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Redefining the South Asian Diasporic Experience: An Audio Documentary



Photo of Rumneek Johal by Parm Randhawa

Surrey resident, Rumneek Johal, unpacks identity among different generations of immigrants in Surrey through her Masters project, “Allow us To Reintroduce Ourselves.” Her entire project, including her audio documentary and literature review, has been published below.

Allow Us to Reintroduce Ourselves
Redefining the South Asian Diasporic Experience

An Audio Documentary

By Rumneek Johal

This research project unpacks identity across generations among residents of the South Asian diaspora of Surrey, British Columbia. There is a large settlement of South Asians that have lived in Surrey for decades, and this community faces unique challenges as a result of immigration, family dynamics, generational differences, language barriers, and media scrutiny.

This audio documentary provides members of the community with the opportunity to speak to biased media representations that paint the community in a negative light, while simultaneously sharing the complex lived reality of what growing up and living in Surrey is like for residents of different ages. The documentary also addresses identity in complex ways, that challenge the popular notion of Surrey as a monolith in the media, by showing how residents young and old adopt particular practices of culture and identity formation, irrespective of popular stereotypes from outside the community that look to categorize and define those inside it.


This final research project is an original, independent work by the author, Rumneek Johal.



I would like to acknowledge the contribution of my many sources who opened up their homes and their lives to me, and offered their time, and I offer the utmost gratitude to Peter Klein, Kathryn Gretsinger, and Renisa Mawani for their support and guidance throughout this project.


To the youth of Surrey: the possibilities for you are endless, and whether you want to be a counsellor or a police officer, or just have your name on a Master’s degree, remember you can do just about anything under the sun – and you can do it all while repping this incredible city when doing it.

Chapter One: Literature Review

1.1 Introduction

My final research project will examine how inter generational storytelling and conversations can act as a way to deconstruct how one’s identity has been shaped by the media, and in particular, by inaccurate media representations. Canada’s largest South Asian Diaspora – in Surrey, BC – is an interesting site of examination, because of the way migration impacts various generations in diverse ways, and how media representations mediate identity.

Generational differences, in turn, influence one’s understanding of media representations, as well as the impact of these representations on one’s self worth and self-esteem, and influence one’s identity.

I argue that this diaspora and it’s unique positioning as a minority group, living amongst a dominant South Asian diasporic population, has rarely been examined in academic literature.Furthermore, although numerous scholarly studies (Aujla, 2000; Dossa, 2004; Rajiva, 2005) have used generational approaches to examine the experiences of immigrants in general, this has had limited uptake in journalism, and often these perspectives fail to address the particular complexities of diasporic communities, that encompass both first- and second-generation immigrants, who mediate identity differently both within and outside of the diaspora.

This project aims to look at how intra-community dialogue in a diasporic community is a way of developing a counter-consciousness to biased media representations, as well as to the ways different generations come to understand one another (Sandhu-Bhamra, 2015, Mann, 2018).

These communities, in particular, struggle with both external racism and pressures from “dominant society,” as well as internalized racism and pressures within their South Asian subculture due to the close-knit nature of those within the diasporic community (Rajgopal, 2003).These complexities are exacerbated by media coverage, that then tends to place generations at odds with one another, both due to lack of understanding and lack of dialogue – which is precisely what this project hopes to examine and undertake.

One of the prime aspects demarcating the difference between generations is the concept of choice – given who has it, and in what context they can wield it (Rajiva, 2013).My positionality as a settler on this land, a member of this community in Surrey, BC, a child of immigrants, a cis-gender, straight woman of colour, and person in a graduate journalism program, gives me the choice, ability, and foundational knowledge to examine this community.

The literature that will inform this project examines diasporic communities, the media representations that particularly address the diaspora of Surrey, BC, scholarly approaches that use generational approaches, and those that utilize storytelling as a method of resistance.

This literature review will also examine these approaches and posit the strengths and weaknesses, as well as the gaps in the research this project hopes to address, particularly in relation to the unique positioning and identity struggles of individuals of different generations within this diaspora.

1.2 About the Community

Surrey, BC, is Canada’s largest South Asian diasporic community, with Surrey having certain characteristics that appealed to the growing influx of immigrants, including being cheaper to live in than Vancouver, and being a place to which many other South Asians migrated. “Small towns offered economic opportunities and were often considered to be more accepting of South Asian immigrants” (Mawani, 2017, p.13).

Surrey has also historically been a place where multi-family homes were more affordable than other areas of the Lower Mainland, and supported this “modified extended family” system, in which grandparents often live with one of their children and his or her spouse and their children (Nayar, 2004, p. 52.).

This community formed a diaspora because a large number of immigrants, in this case South Asian immigrants, populated this community for multiple generations, all hailing from neighbouring home countries in East Asia and having cultural, religious, or linguistic similarities, among other things (n.a, 2018, South Asian Studies UFV).

The term “South Asian Canadian” refers to a subgroup of Asian Canadians and can further be divided by nationality into Indo Canadian, Bangladeshi Canadian, and Pakistani Canadian, or by ethnicity, such as Tamil Canadian and Gujarati Canadian. (Mawani, 2017, p. 6). This community often gets conflated with the entire population being “Indian or East Indian,” when the community is in fact made up of a range of diverse identities and experiences.

“Terms such as “East Indian” and “Indo-Canadian” are problematic because of their narrow reference. Both refer directly to the Indian subcontinent, excluding other South Asian regions. They also refer to nation states and nationalities, implying the idea that ethnicity, identity and “race” are neatly confined within the borders of homogenous states,” (Aujla, 2000, p. 42).Despite difficulties with migration to Canada for South Asians early on, (Mawani, 2017), the Lower Mainland, and in particular, Surrey, became a popular place for immigrants to settle.

“Immigration ‘boomed; throughout the 1970s, such that by the 1980s, low-cost single-family dwellings [homes or townhomes] dominated Surrey’s landscape (Dowling, 1996),” cited in Frost 2010. This community became a large settlement of immigrants from South Asia, creating a diaspora (Rajgopal, 2003). Diasporas are unique because of their link to their home country, and “these linkages develop over time and become multi-layered.

They emerge as important channels for identification of a historical memory with the homeland and for maintaining some form of connectedness with it,” (Thandi, 2016, p.237). As a result, a kind of “hybrid identity” arises at a point between two cultures (Asher, 2008, p.13), and also between generations, which create complex lived experiences for those who either left behind a home country or were born in Canada.

As Stuart (1990) explains, these communities are composed of similarities, and great difference. “Diaspora experience as I intend it here is defined, not by essence or purity, but by the recognition of a necessary heterogeneity and diversity; by a conception of ‘identity’ which lives with and through, not despite, difference; by hybridity” (Stuart, 1990, p.235). Hybridity manifests differently in generations, as individuals within a diaspora work to reconcile parts of their identity with their previous experiences, and what they call “home,” while also simply trying to earn a living.

This makes this diaspora a unique point of examination, due to the way life in Canada significantly impacted the collectivist culture and lifestyle that was common in one’s country of origin. As Nayar (2004) outlines, many who left India came from a rural community based oral tradition, which signals to this collective nature. “A distinguishing feature of the orality mode of thinking is its collectivity orientation,” (Nayar, 2004, p. 31).

The collective nature of this community becomes ruptured in Canada because of the fact that, in order to survive economically, everyone must contribute financially by going to work, and this can create a rift in the collective mentality by reducing time for conversation and the oral sharing of tradition, history, and culture among families.

This disconnect between families and generations within the same families can also impact identity and how it is passed along. Further, diasporic communities have a unique position, after being removed from the “home” that is their country of origin and still seen as different in their new “home” in Canada, which can complicate the way one understands identity at multiple levels.

This includes “identity denial” which is termed by Cheryan & Monin (2005) as “an acceptance threat (Branscombe, Ellemers, ,Spears, & Doosje, 1999), wherein an individual who does not match the prototype of an in-group sees that identity called into question or unrecognized by fellow group members” (p. 717).

This is seen both in the ways dominant “Canadian” society may see ethnic minorities as outsiders, as well as how others even within a diasporic community may deny one’s identity on the basis of not being “ethnic enough,” and therefore seen as outside the community, despite these ruptures in transmission of culture and language being more complex and deep rooted.

Diasporic communities are also on the “boundary of place” (Mlcek 2016), which “can result in a feeling of being overwhelmed about the lack of direction and purpose which is typical of anomie,” a “breakdown in connections to social bonds in different ways; whether to language, community and individuals, or a traditional way of life” (Scott and Marshall, 2009 cited in Mlcek p. 85).

Being removed from one’s original social networks or familial ties, especially early on in an immigrant journey, can lead to both isolation and a loss of tradition, which creates even further distance between younger generations and traditions from their homeland, and from understanding the lived experiences of the generations that came before them. “Diaspora thus refers to a dispersion, a scattering, of people from one common culture/nation to the wide world beyond.

Yet not every journey can be understood as a diaspora, or a dispersion from, for the term embodies a notion of a center, a locus, a home, from where the dispersion occurs,” (Rajgopal, 2003, p. 55). Some people within diaspora, even if they are first generations, may also feel this “dispersal” from their home, in the ways they let go of the traditions from their homeland or cultures to better adapt or assimilate to culture in Canada, or perhaps not feeling a strong connection to this concept of a far-away “home” in the first place.

Different imaginings and memories are associated with a home that is either “here,” or “there,” creating and contributing to a simultaneous experience of both inclusion and exclusion. While migration journeys of immigrants have long been documented, including the difficulties for South Asian immigrants hoping to settle in Canada, little attention is paid to the ways that immigration inflicts trauma on these populations, without giving them the tools to navigate, understand and work through it.

“Along the same lines, several theorists have argued that migration should be understood as a traumatic experience,” (Bhabha, 1994/2005; Ralston cited in Naidoo, 2003, p. 58), especially in the case of racialized populations leaving behind family, community and cultural familiarity to move to Western countries where they may not feel welcomed by the dominant population, and may experience racism.

“We know very little about how children experience and cope with their parents’ struggles,” (Rajiva, 2005 p. 21), and that in many cases, silence surrounds these difficulties experienced by families, some of whose struggles rarely get voiced or discussed even within the walls of individual households, due to the way trauma can be silencing.

Veena Das (2018) discusses the concept of not being able to name trauma because of cultural, societal and religious contexts, that still have traces in present day. Trauma was not given voice in times of upheaval and violence during partition, and this history of not speaking of difficulties or painful memories often continues (Das, 2018).

1.3 Problematic Media Representations

This research will examine the real stories and lived experiences behind the headlines in the media, which often tend to be stereotypical. (Jiwani, 2006; Sandhu-Bhamra, 2015; Mann, 2018). Subsequently these representations often exclude this community from national belonging due to stereotypical representations that paint the community as “other”, and not “fitting in” (Jiwani, 2006, p.42).

As a result, this “social breakdown” (Mclek, 2016) that is often typical of diasporas is exacerbated by media coverage, due to the way it creates a hierarchy of privilege and inclusion within the community. The media often separates those associated with any deviant activity as “outsiders,” even if the diaspora sees them as members of the community, and this can mean that “feelings of comfort and estrangement can be experienced concurrently within the same location,” and in differing ways across generations (Taylor, 2013, p. 397).

While some people may feel welcomed and accepted by their community and Canadians, others may understand media representations as a way of isolating and singling out members of this community. The media represents “powerful institutions structured in dominance, [and] the media’s messages and constructions inform the public imagination – influencing the lives of racialized minorities. (Jiwani, 2006, p. 31).

Problematic representations therefore impact the lived realities of racialized minorities, because they get conflated with the stories being told of them in the media, that often paint a single narrative of the community. As an example, a Global News article in 2018, written by Sonia Deol and Jesse Ferreras entitled “They carry guns in South Asian rap videos.

In real life, many haven’t touched one,” goes on to conflate the use of guns as props in South Asian music videos to the narrative of real-life gang violence problems in the community, including statistics linking back to the high proportion of South Asians criminalized for gang behaviour.

The article, instead of focusing on music and the violence perpetuated in music, associates this with real gang violence, connecting two seemingly unrelated narratives and contributing to the stigma associated with South Asians who may just enjoy reconnecting with their culture and roots by listening to music from their communities.

Stereotypical or inaccurate media coverage has remained an issue since the immigration of South Asians to B.C. (Mann, 2018). An issue that contributes to this is the lack of media diversity, given that in many cases, those within a community are able to begin to understand and reflect nuances in media coverage. “Minority communities in Canada still remain susceptible to misreporting, tokenization, being ignored, or worse, being spoken over,” (Mann, 2018, para 18).

Residents of Surrey’s South Asian diaspora have been particularly singled out by media bias to the extent that they have been “linked to the fringe criminal elements in their communities” irrespective “of their professional status, years of gainful employment, or record of community service,” (Mann, 2018). Therefore, because the media plays such an important role in socialization (Jiwani, 2007), representations have a profound impact on identity, which in the context of a diaspora, is not as straightforward or homogenous as some may see it.

“Such reliance on stereotypic representations serves to strengthen them, and shuts out the complex, dynamic identities that are actually in play in school and society,” Asher (2008 p.13). This research hopes to complicate the idea of identities as fixed because they are not an “accomplished fact,” but “a ‘production’, which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation,” (Hall 1990 cited in Rutherford p. 222).

South Asian communities – along with other minority groups – often get ascribed minority status in ways that emphasize differences in the way they are addressed in media – not as Canadian but “Indo-Canadian” which contributes to the feeling of exclusion, that may lead to a distancing of oneself from one’s ethnic or cultural identity.

“Those with particular phenotypes — or those categorised under the rubric of ‘visible minority status’ — are excluded from the dominant discourse of Canadianness” (Mahtani, 2002, p 78). This exclusion from the “discourse of Canadianness” also often requires consent and participation of the minority group itself (Asher, 2008), upholding and often reinforcing difference, by continuing to work and live within the confines of the community, maintaining the well-defined boundaries between the inside of the community and the outside.

This can be seen in how minorities may play into or make light of common stereotypes about their communities in order to deflect. Any form of difference, or effort to not minimize one’s cultural or religious affiliations can be seen as “extreme,” to the point where minorities and their differences, are interrogated on a deeper level.

Federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh has been criticized in a number of articles about his links to possible Sikh extremists or fundamentalists, and constantly had to defend or speak about his religion and defending the actions of other Sikhs in the media (Globe and Mail, Margaret Wente, 2018.).

Between generations –- despite identification with one’s country of residence or country of birth, the way “ambiguous identities” and place of origin of minorities are reflected in media show they are requiring further clarification (Wu 2002: 79, cited in Hua (2016)), causing minorities, particularly in the second-generation, to justify their place both within and outside of the diaspora.

Links to one’s homeland or specifically religion, in the case of Singh, are assumed to be negative or outside of the norm. These representations also problematize one’s identity, because stereotypical, harmful, or inaccurate media coverage can negatively impact self-esteem, due to the ways it impacts popular public perception.

“News [about] public violence associated with second-generation youth, as well as Canadian media reports about ethnic youth gangs, disproportionately high rates of school drop-outs among some ethnic groups, and the arrests of the alleged ‘home-grown’ terror suspects in Toronto, have added unprecedented urgency to the question of how far children of immigrants have integrated in Canadian society,” (Ali, 2008, p. 89).

For young South Asians, including myself, seeing constant negative representations of their community makes these differences concrete to those within the community, and those scrutinizing us from outside of it.

Media representations themselves are also understood differently by generations, and oftentimes older generations are not impacted by stereotypical coverage, because they perceive those linked to crime or criminal behaviours as separate from them, despite dominant society seeing all members of a minority group as homogenous, a point well understood and experienced firsthand by second generation immigrants (Ali, 2008).

Second generation immigrants recognize the impact of stereotypes because they identify themselves in this coverage, understanding that racist dominant society often conflates all members of a minority group, regardless of association. This “[leaves] each of them feeling like ‘a visitor at best, an intruder at worst’” (Wu, 2002, p. 80) cited in (Cheryan and Monin, 2005, p. 728), and can create conflicting understanding of one’s identity.

1.4 Generational Differences

In terms of migration, generational differences impact one’s ability to identify and adapt with society, given the way the immigration process and the fallout from this process is multidimensional. “This process is a complex one, during the course of which immigrants – who often carry the societal values of their homeland – face pressures to come to terms with a different set of values and to interact with a different set of institutions.

Adaptation is not quickly accomplished because it involves a generational dynamic” (Nayar, 2004, p. 3). Generational differences are important to examine, because of the ways that status can be associated to citizenship, accents, or lack thereof, and one’s profession or financial status. One’s identity can embody different placements of privilege, inclusion and exclusion based on the generation they belong to, and the communities and spaces they occupy and are able to access, as a result.

Anthias (2005, p. 45 cited in Rajiva, 2012) defines trans-locational positioning as “a focus on the contradictory locations (the positions and positionings) that complicate social actors’ access to power and resources, and that creates difference of experience between different generations.”

For example, although two members of the same family are still seen as minorities, a second-generation individual may have better access to financial resources because they grew up in Canada and may not have an accent, grew up speaking English, and have easier access to a Canadian education, while first-generation immigrants often struggle with getting their educational achievements recognized.

These generational differences can then contribute to conflict. “The different modes of thinking of the generational groups can be seen as an important source of tension between the three generations, tension that goes beyond language or cultural differences” (Nayar, 2004, p. 25).

These different modes of thinking then break down modes of communication, in that these different groups generationally are unable to adequately convey emotions related to immigration and identity.

While older generations have “overt symbols of difference,” this “difference” marked by one’s ethnicity is positioned as more of a choice for younger generations, who are then forced to grapple between conflicting identities and choose the extent by which to embody “brownness” or their South Asian identity.

“Second generation South Asian girls growing up in Canada face very different problems from immigrant women who are Othered through accent, foreign education and other overt symbols of difference” (Rajiva, 2009, p. 77).

Older generations often transport traditions and culture that was lived and embodied from their homeland to Canada and may attempt to pass this down to their children, but the extent to which this is received is something to examine.

Due to different generations methods of coping with immigration, and the fact that many immigrant children are raised by grandparents while parents work to provide for the family, barriers are built that impact the relations between generations. “Communication barriers become the source of unintended tensions. These unintended tensions inevitably have serious effects on family relations” (Nayar, 2004, p.45).

Further, while older generations may have faced more explicit racism in the earlier days of migration, they may feel safer within the confines of the diaspora and community of people that look like and understand them and may not be as aware of the extent to which racism continues beyond their communities.

In contrast, second-generation immigrants may also face racism navigating society outside of the diasporic community, and not feel as welcomed by the myth of Canadian multiculturalism as their parent’s generation. “In the late 1970s, with the emergence of multicultural policy, we saw an emphasis placed on funding ethnic groups’ celebration of fun, food and festivals,” (Mahtani, 2009, p. 716), and the 70s were also when a majority of first-generation South Asian immigrants came and settled in Canada.

Many immigrants were welcomed under the guise of inclusion and diversity, making them more likely to believe that Canada is a racial utopia, especially living in a community of people that looked like them. Leaving their communities, they were in some cases confronted with racism, in ways that impacted their behaviours with their children. For example, my parents and many of the parents in my extended family modified their names in the workplace to Western names, rather than keeping their own.

My father, Bhupinder, who was called “Raju” growing up, completely changed his name and goes by “Roger.” My mother, Harkirat, now goes by “Kerri.” When naming their children, many first-generation immigrants must think about how their children will be perceived outside of the community, which sometimes results in giving their children Western names.

With this project, I will expand on research done by Ali (2008) in which Ali posits that while second-generation immigrants, “strongly identify with their parents’ ethnic origins, but do not share their pre-migration or immigration experiences, they are unlikely to be simply grateful for the opportunity to live in Canada,” (p. 91) and may be more critical of representations in the media, and the racism faced by this community regularly.

Generationally, identity is an important site of examination because existing and navigating in a diaspora is unique. The concept of “home” is seen quite differently among generations. “The concept of diaspora implies a ‘homing desire,’ a desire to feel at home in the context of migration (Brah 1996: 180), but ‘home’ has always been difficult to define, having numerous meanings with differing levels of abstraction” (Taylor, 2013, p. 397).

Older generations have a concept of the “home” they once knew and lived in before immigrating and settling down in this community in Surrey, but second-generation individuals struggle to reconcile two homes, trying to somehow fit in in both. “Home is never fully achieved, never fully arrived-at, even when we are in it” (Fortier 2003, cited in Taylor 2013 p. 397).

Cheryan & Monin (2005) look at the identity denial faced by Asian Americans, but that can also be applied to other minorities and particularly second-generation minorities in a diaspora, whose identities may be constantly changing as they navigate ways to balance different aspects of their culture.

“Diasporic citizens are often forced to assume new identities to survive in their new homeland” (Rajgopal, 2003, p. 52).These “new identities” go beyond just trying to be “brown enough,” when around other South Asians, or Canadian around other non-South Asians, but also bleed into the identities formed out of a need for survival.

The new roles assumed in a diaspora by the differing generation mark a radical change from how many lived in their home countries, given that in Canada, both parents are expected to work in order to provide for the family, and often grandparents or other family members assume the role of child care.

The communication barriers that may exist between these generations (Nayar, 2004), and lack of direct parental supervision due to financial or economic burdens, can lead some youth down a path of crime in a way to find some sense of belonging, family, or financial stability. In some cases, racial identity and minority status are not only inherent and felt, but this difference is ascribed to individuals by dominant society.

“We were not born women of color, but became women of color here… The citizenship machinery codifies an outsider status which is different from the outsider status of women of color born in the United States” (Mohant & Alexander 1997 cited in Rajgopal 2003 p. 52.). Many people of colour, myself included, did not feel markedly different from others until venturing out of a community in which I was constantly surrounded by people who look like me.

Even in the way immigrants define themselves, the language used by second-generations calls themselves “Brown” while older generations use terms often created by dominant Canadian society including “East Indian” or “Indo Canadian” (Frost 2010). “Brown generally exists in opposition to “white,” exemplified by the fact that it is still “brown kids with the brown kids” and “white kids with the white kids” (Frost, 2010, p. 218).

This label is often used by those within the community to refer to one another, because it comments on a shared reality and a type of assumed kinship and closeness among the community. Further, Mythili Rajiva examines how children of immigrants navigate their identity, and the hierarchy of privileges that come with it, which differ from the set of privileges or lack thereof first-generation immigrants may experience.

Rajiva acknowledges the multiple positionings inhabited by first and second-generation immigrants, (Rajiva, 2013) as they simultaneously strive to fit in, while being so wholly different from members of the majority. “Ethnic and national positionings in Canada are entangled further through the hyphen, which effectively produces spaces of distance.

This ‘distance-difference’ (Rose, 1995) complicates questions of national identity” (Mahtani, 2002, p. 79), but this is complicated yet again when we think about how one finds connection to their country of origin. Diasporic communities are pockets of immigrants, but complexity arises in how they navigate “Canadianness” with their South Asian identity, and which is seen as more or less important to each respective generation.

First generation immigrants may have a much harder time economically and socially in terms of fitting in and building a life, but “second generation subjects may be more affected at the level of positive identity and self-esteem because, unlike their parents, they have no previous memories of belonging upon which to draw” (Rajiva, 2005, 27).

Ali’s (2008) work on the “myth of Canadian multiculturalism,” encapsulates the concept of generational difference, because youth are less likely to buy into this than their older counterparts. “When the youth look beyond their local spaces and consider how racialized and ethnicized immigrants, as well people living in countries to which they have emotional ties, are treated by powerful White people and institutions, they begin to realize the limits of Canadian multiculturalism” (p. 91).

Those who are navigating spaces outside of the diaspora, i.e. high school or university, or a predominantly white workforce, may understand and be more directly impacted by the reality of racialized folks in Canada.

For example, my father works at a lumber mill, and while he may have faced some racism early on, it never impacted his ability to find solidarity with other workers of colour, predominantly South Asian, until the workspace itself was led and controlled by South Asians, himself included.

On the contrary, I navigated high school in a diasporic setting with lots of South Asian classmates, but very few South Asian teachers, and even fewer as I moved higher and higher in my education. I was faced more abruptly with the reality of race relations and the myth of multiculturalism, whereas for my father, multiculturalism provided him with solidarity among other racialized workers.

Research on visible minority children of immigrants (Reitz and Sommerville 2004; Reitz and Banerjee 2007) shows that “visible minority children of immigrants perceive high levels of racial discrimination and have a great sense of alienation in Canadian society” (cited in Ali, 2008 p. 90.) “Many second-generation Canadians do not feel they are a part of mainstream society,” (Ali, 2008, p. 90),

But they also struggle identifying with a “home” that th”y were never physically connected to, or that can never be fully achieved (Taylor, 2013). While older generations may reinforce stereotypical images of themselves to seek validation from the mainstream. “Social forces operate to compel those on the margins to participate in reifying stereotypic images of themselves” (Asher, 2008, p.14), as they grapple with feeling or not feeling on the outskirts of mainstream society.

“The different mentalities – traditional, modern, and the transitional – represent highly distinctive ways of thinking and of viewing the world” (Nayar, 2004, p. 44), that contribute to the way these differences in experience, identity and representation are understood generationally.

1.5 Importance of Storytelling in Research

Through interviewing and allowing participants to tell their own stories, and reflecting on the dominant truths that have been internalized over the years, the community is able to re-establish a relationship with their roots (Jackson, 2013), while also understanding that adaptation, nuance, change, and differing lived realities can both exist simultaneously.

Between the identities of first- and second-generation immigrants, exists a hierarchy of privileges that can only be illuminated through conversations that would otherwise go unspoken, due to a long-standing culture of silence in this community between generations when it comes to lived experiences or the “trauma of migration” (Rajiva, 2005).

Jackson (2013) says, “storytelling is a form of restorative praxis – of sharing one’s experience with others, of finding common ground, of coming out of the closet, of restoring one’s place in the public sphere. which we act in the face of forces that render us inactive and silent.”

In response to media representations, storytelling is a way for members of the community to not only find common ground among one another based on lived experiences, but as a way of restoring channels of communication, as well as community.

Oftentimes, representations in Canadian media reinforce racist assumptions or stereotypes, particularly about this community, and “existing studies focusing on representations of racialized minorities in mainstream Canadian television and print news media conclude that they are markedly under-represented and that the majority of these representations are stereotypical” (Jiwani, 2006, p.42).

Therefore, developing this type of counter consciousness, in the form of a radio documentary that is comprised of representations and lived experience directly from those living in the community, according to Yellowbird (2004), is one of the “antidotes to colonialism” lays in decolonization, which can be enacted through “courage, intelligent resistance, [and] development of a counter-consciousness and discourse” (p.43).

Million (2009) says that “embedded knowledge is a response to situations, [which] come from a body rather than about a body.” This means legitimizing personalized forms of knowledge that comes directly from those who have lived in this unique diasporic setting, to better inform future media coverage of this community, and enable the community to hear and learn from one another.

“Without this double realization – that is, we are all vulnerable but not in the same manner and that we have shared (yet asymmetrical) complicities in others’ suffering and trauma—our understanding of difficult knowledge will fail to realize its potential for affective solidarity and transformation” (Zembylas, 2014, p. 406).

In terms of ethics, in storytelling “for me, this means that I approach research with a commitment to complex personhood, with a responsibility toward preparedness, listening, reflection, and reparation, and I approach it from within collectivity” (Tuck 2009).

Like Tuck (2009) describes, allowing participants to help shape the stories alongside the interviewer, especially in situations where a community has traditionally been wronged before – like in the context of South Asians from Surrey in the media – can help maintain trust and also capture nuance in a collective rather than painting a group as homogenous.

Further, because I grew up in Surrey, it is important for me to check my biases in these interviews and allow space for participants to make meaning and understand their identities and lived experiences differently than myself. I do not wish to reinforce stereotypes of the community, but to acknowledge the fact that within these different lived realities, there may be some truth in headlines.

In terms of gang violence, other forms of crime such as domestic violence, sexism and female feticide, these headlines can be confronted and addressed within the community, rather than from the outside looking in – demonstrating the multitude of complex identities at play through the dynamic stories, in contrast to static representations that often paint the community with a broad stroke.

1.6 Existing Research

I hope to build on Rajiva’s (2013) work on generational positioning of South Asians in the Canadian Diaspora because this concept is one of the few existing works of literature that examines nuance and complexities when it comes to the impacts of migration across generation.

“While Finn (2009, p. 281) argues that positions of relative marginalization (or presumably relative privilege) are generationally continuous, my own research suggests that a less reductive lens may be needed to understand how second generation experiences of both privilege and discrimination are neither simply extensions of their parents’ positions, nor so radically different as to be disconnected from them” (Rajiva, 2013, p. 17.) Further, for immigrants in any generation, this experience of different positionalities is not continuous.

“The location of the female immigrant of color in the mainstream public sphere of the West is interesting, for it is not a simple matter of racism that they bring up, based on skin color alone, but other issues that deal with cultural identity such as interethnic issues” (Rajgopal, 2003, p.52).

These “interethnic issues,” such as internalized racism or even different viewpoints within the diaspora, further complicate the narrative of presumed shared identity and experiences amongst this community, who may have conflicting views and opinions of what it means to embody placement within the community.

Some may feel resentment towards those involved in gangs or crime, religious “extremism,” or other things in the media that give the community a bad reputation, because of how it reflects on the rest of the community, while others feel that the media’s focus on negative aspects of the community are a result of media bias.

However, there is a research gap that currently exists regarding the experiences of first and second generation South Asian-Canadians with their sense of identity and belonging in a diasporic context, and their attitudes towards this representation in contrast to their lived realities. Specifically, in a diaspora like Surrey that is so large and also has long been in the spotlight for a myriad of negative reasons and associations with the community, identity is complex and multi-layered.

By using an intergenerational perspective, particularly with different families, and focusing on the example of Surrey, B.C., I will better understand and explain methods of integration, building community, and belonging. Families are important to examine due to the importance of family within South Asian culture and community.

“According to Cottrell and Vanderplaat (2011, p. 268), it is increasingly recognized that the family, rather than the individual, is the integral unit of analysis within the immigration experience…the experience of immigration is profoundly affected by familial ties and relationships” (cited in Rajiva, 2013, p.17). Families are close-knit and operate as units, but still contain varying responses and attitudes to the things that impact the community.

Although many research approaches examine the ways that first and second-generation immigrants are othered and seen as “not Canadian enough” (Aujla, 2000), they often fail to address the way belonging in a diasporic setting is further complicated by the concept of not being “brown enough”. It is precisely for this reason that capturing nuance is so important, because even in a diasporic community, identity is not fixed, and is significantly impacted by representation.

“Identity is not as transparent or unproblematic as we think. Perhaps instead of thinking of identity as an already accomplished fact, which the new cultural practices then represent, we should think, instead, of identity as a ‘production,’ which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation” (Hall, 1990 cited in Rutherford p. 222).

Asher (2008) looks at the way hybrid identities of youth from immigrant families impacts their need to create dual experiences both within and outside of the home, given that “at home they struggled to assert their American selves. And school, which represented the American end of their identities, was where they struggled to assert their Indian selves” (p.15). Different contexts may require one to minimize their difference, while others may require them to emphasize it.

However, the South Asian Diaspora in Surrey is again unique, because due to the high proportion of South Asians populating the area, reinforcing one’s immigrant identity at school is still complicated due to internalized racism (Rajiva, 2005). Using intergenerational approaches to journalism methods, I will address the gaps in existing research of this diaspora, because this community is uniquely positioned to understand identity both in and outside of their community.

What a lot of existing research doesn’t examine is how this identity is formed and why it is so complex, it can only be ascertained by hearing from the community members themselves. It can be understood that younger generations may use differing terms of identification from their parents’ generation (Frost, 2010), but the main question is to understand how positionality in society influences this decision, and how identity is not just described, but enacted and understood.

Further, the way that colonialism and colonization impacts self-esteem and identity is overlooked in diasporic contexts, given that seeing oneself through the eyes of dominant society can often lead to negative self-identification and “a greater danger of developing a negative self-identity” (Rajiva, 2005, p.27).

“As colonized peoples, many of us have internalized and adapted to the colonizer’s dominant ideology, which has perpetuated our subjugation and repression. As a result, we have developed a certain sense of internalized denigration and personal contempt within our consciousness resulting in self-effacing and destructive behaviors” (Yellowbird, 2004, p. 45).

The complexity and difference between groups within the South Asian community is often neglected. “Academic studies, however, have been slow to demonstrate this heterogeneity and diversity of experiences and have so far tended to be very partial, for example predominantly focusing on one, the Punjabi Sikhs – admittedly the largest community – and neglecting others,” (Thandi, 2016, p.235).

In addition, according to Ali (2008), “some scholars suggest that ethnic groupings are based on a presumed shared socio-cultural background leading to a sense of belonging. Others claim that minorities are forced into ethnic subcultures as a result of dominant majority groups’ gatekeeping of access to power and privilege (Driedger and Halli 2000; Henry et al. 2000; Li 1990).

The question that I hope to ask is the extent to which a sense of belonging genuinely exists or has been created within this ethnic grouping, or if the wide variety of experiences and backgrounds further makes a sense of belonging even harder to arrive at – which is what I look to interrogate.

Second generation subjects in this diaspora are unique because they often live in immigrant dominant neighbourhoods that may create the presence of tolerance or multiculturalism, but have different experiences outside of the diaspora, or they may often struggle to fit in even within their own communities. “They are much more likely to expect that in Canada they will be treated according to the tenets of Canadian multiculturalism, similar to what they had experienced in their immigrant dominated schools and neighborhoods.

They are, therefore, much more likely to become disappointed when they discover that their race, ethnicity, and, indeed, their associations with multicultural schools and neighborhoods limit what they can or cannot achieve in a context where power and privilege are still controlled by the White immigrants who arrived in Canada many generations ago” (Ali, 2008 p. 91).

1.6 Conclusion

Through inter generational storytelling within Canada’s largest South Asian diaspora, this project aims to fill gaps that currently exist in the literature in terms of the generational experiences of immigrants in a diaspora, who struggle with belonging as a result of the embodiment of multiple positionalities (Rajiva, 2013).

I am positioned to tell and deconstruct these stories along with my participants, because I am working from a standpoint of situated knowledge as a member of this community for my whole life. As a resident of the community, it is evident how often misunderstood it is, and it is clear that one-dimensional approaches to race mask the differences that exist within the community spanning generations.

This then influences how the community sees themselves as belonging, or not belonging, within the fabric of national identity, or even within the diaspora itself. Different generations see their positioning in society and within their own communities differently, and each have to “negotiate their own forms of mediated belonging” (2013, p.17).

By interviewing multiple generations of the same family to interrogate and resist persistent, long-standing, and harmful stereotype-misrepresentations of the South Asian diaspora in Surrey (Sandhu-Bhamra et al, 2015, p. 121), I hope to create a counter-consciousness and demonstrate the stories behind the headlines, in hopes that the media; those that consume it, and those responsible for hiring those that create it – are able to get a better understanding of the community and those that live here, as more than just one-dimensional, and hopefully inform future representations.

Works Cited

Ali, M. A. (2010). Second-Generation Youths Belief in the Myth of Canadian Multiculturalism. Canadian Ethnic Studies, 40(2), 89–107.

Asher, N. (2008). Listening to hyphenated Americans: Hybrid Identities of Youth from Immigrant Families. Theory into Practice, 47(1), 12-19.

Aujla, A. (2000). Others in their own land: Second generation South Asian Canadian women, racism, and the persistence of colonial discourse. Canadian Woman Studies, 20(2), 41-47.

Cheryan, S., Monin, B. (2005) “Where Are You Really From? Asian Americans and Identity Denial. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 89(5), 717-730.

Das, V. (2018). Knowledge. John Hopkins University.

Dossa, P.A., & Canadian Publishers Collection. (2004). Politics and poetics of migration: narratives of Iranian women from the diaspora. Toronto: Canadian Scholars Press.

Frost, H. (2010a). Being “Brown” in a Canadian suburb. Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies, 8(2), 212–232.
Hall, S. (1990). Cultural identity and diaspora. Cited in J. Rutherford (Ed.), Identity, community, culture and difference, (pp. 222-237). London, England: Lawrence and Wishart.

Hua, Z., & Wei, L (2016). “Where Are You Really From?” Nationality and ethnicity talk (NET) in everyday interactions, Applied Linguistics Review, 7(4). 449-470.

Jackson, Michael. (2013). “Preface.” Cited in Hannah Arendt, The politics of storytelling: Variations on a theme Vol. 4. Museum Tusculanum Press.1-29.

Jiwani, Y. (2006). Discourses of denial: Mediations of race, gender, and violence. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Mahtani, M. (2002). Interrogating the Hyphen-Nation: Canadian multicultural policy and ‘mixed race’ identities. Social Identities,8(1), 67-90.

Mahtani, M. (2009). Critiquing the critiques about media and minority research in Canada. Canadian Journal of Communication, 34(4), 715.

Mann, J. (2018). Jagdeesh Mann: It’s time to remove the colour line between mainstream news and diversity coverage. The Georgia Strait.

Mlcek, Susan (2016). Decolonizing Methodologies to Counter ‘Minority’ Spaces. Continuum Journal of Media & Cultural Studies, 31(1), 84-92.

Million, Dian (2009). Felt theory: An indigenous feminist approach to affect and history. Wicazo Sa Review 24(2), 53-76.

Rajiva, M. (2005). BRIDGING THE GENERATION GAP: Exploring the differences between immigrant parents and their Canadian-born children. Canadian Issues, 25-28.

Rajiva, M. (2013). “Better lives”: The Transgenerational Positioning of Social Mobility in the South Asian Canadian Diaspora. Women Studies International Forum 36,16-26.

Rajgopal, S. S. (2003). The Politics of Location: Identity and Cultural Conflict in the Cinema of the South Asian Diaspora. Journal of Communication Inquiry, 27 (1), 49-66.

Sandhu-Bhamra, A., Fontaine, P. (2015). The South Asian-Canadian Media’s Resistance to Gender and Cultural Stereotyping. In: Ogunyemi O. (eds) Journalism, Audiences and Diaspora. London: Palgrave Macmillan,

Taylor, S. (2013). Searching for ontological security: Changing meanings of home amongst a Punjabi diaspora. Contributions to Indian Sociology, 47(3), 395-422.

Thandi, S. S. (2016). Punjabi Diasporas: Conceptualizing and evaluating impacts of Diaspora–Homeland linkages. (pp. 234-259). Cambridge University Press.

Tuck, E (2009). Suspending damage: A letter to communities. Harvard Educational Review, 79(3), 409-428.

Yellowbird, M. (2004). Cowboys and Indians: Toys of Genocide, Icons of Colonialism. Wicazo Sa Review, (19)2, 33-48.

Zembylas, Michalinos. (2014). Theorizing “difficult knowledge” in the Aftermath of the “affective turn”: Implications for curriculum and pedagogy in handling traumatic representations. Curriculum Inquiry, 44(3), 390-412.


Audio Project Transcription

TITLE: Allow us to Re-introduce Ourselves

[playing clips of headlines]

Arjan: I always wonder why I didn’t fall for that lifestyle to be honest; I think I just got lucky.

Arjan: I was // scared to disappoint my parents, because you think about how hard they had to work and they still work so hard for this lifestyle.

Arjan: I didn’t want to disappoint them and didn’t want their hard work to go to waste so that’s kind of where I’m at today.


Media coverage of Surrey, British Columbia, describes a community in crisis. But that’s not the whole picture.

People here don’t deny there are struggles, but they know there is much more to this place and its citizens.

I’m Rumneek Johal. I was born and raised right here…in Surrey. I’ve seen how full of hope, community, and togetherness this place can be. I’ve also seen the looks. I’ve heard the comments. I get that feeling when people find out I’m from Surrey. To them, this is a terrifying place. To me… it’s home.

To show the complexity of this community – my community – I followed two families. Just like me, they’re trying to make sense of what we see is a beautiful place.

I’ll introduce you to people you might not expect to meet. And we’ll talk about the challenges members of the South Asian community face. I’m hoping by the end those stereotypes you have stuck in your head will be replaced by facts.

Constable Arjan Johal was born and raised in Surrey. He says understanding the Surrey dynamic isn’t that easy.

Arjan: It is complicated – there’s kids I went to school with that we kinda knew were going to go down this path, but there’s also kids who were top of their class and were great with everyone, but still fall under this.

When he says “this” He’s talking about a “life of crime.” As a person from Surrey and as a police officer he knows the reality behind the statistics.

Arjan: It’s really confusing here // in the Lower Mainland where you have people from good homes, rich families, still involved in this who are intelligent in school, have great athletic skills, who are still getting tied up in there. It doesn’t make any sense, which makes it so much harder to solve.

VO: I’ve also seen some of the kids we went to school with become high achieving doctors. Lawyers. All-star athletes. There were some who got into drugs, but others finished school at the top of their class and never looked back.

Arjan: It’s weird to think, cause of the kids I used to hang out with, to see where they’re at compared to where you and I are at, // I’m just thankful that I am where I am. // In other countries where you have people coming from low income families, at least you have somewhere you can start to help them out whereas, for us, you can fail off the rails at any moment, like coming from a good family, having your whole life ready for you, but even then you can still get involved in this lifestyle.

Rumneek: What kind of reputation do you think Surrey has in the media?

Arjan: I have friends who live outside of Surrey and they have very negative expectations of Surrey. And when they see people like you and I, they’re very shocked. But it’s actually a norm here, like there are actually very successful kids that have been to school and have good jobs, but the media doesn’t really represent that. I think the media only presents the gang bangers you see who are getting shot, and that’s what the media focuses on and not the good.

VO: As a journalist and someone who’s lived here my whole life, I’ve wondered that myself.

How so many of the headlines only tell one side of Surrey’s story.

Here’s a sampling of local media headlines…

“When it comes to Surrey Gang life, Family Looms Large” – that’s from Global News.

Here’s another, from the Surrey Now Leader: “Surrey’s anti-gang unit targets 10-year-olds amid middle-class gang problems.”

Middle-class gang problems. I see that one a lot.
“The unusual suspects: How B.C.’s middle-class gangs are unlike any other in North America…” says another one from CBC.
“DOMESTIC SILENCE: Parents of Surrey gangsters won’t speak up.”


These are the kinds of characterizations we see and hear all the time. But here are the facts:

When it comes to crime: Surrey ranks 85th nationally – well below Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver – even below sleepy BC towns like Victoria, Kamloops and Cranbrook. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t still troubling stories coming out of Surrey, that weigh on the entire community.

There is still gang activity that so many of us are aware of, and that is…the kind of detail that Arjan’s grandparents might have worried about.

Arjan’s grandparents, who played a huge role in raising him, admit that some kids in Surrey do venture down the path of drug dealing and crime. Arjan’s grandfather, Dilbag, says those cases reflect poorly on the entire community.

Dilbag: The young kids that end up going into drugs – it’s hard for the parents, it’s hard for the community, the community becomes notorious.

VO: In Surrey, this idea of “community” means so much more than shared location. Community here is about shared experience. Shared language. Immigration. Work. 

In Punjabi, we use the word “apne” to refer to others who share the same ethnic background. Apne, it translates to “ours,” so for those in this community, hearing these stories isn’t about someone else. It is about one of us. One of our own.

Arjan’s grandmother Darsho says, parents make sacrifices to raise their kids. When she hears about gangs and young ones dying — it breaks her heart.

Darsho: Parents take on so much difficulty and struggles to raise their kids. When this happens it’s so hard for the parents. It stays in your heart, boy or girl, it’s hard to hear things like that.

VO: For me, and many of my friends, the struggles our parents endured are ever present. They came. They worked two jobs. They learned a new language. They tried to give us a chance at a better life. Many of us work hard to make them proud. To try to make their sacrifices worth it. When I look around Surrey I see a lot of evidence of that. Arjan says that it was his parents that made him want to stay out of trouble.

Arjan: Having immigrant parents, they literally came to this country for a better life for us and even to this day my parents work. They don’t take vacations and they don’t go out on weekends. So they literally do everything for us and it’s the least we can do. I mean for my mom to work 7 days a week, same thing with my dad, to go down that line it would just be a slap in their face. That’s the last thing I’d ever want to do, as much as i’d like to have a good career for myself and my future, it’s also to make my parents proud cause i know the job and where i’m at in life – my parents are very proud and they love telling other people about it, so it means everything to them.

Rumneek: How did that affect you? What decisions did you make that to be sure you stayed on the right path?

Arjan: We all hear this story of, I came to this country with only $100 and it’s hard to imagine, I mean I could never imagine how that could have happened because we haven’t lived that.// The traditional way of getting into gangs, is you come from a low income family and you don’t have the family ties, so that’s why you go into that stuff, whereas for us, a lot of these gangsters in the Lower Mainland are coming from good homes, million dollar houses with nice cars… but even then they’re still intrigued to go into that lifestyle. Some of these guys don’t really have that appreciation of how hard their parents have worked to get this far, they don’t see the struggles that they’ve been through. They just see a nice car, they just see a nice house and they say it’s not as hard as our grandparents complained it to be. // This is the situation that we’re in that these kids are in instead of just labelling them as gangsters we need to come to a solution on how we can resolve this.

Ranjit: It just breaks your heart. It is when they are so young. When you hear about 13, 14 years old and they’re getting shot. Why? What have we as parents not been able to give them that they need to go out and do that? That’s what scares me a little bit.

Ranjit came to Canada from India when she was seven. She said she didn’t really pay attention to the stories until she had her own kids.

Ranjit: Growing up I didn’t pay much attention, but as the community grew, our perception of everything changed a little bit. We were more in the media, like this is what’s happening with the gangs and with the children and it always seems to be our community. Maybe we are paying more attention to it, because it is our community, but it does seem to be anytime somebody gets shot, my worst fear when I’m listening to the news, is it going to be an East Indian? Is it gonna be a brown guy? That’s what I think to myself, and when it isn’t, I’m like “oh thank god.” But 9 out of 10 times it does involve East Indian.

VO: Ranjit says that for immigrants of her generation, many parents would leave their kids with their parents. So, they were essentially being raised by their grandparents. They did that in order to be able to work and provide. She says her mother-in-law might not have questioned the kids behavior the way a parent would.

Ranjit: With my generation, it was all about work. It was about, “ok i gotta go to work, I gotta buy my house I gotta have this, have that.”//It wasn’t necessarily// We gave our children to our parents who didn’t live the same lifestyle that I choose to live. The girls can say, “bibi, I’m going over here.” She’s not gonna question them. The children aren’t being questioned, is the difference.

VO: She thinks this might be one of the roots of the problem. Inequality between boys and girls. In her view, girls are questioned more than boys. So they sometimes start to behave differently.

Ranjit: What’s on the media, it’s mostly the boys. 9 out of ten it’s mostly the boys. And from what I see is, the girls are being raised, “you can’t do this, you can’t go out,” but if you’re a boy, because I grew up with my brother, he was allowed to go out anytime he wanted to go out. I think that’s what the problem is with a lot of parents, they are afraid of – that if they say no to their sons, their sons are gonna act out.

VO: Arjan’s grandpa Dilbag agrees. He sees many brown boys getting involved with gangs and he thinks direct, honest communication could help families keep those kids on the right path. For him, it all starts at home.

Dilbag: [in Punjabi] This type of training can only start at home, from the parents, especially if the kids try hiding something. Luckily Arjan can drive and afford a car because he works, but from a young age, if we knew okay he’s not working, where is the money coming from then? We definitely would get suspicious. Parents really need to watch their children – where they are going, what they’re doing, where they work, if they’re hiding something, then definitely it’s bad for the parents and they are going to go down a wrong path, because it happens from a young age, and parents wouldn’t know, but the result is always very bad after. // People hide things. They need to not hide it. Instead they should report things, at least ask your kids what they’re doing. It’s your responsibility to find out this is the only way it can work out, otherwise they get into the wrong crowd// and it ends with a bad result.

Ranjit: They want to show a perfect life. That’s what I find in our community. We don’t want to show our weaknesses, we don’t want to show my kids not successful, my kids not this, not that.

VO: It is hard to maintain that perfect image when the other images of Surrey dominate the headlines. But Arjan sees himself as a start. He says when community members see him in uniform their ideas start to change.

Arjan: Helping out the community is big for me, just helping out people in general, cause that’s why I decided to go down the policing avenue. Funnily enough, seeing my face in the police department changes the way people feel about brown guys in Surrey. Just today I had an uncle, an east Indian man, and he was so thrilled to see a young brown Indian boy working behind the lines of a police department. He was really proud to see me there and I asked about his kid too and he’s working at a bank, so we’re not all gangsters, right?

VO: Arjan became a police officer because he wanted to help. He is grateful to his grandparents and the community that raised him.

Arjan: I decided to volunteer for the community policing department in Delta because I thought that would be very interesting, so I started and it’s only then I realized I really liked policing so that’s //kind of// the avenue I took// It feels amazing to be able to help others, especially from my own community. Being from the community it’s easy to understand the life that they live and what they go through on a day to day basis, so being part of that culture helps me with my job. It’s just easier to understand what’s going on and come to resolution.

VO: Arjan’s desire to give back, can only just begin to scratch the surface of the long-standing stereotypes about this community – stereotypes that often follow people from Surrey any time they leave the community.

Pamela: People always joke about Surrey, do I need a passport to get there and do I have to wear a bulletproof vest?

VO: That’s Pamela Sangha. Ranjit’s 31-year-old daughter. She works as a registered clinical counsellor. She understands the frustration about Surrey’s image, but she says it is time for the community to take on some of its own issues.

Pamela – I had a friend of mine who was an addict, and the system was set up for him to fail and it was kind of astonishing noticing,// I realized in our community we don’t have these conversations, we kind of bury those people with addictions and we just// like// don’t talk about it. The reason that our culture is so embedded in addiction is because no one recognizes immigrant trauma, and then no one knows how to have that conversation, because everybody that came here, left their hometown, never saw it again, didn’t speak to their parents for years didn’t know what was gonna happen, and just buried that and just went to work.

VO: Immigrant trauma. That’s something Pamela says we don’t take seriously enough. She works with people to deal with the trauma of leaving friends, family and life in their home country. Arriving to try to learn a new language and try to provide for your family and then try to adjust to the expectations of the community around you. People don’t tend to talk about it because talking about can be perceived as vulnerability.

Pamela: Because you’re supposed to come here and be successful. The whole point was to live this like Canadian dream so how dare you be ungrateful or think that you’re allowed to be upset when you get to live in the most beautiful place in the world. Like what gives you the audacity?

VO: Immigrant success is a big source of pride in Surrey. In my own family, there’s so much focus on my parent’s journey and what it took for them to give me this life. We rarely talk about the challenges. The hard parts. That’s what Pamela focuses on. She’s able to have conversations about things most people want to Avoid.

Pamela: I get to have these conversations with our community because it is so confidential. having that conversation just the fact I’m not allowed to say anything. And that gets signed off. So I talk to women and I talk to men and I talk to people in our community upwards to the age of like 77 who understand now that the way they’re feeling isn’t normal. And that the things that they went through need to be discussed. So I think that’s kind of a great way to start it. Because then obviously they can move their counselling sessions into homeward sessions but its such a tricky thing because vulnerability is very difficult and we’re kind of in this weird era especially with Instagram where no one wants to tell you about your shit its just all highlight reel, which I think is just the lives all Indian people are living in general.

VO: Pamela sees what’s going on in Surrey as a family crisis..She is hopeful because the parents she meets want to be involved in the solution.

Pamela: It’s a family problem. 110%. It’s not the kid who is //like// joining the gang that has the issue. It’s obviously the lack of support around that. They make an assumption on the news that parents aren’t concerned about their kids being in gangs. So they had a forum at Tamanawis after those kids got shot. And every single parent showed up. There were 500 people that showed up. To have this discussion. Not people — parents. So for people in the news to be like oh this is a lack of parenting, or this is a lack of this or this is a lack of that that’s not what’s happening here. Surrey has demographically a family systemic issue, this is not a new thing.

VO: The family crisis grows creates a ripple effect, because while parents are hard at work trying to provide a life for their kids, the collectivist culture that so many in this community are used to, begins to get broken down.

Pamela: What’s happening is Surrey got very expensive to live in very quickly. With that comes a lot of crime, it’s just systemic. Everyone’s gotta go to work in order to survive here. // It’s like why don’t you make it affordable for people to live here and for people to spend time with their families, cause we’re a collectivist culture but that kind of mentality where you’re not being raised by your grandparents or you’re not at home with parents or family all the time turns us more individualistic which is not a space that we’re comfortable in because we come from collectivist nature.

VO: We are talking about the collective, but we are also talking around a specific demographic. Young men. I wanted to get a better sense of what it’s like to be a guy growing up inside the stereotype and inside the Punjabi community. Jaskirat Mander is 15. He’s a high school student in Surrey.

Jaskirat: I feel like kids and parents don’t really connect nowadays, there’s like a huge gap. Parents are usually isolated from their kids, and kids are always doing their own things, and that forces them to go out more and gives them more chances to do dumb stuff with their friends. But if you’re just at home or you’re at a youth center just playing with your dad or with your mom and just having fun you tend to stay out of the bad stuff.//My family has been really good in that way like they know to keep me out of that life, and they’ve shown me and giving me warnings and stuff and they’ve kept me on a good path so that I wouldn’t go into that lifestyle

VO: Jaskirat is lucky. He understands that he has a choice and he has a support network around him. Not all boys in Surrey are so lucky. They might not have people around them to manage the line between right and wrong. 

Jaskirat: A haircut does a lot, the short and like the bangs at the front, all black clothes mostly baggy clothes with the sweats and a hoodie// just like a lot of stuff like that//I feel like most people think that brown kids my age are gangsters and drug dealers and it’s just the way that we dress they just assume that we are like that//I think they immediately assume that I’m some kind of jack or like another brown boy who dresses up like a wanna be gangster or something like that, that’s not really true.

VO: I’ll admit. I’ve thought about that “Surrey Jack “stereotype. So many kids dress and act a certain way. Almost as though they are emulating drug dealers, tough guys and gang bangers — but meeting Jaskirat — I think I get it now.

Jaskirat: A lot of people of told me that I should change my hairstyle or change the way I dress, but I don’t really care because like I dress the way I like to dress, and I get my haircut the way I like to look, and it’s just like I don’t really care what people say about my appearance and I just do what I feel like is good for me and what I like to do.// I think it’s just easy for them to group us like that just to think that just because they look like that they are gangsters and they don’t really know the kids because a lot of kids act a certain way but aren’t really like that

Rumneek: What do you think people assume when they see someone like that?

Jaskirat: I think that’s just a picture they have in their head when they think of the term Surrey Jack, they think of a guy with short hair and earrings on and like all black clothes and stuff, it’s just what they see when they think of that term. I think there has been some people that have like given us guys like us that kind of reputation that have done dumb stuff but then people think like all brown guys are like that, not just some. You can’t just assume because of one or two people that everybody is the same way.

VO: But as a young person there is so much pressure to figure out who you are.

What is your identity? What does it mean to be a brown boy from Surrey?

Jaskirat: They just want to act tough and act cool in front of friends, because mostly in our families, boys are known to have to act tough like to be a man or something like that, so we can’t really be soft so we have to act tough in front of everybody. When most of your friends or a lot of people are doing something they will usually say like be a man, or do this and if you don’t do this you’re a girl and it forces you to thinking, “Well I want to be a man, I want to be cool.”

VO: Arjan understands that. So does his Grandma. Young men face a lot of pressure.

Darsho: [in Punjabi] When kids are growing up, 10 to 12 years old, they don’t know who they are, they have low self esteem. If they make a bad friend, they get pulled into that… some people get scared so they fall deeper. Those who have confidence in themselves are less likely to fall into these things.

Arjan: Other kids I know, their grandparents don’t speak English, they only speak Punjabi, and they easily manipulate them and tell them lies to what they’re doing, and where they are, and the grandparents believe that, and they’ll believe that they are just at the library when really they are hanging out with the wrong crowd. It would be harder for me to do that as a kid because my grandparents were very involved in my life and they wanted me to come out good, so I got lucky in that sense.

VO: Whether you are lucky like Arjan. Or, whether you are someone who is figuring things out like Jaskirat. Everyone who lives in Surrey has a story…

Jaskirat: I was at school one day and we walked to 7-11 to get Slurpees and two guys came up to us and asked me if I wanted to make money and //like// sell drugs and I said no. At the time I was pretty scared. Cause i was still younger, I was still in grade 8, so I felt scared and right when I got home I talked to my sister about it and I just told her what happened and she told me// like// stuff like that does happen but you have to make sure you’re smart and you say no. Cause like it’s not all about making money. That’s what they use to get kids into that, they asked me if I wanted to make money first, and I said no. because I already knew what they were gonna ask me after. But then that’s how they get kids into it. They ask if they want money and most kids will just get excited and say yes.

VO: I talked to Jaskirat about Jassi Bhangal and Jason Jhutty. Two high school kids who were shot and killed. They were boys his age and there they were in the news. Dying so violently.

CBC News. Anchor Tina Lovegreen: 0:23-0:40 “It’s a community in grief, and shock as investigators try to solve the targeted shooting that left the two teenagers dead. They have been identified as 16 year old Jaskaran Singh Jhutty known as Jason, and 17 year old Jaskiran Singh Bhangal, or Jassi as his friends called him”

Jaskirat: It was actually really weird because the place that it all went down //like it happened// was near my old house and I used to play at that same basketball court where it all started and I actually knew a lot of their friends and I went to elementary school with a lot of their friends that they went to high school with it just felt so weird. I think it’s just important not to make those kind of decisions that could affect your life in the future because one small disagreement or fight could lead to something bigger like those two boys could’ve just had like a little small beef with somebody or another group of friends that lead to something bigger and it lead to like a bigger game getting involved and it all goes down from like one bad decision It could ruin your life. You just have to think about your future and not just having fun in the moment because you could mess up when you’re young and ruin it for your future so it’s just like thinking about the consequences that could come with your actions.

VO: There are so many stories in the media about young South Asian boys. Kids close to Jaskirat’s age. It’s hard for him to make sense of it.

Jaskirat: It’s just weird because the choices that they make don’t only affect their lives, it affects so many other people around them like most of them come from good families with money so there’s no really need for them to go into that lifestyle. Sell drugs and then get caught up in that lifestyle. So it just affects so many more people other than their own lives.

VO: When I asked Jaskirat what stories of the community stand out to him, he brought up Brandon Bassi. Brandon was 19. He was from Delta. He died in a car accident last year. He was an all-star athlete, a student, a son, and most importantly a really good guy.

Jaskirat: He was really good at soccer. He was a really nice guy. He sadly died in a car accident last year and a lot of people were affected by it, not even just people that were close to him like I had never met him, but I was close to his brother. And even going to the memorial and hearing all the good stuff people had to say about him. there’s nothing negative, all the things that were said were he’s such a nice guy, he always had a smile on his face, people respected him so it comes back to that thing where it’s about respect And how much respect people have for Brandon.//I feel like // boys do look up to people like that and they want to be like that, you don’t want to be the next kid in the news that got shot but you wanna be the guy that everyone’s talking about who’s on the news and is really talked about in // like // a positive way not in a negative way.

Jaskirat himself says he too hopes to give back to the youth of Surrey one day.

Jaskirat: I want to open my own business, mostly a restaurant. I want to open up my own restaurant and make some money, and eventually open a youth center once I have enough money and am financially stable to be able to do something to give back to the community. My one friend from my soccer team, him and his dad take me to their Muslim Youth Center, it is really cool like they go there they chill out, they have like a basketball court there’s soccer nets, there’s a volleyball nets its just like a nice place for like Muslim kids to go and hang out with their friends, like their parents, and I feel like we need something like that for Indian kids cause that would be a cool place for them to just go and play and just be themselves. //I see other guys that have come back and are doing their own stuff and have their own businesses and the respect that they get, and at the end of the day respect is like the best thing you can have from somebody. You want people to have good things to say about you.

Pamela’s mom Ranjit agrees. The core of the Punjabi community should not be forgotten.

Ranjit: The things that our community does do well, to me, what my understanding of our community is, our thing is seva, we serve the community. Any time you ask somebody to do something for you we will not say no. We will figure out a way to do it, to help somebody else. I think that’s what in our circle of family or friends, if I need help with something, I know they’re there to help me even if it’s difficult for them they’re going to stand beside me. I think that’s our community as a whole, whether they want to or not, they will stand beside you right and I couldn’t speak for other communities. I may not speak to a certain person for years but if I phone them up and say hey listen, I need your help they’re gonna come. And I think that’s part of our community ethics

VO: What she means by community ethics is pretty consistent in the Punjabi community. People come together to help and give something back. Her own daughter is proof of that. Pamela works at Moving Forward Family Services in Surrey, that offers pay-what-you-can services as well as discounted rates on regular counselling.

Pamela: Moving Forward has interns and they provide counselling and one on one counselling groups and support at low-cost or free, so sessions are usually from $20-$50 and normally to see a registered clinical counsellor it’s usually 120 or over, but they have interns and they provide all of the support. And we’re busy, it takes 2 to 6 weeks to see a counsellor just because there’s such a need for this low-cost platform and we provide group support which is what I do I do, this group for women we have a group for men we have social workers that will help you fill out paperwork if you need help filling out paperwork. And I am a registered clinical counsellor so you get to see me at a low cost, which is $50, which is amazing.

VO: Pamela works directly with women. She tries to create a space to talk about their issues. That is a rare thing. South Asian women tend to look after everyone. I know how immigrant mothers like my own carry responsibility, expectation and criticism from their entire families.

Pamela: I also facilitate a women’s group every Monday night and there’s five to eight women, and they’re all older than my mom actually, and they come in, they talk, and they’re concerned about their kids, and they’re concerned about life here. I think it’s really important to start empowering those women. I mostly deal with Indo Canadian women and a lot of them have been abused in their relationships, or a lot of them had arranged marriages, and their husbands fine but they’re not in love and they have kids. And they just did this thing and they just don’t know how to cope with that in regards to their mental health, because it’s like how do they get out? I can’t get out of this now. Which is interesting because in our generation we just get divorced if it’s not working and we are afforded that kind of privilege. I think it’s really important to start empowering those women and I do it one on one sessions but just having that conversation just the fact that a woman can sit on my couch and tell me, “Hey, my marriage sucks, and I didn’t want to marry this person, and I did it because it’s expected of me,” that’s amazing in and of itself I think starting that conversation is really important.

VO: I wanted to dig a little deeper with Pamela about this logic in the community. What is behind men continuing to think they have power over and can control women?

These conversations inevitably lead to Maple Batalia. She was 19. She was murdered. Brutally. After leaving her partner. It’s a familiar scenario,It breaks my heart. It also scares me. I do not understand why it keeps happening.

Pamela: As women we need to start loving ourselves more, and realizing that we don’t need to cater to somebody else to be validated and fill this void, but also, we need to start having this conversation with men because it’s just getting worse on that side, I don’t know where this culture change to we’re going to control women and abuse them to now we’re going to act like they’re disposable. Somewhere along the way there was a disconnect. What fundamentally comes down to is what happened?

VO: As a mother of three girls, Ranjit says how children are treated from the beginning matters. And, until everyone in the community values boys and girls the same nothing will change.

Ranjit: When my second one was born, my aunt came to see me in the hospital and I was fine, I didn’t care when where or the other, and actually before I just had had her, a lady that knew my grandmother was in the hospital or visiting somebody, and she got into the elevator as they were taking me upstairs and she goes oh Rano what did you have? And I go, oh I had a baby girl. She goes oh, it’s ok. And I was looking at her, like why would you say something like that? And that evening my aunt came to visit and she was hesitant to come and see me and I said why, and she goes well every time I come to the hospital because her daughter in laws had girls, she goes they’re all crying. Why aren’t you crying? And I go, why should I be crying? And she goes, well every time I come and see them, they are crying that they had girls. And I said she’s perfectly fine, she’s healthy and there’s no reason to cry. I don’t understand why. My biggest pet peeve is as a woman, I’m degrading my own self when I’m saying, oh god I had a girl. How can you possibly do that? So I really don’t know how to change that mentality unless with me.
I think it’s up to us to raise our girls to be leaders. Right? It’s not like, oh a man can do anything  and you can’t as a girl. It’s up to us as individuals not up to the community not up to anyone else but as parents, it’s up to us.

VO: All of us. These honest conversations like the ones I had with the Sangha’s, are the ones we all need to. That is certainly what Pamela believes.

Pamela: I think if we really start talking about what we need with our families, then as a result we will develop healthier patterns and our children will see a healthier pattern. This is not a conversation that’s being had. And if you’re not being nurtured and supported in the way that you need, then obviously this is all it is: retaliation. Like your inner child hasn’t been fed somewhere along the way, and so it’s like I got to fill this void with something. Why are we so hurt? Let’s start having that conversation.

That was the idea for this project. To have the conversation. To talk about it. This place is complicated and there is so much going on. There is a lot of hope and promise along with lots of hurt and challenge. The headlines may tell only negative stories about Surrey. But we don’t have to. Please, allow us to reintroduce ourselves.

Surrey604 is an online magazine and media outlet based in Surrey, BC. Through writing, video, photography, and social media, we secure an intimate reach to the public. We promote local events and causes.

Arts and Entertainment

7 shows you didn’t know were filmed in Surrey



shows filmed in Surrey
The Good Doctor isn't the only big show to film in Surrey (ABC / Art Streiber)

The city has been a prime location for many famous TV shows. Here is a list of some of our favourite shows filmed in Surrey.


You’ll be surprised to know that the hit Netflix series Riverdale has filmed some scenes in Surrey, along with other famous places across BC like Rocko’s Diner and the Twilight Drive-In Theatre. The most notable place in Surrey is Bear Creek Park where in Season 5 the football workout scene was filmed. 


The Flash

Not to be confused with the movie featuring Ezra Miller (who knows what’s happening with the DC movies anyway?), CW’s The Flash has also filmed around Surrey and the Lower Mainland. You can see many familiar places like Surrey City Hall and Central City Mall. 


Turner & Hooch (2021)

While this show may claim to take place in San Francisco, and it’ll do everything it can to convince you it was filmed there, this remake starring Josh Peck was filmed right here in BC. Specifically, the exterior of the police station that Turner works at is Surrey City Hall. You can even see the evidence of the Take Five afe right outside. 



The DC movie universe just seems to love filming in Surrey. Peacemaker, starring everyone’s favourite John Cena, filmed scenes in Surrey. 


The Good Doctor

Surrey’s City Hall can be seen in The Good Doctor as the exterior of the San Jose St. Bonaventure Hospital. Now why they wouldn’t use the actual Surrey Memorial Hospital as a hospital is beyond us. 


The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina has used a couple of different locations in Surrey for filler shots like in Redwood Park for scenes in the woods. But it also converted a closed storefront into Cerberus Books, a bookstore from the series. Without the signs, it may be difficult to locate, but you can find the building used for this bookstore at 5657 176 St. 


The Stand

Based on the book of the same name by Steven King, The Stand was also filmed in Surrey. Starring Whoopi Goldberg, Alexander Skarsgård, and James Marsden (yes, this is the guy from Sonic the Hedgehog), this story takes place “After the world is in ruins, due to a man-made plague,” and “a battle of biblical proportions ensues between the survivors.” It shot scenes throughout BC, but most notably is the Pacific Inn Resort, which was used to film interior shots for the Flagg Hotel in the show.

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Arts and Entertainment

Famous Wrestler ‘Shakes Up’ Surrey Artifact Collection



John Tenta ‘Earthquake’ memorabilia now on display at Museum of Surrey

Surrey, BC – The legacy of WWF wrestler John Tenta, known worldwide as ‘Earthquake’ is being celebrated with a display of memorabilia in the Museum of Surrey’s latest feature exhibition ‘Shake Up: Preserving What We Value.’

Visitors will have the opportunity to see the former Surrey resident’s iconic 1991 action figure, “The Wrestler” Magazine, featuring Earthquake vs. Hulk Hogan from 1990, a deck of trading cards and more in the exhibit’s pop culture section.

“Earthquakes are some of nature’s most powerful forces, and John Tenta certainly evokes that energy with the persona he created, which makes his legacy a perfect fit for the exhibit,” said Curator of Exhibits, Colleen Sharpe.

‘Shake Up: Preserving What We Value’ was originally developed by the Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia. Using cultural objects, art, and multimedia displays, the exhibit tells the story of earthquakes—and other natural disasters—through Indigenous knowledge passed down through oral histories.

To complement the multi-media installations, MOS added Surrey-specific content from the Heritage Surrey Collection, including the recent acquisition of Tenta’s memorabilia.

Kristin Hardie, Curator of Collections, says the memorabilia acquired for the Surrey Artifact Collection is one example of how objects can serve as a connection point with our community’s memory.

“We are thrilled to be able to preserve the amazing story of a ‘Surreyite’ who rose to the highest levels of his sport and who became famous on a global scale.

We hope that these items both preserve John Tenta’s legacy in his hometown and encourage his neighbours and fans to share their memories and stories about him.”

Hardie recently reached out to Tenta’s son, Jeff Tenta, who resides in Florida with his wife and two children. When asked how he felt about his father being included in the exhibit and his story being preserved and shared at the museum, he responded that it was a proud moment for the family.

“We’re happy that his community appreciates it – it’s good to know people care,” he said. Preserving and Sharing Surrey’s Stories. Heritage Services administers a large civic artifact collection, which consists of over 20,000 objects.

Already a world junior wrestling champion by age 20, Tenta first rose to fame in Japan, where he spent eight months as a sumo wrestler. He and his family returned to his hometown of Surrey from approximately 1989 to 1996, where he was affectionally known as ‘Big John’ to local media.

By 1989, Tenta was a full-time member in the WWF with the name, Earthquake. In 1993, Tenta headlined a West Coast wrestling competition at the Cloverdale Fairgrounds.

In 2006, Tenta passed away from bladder cancer at the age of 42. His sister, Brenda, currently resides in Langley.

‘Shake Up: Preserving What We Value’ runs until June. Visitors must pre-register for one hour long self-guided visits, which are available from 9:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. and from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. from Wednesday to Saturday. Visitors can register by visiting emailing or by calling 604-592-6956.

The museum follows all citywide COVID- 19 safety protocols as per Health BC, City of Surrey and Worksafe BC. Masks are mandatory. Registration required for every person in your family group, including infants. For more information, visit us.

For more information about the Surrey Artifact Collections, visit our site. The City’s artifact collection can also be viewed virtually using the Surrey Archives & Museums free Online Access (SAMOA).

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Arts and Entertainment

A Symbol of Welcome at Museum of Surrey



The Rivers that Connect Us by kʼwyʼiʼyʼe Spring Salmon Studio

Surrey, BC – A new public artwork has been installed at Museum of Surrey, the final component of the Museum expansion. The artwork is easily viewed by those travelling along Highway 10. Designed and fabricated locally by kʼwyʼiʼyʼe Spring Salmon Studio (Drew Atkins, Phyllis Atkins, and Aaron Jordan),

The Rivers that Connect Us is a monumental sculpture that makes an important contribution to the Cloverdale Historic District by acknowledging and reflecting the longstanding presence of First Nations peoples.

The artwork’s five-metre-tall, illuminated paddles are raised to the sky recalling a traditional Coast Salish gesture indicating peace and respect made when a canoe traveller approached a village.

The artwork’s welcoming gesture is intended to honour the diversity of newcomers arriving in Surrey and the traditional lands of the Coast Salish peoples.

The sculpture’s four paddles encircle a 3.5-metre round base that features a design inspired by the traditional form of a Coast Salish spindle whorl, a tool used by Coast Salish women to spin wool for weaving.

The base also references a compass and the four directions. The Salish Eye designs around the base of the paddles represent the seven traditional teachings of the Kwantlen peoples: health, happiness, generations, generosity, humility, forgiveness, and understanding.

While referencing the deep history of the land and the traditional territory of the Coast Salish peoples including the q̓ʷɑ:n̓ƛ̓ən̓, q̓ic̓əy̓, and səmyəmɑʔɬ (Kwantlen, Katzie, and Semiahmoo First Nations) and traditional Coast Salish design, the sculpture also incorporates innovative technology with its steel and polycarbonate materials and programmable LED lighting.

Community consultation guided this public art opportunity from the outset. Multiple community engagement sessions were held, culminating in a group of Cloverdale residents serving on a panel to select the artists and artwork concept.

One of the key recommendations from the community was that the sculpture serve as a gateway feature for travellers to Cloverdale and the City of Surrey. The lighting will ensure the artwork is visible at night and fulfills the expectation of the Cloverdale community.

The artwork also offers an invitation to learn more about Surrey’s history, located beside Museum of Surrey (17710 56A Avenue) and Surrey Archives (located in the 1912 Municipal Hall).

For the artists, The Rivers that Connect Us provided an important opportunity to mark the traditional territories on which Surrey is built.

They say, “The Fraser River and its local tributaries—the Salmon, Serpentine, and Nicomekl Rivers—formed a transportation network that connected First Nations people in the area since time immemorial. Relied upon for resource gathering, travel, and trade, these rivers were traversed by canoes from many nations. Presently, the Highway 10 corridor, and its many connecting roads, is today’s river.”

The artwork’s title, The Rivers That Connect Us, is a reminder and an invitation to a shared human connection regardless of cultural or ethnic backgrounds.

About the Artists

Drew Atkins (Nəq̓ɑɬc̓i) is a member of the Kwantlen First Nation community by marriage to his wife and fellow artist, Phyllis Atkins (q̓ʷɑt̓ic̓ɑ’s). He works in many mediums including painting, drawing, carving, and sculpture.

He was trained in the Coast Salish carving tradition while apprenticing with his dear friend and mentor Xwa-lack-tun (Rick Harry). Atkins owns and operates K’wy’iye’ Spring Salmon Studio and Gallery in unceded Fort Langley, BC with Phyllis Atkins.

Phyllis (Qwoy’tic’a) Atkins is an artist of the Kwantlen First Nation whose name means “I wear the clouds like a blanket” or “Shrouded in clouds.” Her name comes from the Nɬeʔkepmx language and it was given to her by her maternal grandfather Hereditary Chief Anthony Joe of the Shakan Band (Thompson River People).

Phyllis is also part Sto:lo (People of the river). Phyllis has taken oil painting lessons from Barbara Boldt and hand-carved silver jewelry lessons by Master Carver Derek Wilson. She is a renowned painter and jeweler at their home on Kwantlen First Nation in Fort Langley.

Aaron Jordan grew up surrounded by artists and craftsmen of all mediums. Working for a few years in art galleries and museums led Aaron to attend Langara College to study fine arts. He went on to discover the world of film and was swept up by the creativity and diversity of the industry while working as a sculptor and carpenter building sets and props.

About Surrey’s Public Art Program

Established in 1998, Surrey’s Public Art Program contributes to the creation of a lively, beautiful, inclusive, and complete community. The City’s art collection reflects community identity, cultural diversity, and Indigenous heritage.

Public art contributes to placemaking across the City and its sustainable socio-economic development. Among the 100+ artworks in Surrey’s public art collection are mosaics, paintings, and interactive sculptures that remember Surrey’s history, enhance infrastructure, and honour the surrounding natural environment.

From subtle to iconic, public art can be found in the City’s parks, on pathways, streets, SkyTrain pillars, and civic buildings throughout the City of Surrey. For more information about the Public Art Program and the collection, visit

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Arts and Entertainment

Recent Past Meets Speculative Future In Mark Soo’s Video Installation (Apr 17)



April 17−June 6, 2021
Artist Talk: Saturday, April 17 | 1:00 p.m. –2:00 p.m. PST on Surrey Art Gallery’s Facebook page and YouTube channel

Surrey, BC – Surrey Art Gallery launches their spring exhibit Mark Soo: Twilight on the Edge of Town on Facebook Live and YouTube on Saturday, April 17 from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. PST with a talk by the artist that will be available for replay afterwards.

Drawing from an archive that evokes the history of science fiction film, 3D animation, documentary photography, and literature, Mark Soo’s newest video artwork explores the nature of perception and the limits of storytelling.

Through his juxtapositions of visual and experiential phenomena, this project stimulates poetic associations to place, reality, and imagination.

Across multiple screens, the artist creates an immersive choreography of visual elements over twenty-five minutes. Holographic images depict objects and events of the seemingly everyday where surreal log jams and raindrops mingle with flickering streetlights and backyard scenes.

An ambient soundtrack includes the voices of a child and adult simultaneously narrating the images, one in a speculation on the future and the other in a recollection of the past. Experienced in an ambiguous present, remembrance slips into projection and past and future are intertwined.

Mark Soo says, “I’ve tried to make a work that speaks to a complicated relationship to where we are, and of how we perceive that in terms of time and the relation to space.”

The result is part theatre, experimental cinema, and art installation. “By experimenting with the relationship between image and sound, fact and fiction,” says curator Jordan Strom, “Soo’s large-scale environment is a compelling meditation on the nature of individual and collective memory.”

Twilight on the Edge of Town builds on Soo’s work of the past decade and a half, including his interests in photography and film, the history of social movements, and experiments with the technological image. Surrey Art Gallery and Wirklichkeit Books, Berlin, will be co-publishing a catalogue about Mark Soo: Twilight on the Edge of Town in the fall of 2021.

Twilight on the Edge of Town is one of the 200 exceptional projects funded in part through the Canada Council for the Arts’ New Chapter program. With this $35M investment, the Council supports the creation and sharing of the arts in communities across Canada.

Other exhibitions at Surrey Art Gallery include Art by Surrey Secondary Students, a display of collages, drawings, and paintings from local youth (closes April 30) and the artist video Yam Lau: Hutong House. At UrbanScreen, Surrey Art Gallery’s offsite art venue, the Flavourcel collective presents I Spy a City, a series of animations that capture different sights in Surrey (closes May 2).

About Mark Soo

Mark Soo was born in Singapore. He graduated from Emily Carr Institute of Art + Design in 2001 and currently lives and works in Vancouver and Berlin. He works in a variety of media including photography, sound, and video, which he uses to investigate notions of perception, modes of representation, and considerations of social space.

Soo draws on diverse sources ranging from art history to popular and social histories. He has had solo exhibitions in Vancouver, Berlin, and London and has participated in numerous group exhibitions.

About Surrey Art Gallery

Internationally recognized for its award-winning programs, Surrey Art Gallery, located at 13750 88 Avenue in Surrey on the unceded territories of the Salish Peoples, including the q̓ic̓əy̓ (Katzie), q̓ʷɑ:n̓ƛ̓ən̓ (Kwantlen), and Semiahma (Semiahmoo) nations, is the second largest public art museum in Metro Vancouver.

Founded in 1975, the Gallery presents contemporary art by local, national, and international artists, including digital and audio art. Its extensive public programs for children through to adults aim to engage the public in an ongoing conversation about issues and ideas that affect our communities and to provide opportunities to interact with artists and the artistic process.

Admission is free. Surrey Art Gallery gratefully acknowledges the financial assistance of the City of Surrey, Province of BC through BC Arts Council, Canada Council for the Arts, and the Surrey Art Gallery Association.

Surrey Art Gallery will continue to present Art Together, a series of online programs that began in March 2020 and explore art and artists in the community, spark the imagination, and celebrate the ways that art can impact our lives.

Visit our website, follow us on Facebook and Instagram, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

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Arts and Entertainment

Shake Up: Preserving What We Value



Indigenous knowledge, science and pop culture unite to address ‘the Big One’

Surrey, BC – Museum of Surrey announces its latest feature exhibition, Shake Up: Preserving What We Value, coming March 11 to June 6. Through multimedia installations, art, and cultural objects, Shake Up examines the knowledge of earthquakes and natural disasters that has been passed down for generations through First Nations oral histories.

“It’s about reflecting on what we value, and how we ensure we keep our loved ones and stories safe,” said Museum of Surrey manager, Lynn Saffery, of the exhibit that was originally developed by Museum of Anthropology at the University of British Columbia.

As part of the immersive exhibit, visitors will have the opportunity board an electric car and take a simulated drive down a San Francisco street, featuring never-before-seen footage of the big 1906 quake aftermath. Visitors can get up close to an earthquake-proof yurt, built locally in Langley.

The theme of earthquakes in pop culture is explored through movie posters, cards, earthquake toys and the famous WWF wrestler, ‘Earthquake.’ Surrey-specific content and artifacts from the Heritage Surrey collection will also be on display.

Free pre-registered, one-hour self-guided visits of the museum are available from Wednesday to Saturday. The museum follows all citywide COVID-19 safety protocols as per Health BC, City of Surrey and WorkSafe BC. Masks are mandatory. Registration required for every person in your family group, including infants. Call 604-592-6956 or email to register.

Museum of Surrey is a dynamic and accessible community hub and cultural space that reflects the City of Surrey’s innovation and creativity.

It is a people museum, with a mission to connect people and stories through engaging events, interactive award- winning exhibits, programs, textiles and local, national and international exhibitions, as well as public space for rentals. The site, located at 17710 56A Avenue in Surrey, is on the Heritage Campus, home to Veterans Square, Anderson Cabin, 1881 Town Hall and Anniedale School.

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