24 October, 2021

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The Bridge Between The Diaspora Youth And Their Country Of Origin

By Thisara Devasurendra

Thisara Devasurendra

Rather than quoting empirical data, and authors or complex theories, today I will speak to you through my experiences.

As far as I remember, like the majority of my Sri Lankan friends born during the eighties, I have always known my parents’ country as a country in war. And even if the conflict is over since a few years now, I frequently get reminded that there was a war. Especially when I meet someone new, and they ask me where I come from I naturally respond to them – Sri Lanka.

To the majority of people that I have told about my origins, many are clueless, and I just don’t insist. For those of whom are accustomed to living in very cosmopolitan areas of the world or are slightly more aware of the world will ask me, “there’s a war there isn’t it? So are you Tamil or Sinhala? So who are the real bad guys?” All these questions awakens horrid memories that I witnessed as a child during my frequent stays in Sri Lanka. So yes, it makes me upset that this beautiful country had undergone one of the bloodiest wars that even I witnessed, leaving a real meaning to the word ‘gruesome’ in my mind.

Truth be told, I have lived in Sri Lanka, and I go there as much as few times a year since birth, yet I have only been to the Northern part of Sri Lanka during the summer of 2011, and before that the most Northern point I had been was Trincomalee in 2005. It is when I went to Jaffna in 2011 that the feeling that something wasn’t right started growing in my mind. Witnessing all the chaos that ravaged Jaffna and seeing this for the first time gave me chills in my spine. I was then on a family holiday with my parents, aunts, uncles and my grandmother who also lived until the mid-60’s in Jaffna and left like many others during the 70’s. Then I thought to myself, war is certainly over politically speaking, but what if my family background had its roots in Jaffna, and it was the first time I was able to visit my grandmother in Jaffna?

What would one feel coming to visit his or her grandparents or family for the first time and see all the monuments destroyed by bombing or even bullet ridden walls on their family home if not completely destroyed?

How would one feel going back to Colombo and the rest of the country and see the decadence of Sri Lanka after seeing a ruined city by 30 years of war? If it were me, I would indeed have a feeling of bitterness or anger. It is this feeling that can intoxicate the Diaspora, thus the peace between the different populations of Sri Lanka anywhere in the world and that I therefore resent.

I would like to talk about this war in the past tense and talk about the future in the present and future tense. When you are part of the Diaspora, your vision of Sri Lanka is usually distorted. You appropriate your cultural identity through what ties you to the country –your parents, family and peers. Even when you go to Sri Lanka, your visions and impressions are biased by cultural and linguistic barriers. Yet my observation is that the Sri Lankan Diaspora youth is more inclined in keeping in touch with traditions than the ones living in Sri Lanka.

Likewise their will to proclaim their cultural difference or identity is often very visible. We should all be proud of carrying over a bit of our heritage and passing it over to the future generations. But what kind of message and vision has been passed on to us? And as a generation which was born to an era of war? What did our parents and elders go through during this war? How much have WE been exposed to it? Why or how did their opinions shape our point of view? Or at least contribute to it?

My frequent travels to Sri Lanka helped me keep up with my cultural identity, I am lucky enough to have lived there and kept contact with my friends, and meet them ever so often that I can and act like a normal Sri Lankan.

Having the ability to do things to a certain extent on my own has brought me the ability of having a more personal and less biased point of view –at least the illusion of it. Over the years I started contesting and arguing with my parents about topics on Sri Lanka, and I still do, this is thanks to my own point of contacts to Sri Lanka. Saying that the world is moving very fast is stating the obvious, but to the risk of sounding like my parents, I have to admit that even I was surprised to witness the speed of Sri Lanka’s metamorphosis, and its population. There is a gap between how one can assess information and when the information is being delivered to them.

The interpretation of the information will be the key and this will also reflect the involvement to the country of origin. Yet there is a great gap between how Sri Lankans from Sri Lanka perceived themselves and perceive the situation of the country and how the Diaspora perceives the Sri Lankans and Sri Lanka.

There is one upside to being part of the Diaspora I think. That is preserving the cultural identity, which has started to dilute in Sri Lanka. The downside is, maintaining stereotypical viewpoints inherited by people acting like a bridge between the Diaspora youth and the country of origin. So how could Sri Lankan Diaspora youth help?

Changing a mindset is a hard to achieve. Yet change can start but it needs commitment. The Diaspora is indeed a key factor in Sri Lanka’s image, as they are the interface between the country and foreigners. Moreover, it remains a main artery to the peace building process. The Diaspora youth has acquired a certain set of skills through the process of schooling in France or abroad, which is living with each other. The mix of origins in a classroom is often very eclectic. Thus making this generation more inclined to diversity. This is one very positive aspect we should start capitalizing on. And I am persuaded that there are many more.

Likewise to show change, it will need certain commitments and life choices from a group of individuals who are determined to carry on this will to make things better. This will require them to live in Sri Lanka and reach influential positions in society, but they will have to accept that they probably will not see the fruit of their work and choices.

On the other hand the Diaspora can be fearfully dangerous to the current peace process. As mentioned before, the gap between the current situation and the belief of the Diaspora could harm the reconciliation process at this very early stage, and even deepen the current laceration the country is already trying or not, to heal.

“Start as you mean to go along”. Cemal Tosun

*Thisara Devasurendra holds an MBA from Bournemouth University, UK. He currently works as an economic projects manager for an NGO based in Marseille, France. He also runs a research & development business in the field of renewable energies in Brittany, France.

Thisara Devasurendra participated in the French-Sri Lankan Diaspora Youth Workshop “Post-War Reconciliation Dialogue for a Sustainable Peace”, which took place in Paris, on October 27th, 2012, as a panelist on the theme The role of the Diaspora youth in Sri Lanka’s peace building process.
The event was organized by What’s Next!, a forum comprising of post-graduates and young professionals of Sri Lankan origin residing in France. What’s Next! seeks to promote a sustainable peace in Sri Lanka through intellectual exchange and multicultural dialogue.
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    ”Sri Lankan Diaspora youth is more inclined in keeping in touch with traditions than the ones living in Sri Lanka” has been found to be so about the diaspora of many countries.

    In any country traditions keep evolving with the times. But the diaspora have a feeling that they should ”maintain the traditions”.

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    A rough idea about the various things going on in the country is a good guide to plan your action. I was actually stumped when a diaspora youth asked me to give him a source from which he can get a rough idea about the various things going on in the country. I found the following to the best of my ability:
    [Edited out]

    @Eureka,

    Part of this comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.
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      @Comment policy
      Sorry to have violated your policy – I thought the weblink to a continuing collection of ”incidents” would be easy for me.

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    Thisara: Shame on You for biting the hand that feeds you.

    I was born in Colombo Ceylon and spoke all the languages of the country. I live in the west and am very much a western national I cannot be both because that would be “hypocrisy”. Professionals in France and England have asked me how come you are different that you are cheering our side? It is my side I am a national too not a Ceylonese anymore- it’s the same as when you move from one school to another whom do you cheer at the big match? To cheer your old school is being a traitor isn’t it? Don’t be surprised why we have a Tyrant rajapakistan from the south. I am sorry but you are “promoting bigots” because you were born at the wrong time after our great schools were taken over under the pressure of the Sinhala Buddhist of the South. You are no more than a bigot not fit to live in Europe. Europe spends billions trying to integrate its society and here you are biting the hand that feeds you. The majority of Japanese behaved like you in the US during the WW2 therefore everyone was put behind bars even though some fought as fighter pilots. Stop being a prick and let decent folk live in the Europe.

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    ”current peace process”??

    What are you referring to please, Thisara?

    Very high militarisation of the North, IDPs prevented from returning to their original villages, esp. coastal villages (which are given to Sinhala fishermen or tourist businessmen) and dumped in cleared jungles, army occupying High Security Zones growing vegetables and selling in the markets and the displaced people(up to 20yrs) languishing camps, economic enterprises of the army depriving the people of employment opportunities, restricted access to aid agents, some returnees have no roof over their heads, elections of the Northern Province not yet held and the Presidential Task Force for Northern Development has 18 Sinhalese and one Muslim and all these are either from the Central govt or from the armed forces, unsystemic and unsustainable development taking place, too many subsidised busloads from the South put pressure on the delicate water table of Jaffna peninsula, …. ……. …………

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    i.”it remains a main artery to the peace building process”.
    Grateful for the very good intentions.

    ii.”Diaspora youth has acquired a certain set of skills through the process of schooling in France or abroad, which is living with each other”.
    It’s the politicians who have been emphasising the ethnic differences to get votes though there is ample evidence to show that the people do not have intrinsic hatred foe the other.
    Often we find that ”there is no political will” as the reason.

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    Normal tendency of people is to take sides. What we need to do is to understand the feelings and predicament of others. Put ourselves in the shoes of the other and then decide if this was fair or just.

    Especially the diaspora living in devoleped countries is able to understand the problems faced by people here due to the freedoms and opportunities they enjoy which are denied to the average person in Sri Lanka.

    We have a system ruled by families, politicians, elite, old boys, racist. Average person is discriminated on many fronts. Diaspora has a key role to play for their motherland. Please speak up for democracy, justice and freedom and against corruption, racism and injustice. You can make this country a better land by making your voice heard.

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      I agree with you.

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    Thisara Quote “and my grandmother who also lived- until- the- mid-60’s in Jaffna and left- like –many- others during- the- 70’s.”Unquote

    There are two sides to every issue: one side is right and the other is wrong, but the middle is always evil.

    Your Satanic Verses as below are a danger to Europe.
    ” On the other hand the Diaspora can be fearfully dangerous to the current peace process. As mentioned before, the gap between the current situation and the belief of the Diaspora could harm the reconciliation process at this very early stage, and even deepen the current laceration the country is already trying or not, to heal.”

    “holds an MBA” buy and sell; unable to innovate. “renewable energies” – Champika the yellow robed terror of Lanka.

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    Why can’t you get integrated into the society where you live? Try to explain why Diaspora youth is more inclined in keeping in touch with traditions than the ones living in Sri Lanka. As their parents try to show that they were more patriotic than the ones who live Sri Lanka their children want to show the same sentiment using different wordings. Instead of Patriotism tradition.

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    This comment is shocking.
    Western countries are encouraging diaspora from various countries to help their countries of origin in all possible ways.
    It is not biting the hand that feeds one.
    It’s basic human psychology to trace your roots wherever you are.

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      Forming Ghettos and voting en block is not western but a misconceived concept of the west. The west is individualism of thought. After 9/11 the west is very concerned and trying to get rid of it.. Xenophobia is raising its head even in the understanding UK
      Famous catch phrase of Bush is still resounding in the years of every westerner- either you are with us or against us. You cannot have the eat it and see it. You should not put the lives of other well established immigrants at stake – just after 9/11 many Sathaji’s were beaten up as Taliban and that is the problem for everyone. No doubt the Tamils should get something not be left in the jungles but it followed the Irish path than the Scottish path of referendum- period.

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    As this son says there is much misunderstanding between Tamil and Sinhala people. I personally think THE RECONCILIATION PROCESS should be made by the Young people like Thisara. Politicians (of both sides) usually are biased when they see a problem. In SL people need mostly is MUTUAL UNDERSTANDING. People belonging to all ethnicities who live in Colombo communicate with eath other. They have no Xenophobia!(I am not talking about politicians)In their day to day life, they see meet other in public transport, they work together, they participate in the same ceremonies sometimes etc. This understanding only will SOLVE this problem. Now our children learn both languages Tamil and Sinhala. They will be more apt in communicating with eath other.

    The peace process that this young gentleman refer to is, I think, what is happening on the grass root level in the society.

    These young hearts should be encouraged!

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