Dossa knows about transplants

March 24, 2005, vol. 32, no. 6
By Julie Ovenell-Carter

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On the cover of Parin Dossa's new book, Politics and Poetics of Migration, a delicate ficus tree hangs in mid-air, ripped by its vulnerable roots from some rich but unseen soil.

It will either wither or thrive - depending on how successfully it can be transplanted.

Dossa, an associate professor of anthropology and the SFU bookstore author of the month for March, knows first-hand the fragility of a transplant.

She is a Ugandan refugee who fled Idi Amin's brutal regime in the 1970s. And it was that experience of “displacement and rupture” that ultimately led her to her recent publication documenting the resettlement stories of Iranian women living on Vancouver's North Shore.

Dossa, who completed a masters degree in England, had already been planning to attend graduate school at the University of British Columbia when her country fell into chaos. She arrived in Vancouver with her sister in 1972.

“That experience of displacement and resettlement made me think closely about my social location in society. I became very politicized in my understanding. I am a Muslim woman raised in an Asian enclave created by the British colonial administration. I felt deprived of my own heritage.

“I learned British history, geography and literature all in English - the only time local culture was brought into the classroom was to show that we had a lot of catching up to do. As a south Asian Ugandan Muslim I was entitled to learn Arabic, Urdu, Farsi and Swahili, but this was not the case.

“In graduate school, I had the space and time to reflect on how larger social issues impact on our lives, and how in many cases there are other ways of knowing and being that have been supressed. I decided to pursue anthropology because it helped me to see how lived reality is informed by larger social and political developments.”

After completing a PhD that looked at the experiences of her own displaced community, Dossa expanded her research to other ethnic groups.

In the late 1980s, while living in North Vancouver, she noticed growing racism towards the many post-revolution Iranian immigrants.

“I wanted to document their experiences of migration and settlement,” she says, “and tell the stories of a community of women who were displaced owing to circumstances not of their own making.”

The moving testimonials collected in her new book “tell of the process of building new lives while confronting profound social barriers. Women have a lot to say about larger societal issues, and one woman's story can capture the voice of a larger group.”

Although “not an activist in the conventional sense,” Dossa is committed to exploring the issue of social justice by exposing institutional and systemic racism.

“I feel there's still a lot of work to be done, and I encourage my students to engage in critical thinking and to explore avenues for progressive change. My goal with this research has been to help create a more just society by documenting what one group of people from the margins have to say about the fault lines of society, and the directions for positive change.”

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