From the Shoes of my Colonizers
“From the Shoes of My Colonizers” is a story about fractured identity and resilience. It reminds us of the importance of standing tall and reflecting on the self even in the midst of chaos. A fight for survival teaches us to adapt, let go, embrace—and most importantly, to question the status quo.
“Canada is the land of freedom.” This is what I thought to myself, beaming with happiness as I boarded a plane for the very first time. I was only fifteen years old when I came to Canada with my family from Sri Lanka—a country known for oppression, state violence, brutality, and cultural genocide of minorities. I was a young, enthusiastic child who was content to go to bed without having to fear constant bombing and death. I had no idea that I was about to build a new life on the land of Indigenous people who suffered at the hands of colonizers.
We arrived in Canada on a beautiful breezy summer day. My uncle, who picked us up at the airport, gave us one important piece of advice: “It’s up to you to build a better life here. You can either work hard or throw away this opportunity.” Since then, I’ve been laser focused on becoming successful so that I can pay off my parents’ debts and help my friends and family I left behind in Sri Lanka.
I turned the page in my book of untitled life. Part of my transition was buying a new pair of shoes. Cold days were around the corner, and the shoes I had weren’t warm enough. I bought a pair of black court shoes, which had decent heels, covered my toes and looked stylish. Wearing my court shoes made me look like a “Canadian”.
Years went by and I worked hard to call myself a proud Canadian. After working as a software developer for a few years, my heart insisted on being freed from the corporate world. My feet took me to Thunder Bay where I completed my degree in social work. Over the course of my program, I acquired knowledge about the culture and history of Indigenous people. I spent time on reserves and listened to elders sharing their experiences. Since I came from Sri Lanka, their stories deeply resonated with me, both culturally and politically, and reminded me of home. My understanding of freedom in Canada became contentious after learning about the brutal impact of colonization on Indigenous people.
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said my friend, Sheela, eyeballing me.
“It happened in the past. Just chill.” As always, she refused to open her mind.
“Yes, this happened in the past, but we can listen to them now and educate ourselves. By living on their sacred land, we also become the settlers.” I uttered my same old response and hoped that one day she’d begin decolonizing her mind.
Today, I am standing tall in my court shoes, a term used in Sri Lanka and influenced by British rulers. I was conditioned to see this world from my colonizers’ shoes, which gave me privilege as a ‘hardworking immigrant’ over ‘lazy Indians’, a comment I often hear referring to Indigenous people. My court shoes have become a power symbol. I am dragging my feet with the burden of the dark side of Canadian history.
With this knowledge, I began unravelling my sense of fractured identity. Even after living in Canada for many years, a feeling of emptiness continues to haunt me. Sometimes I am seen as the other. I’ll be asked, “Where are you from?” Answering “Canada” won’t satisfy their curiosity. On the other hand, my ideas of home aren’t real anymore. Everything has changed in Sri Lanka, for the worse.
“Where do I belong? What is my home?” I ask myself these questions all the time while dealing with my trauma of fleeing war in Sri Lanka and losing everything that was my home. Whenever memories of home percolate to the surface, my eyes well up with tears.
My mom always tells me that we are survivors like a bamboo tree. A bamboo tree endures the harshest of conditions, still standing tall, firmly rooted in the ground without losing its originality. My mother’s courage to embrace complete “foreignness” on this land and make sacrifices for her children will always be my guiding light. It wasn’t easy adapting to this new country and culture as a child who didn’t speak a word in English and faced bullying at school. But I learned to develop resilience in life.
Just like the bamboo tree, I adapted and became bendable. At the same time, I decided to adhere to my heart’s desire. Now, I passionately work as an actor bringing voice to the human experience. This new chapter in my life is slowly helping me find my authentic self and see this world through a lens of humanity.
Jereen Ignatius is a Tamil Canadian actress from Sri Lanka. She immigrated to Canada as a teenager with her parents. Celebrating life in her own unconventional way, she is a wild spirit with kind eyes and an infectious laugh. Her greatest passions are travelling and storytelling. Incorporating movements from contemporary dance and Indian marital arts, Jereen explores storytelling through solo theatre. Travelling feeds her quest to meet, learn, and collaborate with like-minded people from around the world. She is determined to savour every moment to the fullest before reaching her ultimate destination.