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COVID brings Familiar Concerns for Health of the Diaspora Community

Health concerns for distant family among the diaspora is not new

My family is from Punjab, North West India. 

My Maama (Mum’s Brother), Chacha (Dad’s Brother) worked on a naval ship travelling across the seas. Through this process, both my uncles immigrated to New York and my Dad wanting to learn more skills kept working and immigrated to Adelaide.

A few days ago, I received a late night text from my cousin in New York. “Just wanted to let you know that mom and dad have tested positive [to COVID 19]. Mom is in hospital. She is having breathing trouble”. I replied to check in with him before drifting off to sleep.

The next evening, after I’d shared this news with my parents, my mother asked what time it was in New York, wanting to call my cousin. I told her it was 5:09 AM and that they would likely be sleeping. She asked me to call anyway; I obliged and nobody answered. I lay in bed in my room,  and whilst mum sat on the lounge, I could feel her worry and anticipation. Mum retired to bed, requesting I wake her if my cousin returned the call. 

Each day thereafter, my mum tried calling my Maama to check in, no pick up. My mum asked me to message my cousins and ask why he was not picking up the phone which added to the worry. 

A few days later, my mum announced that my Chacha was sick and asked me to call his children. Turns out, he had surgery to have his gallbladder removed.

Rewinding to a few months ago, my cousin was experiencing a mental health episode and left the house. He didn’t return and my family reported him as a missing person. One of the options I considered was to fly to New York as I was unsure how else i could assist. Thankfully he was found and whilst continues to struggle, is in a safe place. 

Growing up in the diaspora,, we have learnt to communicate love, worries and grief long distance this is our normal. I had not reflected on how we have become accustomed to this practice, until a friend recently remarked how hard it must be, that worry for family when you are some 17000 (miles) away.

It got me thinking about the pursuit of survival, resilience and thriving in Diasporic communities. We grow up learning to navigate a world we don’t necessarily have a road map for, when our parents have grown up in a completely different world. The specific difficulties of focusing on your everyday, when you are preoccupied with that of your loved ones. 

We split our time between nourishing all the complicated facets of our identities, holding the unspoken pain in our histories, and supporting our families. Many days, this responsibility bears heavy with burden. Having had similar conversations with other friends of different diasporas, I believe this is the experience of diasporic communities worldwide.

I am making a conscious effort to cherish this time with my nieces to reconnect with my language and family. With a new generation brings opportunities to heal cultural wounds. 

I hope you find ways to nurture yourself and each other in your respective communities. Be kind to yourselves, especially on the days that burden wears heavy.

About the author

Australian born Punjabi, Taranjeet is passionate about how people hold their cultural identity in the Western World. She is a Social Worker and is committed to speaking about the effects of colonisation, white supremacy and injustice. She plays the harmonium and recently started a podcast, called Language Matters. Instagram: @kaur.healing



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