By gathering knowledge about the Bengali population in particular, the conference will shed light on a community whose specific history and circumstances within Canada has been previously overlooked. Zaman explains, “there are no official statistics on Bengalis (both Bangladeshis and those from West Bengal, India) as Statistics Canada lumps Bengalis under the South Asian category in census and data collection. As a researcher, and as a Bengali myself, I have realized that the migration of Bengali speaking people to Canada should be studied to understand their migration patterns, profiles, and the contributions of Bengalis to Canada, especially when Canada is celebrating its 150th anniversary.”
Zaman says the conference aims to demonstrate the diversity among South Asians in terms of religion, language, culture, and history. For example, she explains, Bengalis sometimes get grouped in with other South Asian populations, such as the Punjabi-speaking community. Zaman says, “Punjabi-speaking populations are different than Bengalis as their art, music, religion, and cultural activities are different. When I was in the early stage of planning for the conference, a senior academic asked me: ‘Are you talking about the Punjabis?’ Punjabis are better known as represented in Canada due to historical and demographic factors.”
In documenting, for the first time, the history of the Bengalis in Canada – their lives, experiences, and contributions to the Canadian society – Zaman and co-organizer Habib have two goals: the short-term goal is to publish the conference proceedings, which the SFU Library has agreed to digitize. Portions of presentations will also be available for viewing on YouTube. Long-term, Zaman and Habib, along with Bidisha Ray, Department of History, plan to produce an edited book following the conference.
Zaman believes the appeal of the conference is wide-ranging: “It is just not those interested in migration studies who are on the program. Indeed, the presenters come from multidisciplinary backgrounds – for instance, History, Gender Studies, Sociology, English, Anthropology, Geography, Psychology, Family Studies, Engineering, oral history writers and community workers and activists – to share their experience and stories of migration and settlement in various provinces across Canada. The conference will document the unknown and undocumented stories of Bengalis in Canada from a multitude of perspectives and thus enrich the linguistic and cultural diversity in Canada.”