When 11-year-old Anique left Sri Lanka she thought it’d be temporary. Almost two decades later she talks with brother Navin and mum Sushani about guilt, obligation, and what freedom really means.
The Jayasinghe whānau originally hail from Sri Lanka but also lived in Malaysia for five years and Singapore for a year, before finally ending up in Tāmaki Makaurau. Sushani and her two kids Navin and Anique settled here with their father (referred to as Thati in the episode), though he and Sushani separated in 2007.
The separation was difficult on Sushani and the kids at the time, and Anique remembers that Navin as the oldest shouldered a lot of the responsibility of care.
“Navin was the person who always took the brunt of the responsibility since Thati left. I really always admired that. It showed me the type of person I want to be, and it just showed me a different side, that there can be men who take care of families.”
There were positive outcomes to the separation also, including Sushani’s increased sense of independence. She learnt how to drive and how to do her own taxes, and these are things she describes taking a lot of joy and pride in.
Her experience of finding peace and happiness in independence is a key theme that runs through the podcast episode and is mirrored by her daughter Anique’s experience. Anique moved out of home in her mid-20s to undertake her Masters in Te Whanganui-a-Tara and recently moved to Whanganui to work as a community arts coordinator.
Coming from a culture that prioritises the collective over the individual, the dominant narrative of individualised success in Aotearoa has been challenging to adapt to. Anique describes the process of trying to understand this, comparing it to what is considered normal in Sri Lanka.
“There are intergenerational families living in one household and that’s not a stigma, it’s not a thing. I guess I’ve been thinking about how I sometimes feel guilt that I can’t be here for the family.”
The discussions in this episode delve into the balancing act of upholding cultural expectations around taking care of family, while staying true to expectations for oneself.
Series Classification: G (General Programmes)
Conversations With My Immigrant Parents is a podcast and video series hosted, produced, and directed by Saraid de Silva and Julie Zhu.
Saraid de Silva is a Sri Lankan/Pākehā actor and writer. Her work deals with contemporary feminism and the realities of being a first generation South Asian New Zealander.
Born in China, Julie Zhu is a filmmaker, photographer, and storyteller focused on championing the stories and voices of marginalised identities.