to make your 15 minutes of fame on the internet by this type of uneducated writeups. Too bad this colombo telegraph, which appears to be anti-Sri Lanka every day, tolerates this.

  • 2

    Having lived in a non immigrant friendly country for 50 years next year, and suddenly got flooded by refugees 35 years ago refugees of all hues and religions, I think I can have a fair insight into this.
    The Sri Lankan is the most petty minded immigrant in any country in the world.
    The Burghers of lighter skin and a western oriented cultural background integrated faster and easily than the Sinhala and Tamil and Muslim Immigrants that followed who also clung to their prejudices
    taught from childhood. Volumes could be written by better qualified and learned people than I on the subject

  • 4

    Our ‘brains’ has some how been set to find the differences among us and not to see the commonness!
    Since 1983, there is a great ‘barrier’ between the Tamils and Sinhalese in SL as well as where ever they moved to. Can someone inniate the process of reconciliation among all the Sri Lankan where ever they live.
    We Sri Lankan NEED to keep those Politicians Priests Monks and Journalists who are always trying to promote DIVISIONS/HATRED, isolated for ever and ever.
    Thank you Natale for bringing up this well known PROBLEM

  • 2

    Natale Dankotuwage

    “The prejudice is evident in the selective ways they engage with others in Toronto. Judging others based on the neighbourhoods they grew up in, the schools they attended, and the last names they carry from an Island they left.

    From carrying over the Royal College dinner dances and cricket ceremonies. To prizing their fair skin babies. Sinhalese folks have subtle ways of garnering a sense of worth on foreign land.”

    The Prejudice is in their Gene and this is nothing new.

    *** These people are not genuine. They are opportunists . Many have taken advantage of the Tamil exodus and claimed asylum pretending to have helped Tamils and as a result they have been persecuted. I have come accross many in my line of work.

    They should be ashamed.

  • 3

    Hi Natale,
    I appreciate the bold step you’ve taken in writing this, because it’s one of those things we don’t often hear or talk about. I wish you’d restated this in a way which is applicable to all “Sri Lankan’s” and not limiting this to the Sinhalese race. I don’t for a second think that this is a “Sinhalese” phenomena. I’ve lived in Australia as a child of a graduate student and the discriminatory behaviour exhibited by our people was appalling to say the least. Thank you for writing this.

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