“I don’t quite fit in. In Pakistan when I’m there, and in Canada, I’m always watching how I situate myself here, because my family isn’t Indigenous to this land. I consider us racialized settlers who have been very privileged to live in such a beautiful country. So I always feel like I’m hovering neither there nor here. I don’t feel disenfranchised or upset about this identity. I actually think it’s quite cool and fun to be an outsider and appreciate the nuances and things that folks end up taking for granted once they get comfortable.”
Arisha is 25 and a student at the University of Saskatchewan with her tentacles in different community organizations and initiatives. (She told me, “Some people say they wear different hats in their community work. I prefer the term tentacles; how distinct parts of a whole can work for a similar purpose or direction”) and when she is not helping the community in countless ways, she loves to dance. She said, “I don’t even walk in a straight line. My mom’s nickname for me is ‘lost cow’ because I’m always wavering around.” One of her proudest achievements is being the coordinator for a program called “Building Bridges,” a program running out of her university where different events were planned to bring more international students and Indigenous students together with the goal to combat stereotyping and learn from each other. She told me, “that’s when I realized a purpose for myself, a purpose I still try to keep with myself, that is, to listen, and give back to, to share the platform and resources I have to amplify the voices and stories of the people around me, and then to connect people. I believe every single person is made up of so many stories and their lives are woven in so many ways and that we all kind of connect to each other in a weird tapestry of existence.” When I asked Arisha what her biggest challenge has been, she told me it’s been living with and accepting her ADHD but not having it been diagnosed until January 2018. Once she finally got the answer at the age of 24, due to finally being able to afford the educational assessment, she could begin to understand her past. She told me, “I started to really re-examine and reassess all that I've held myself back from, and the ways I've had to work against the way I am to fit in. There has been a lot of anger, frustration and pain, but I felt compelled to share this because even today I judge myself and my accomplishments by the expectations on the standard set by society and those around me and not at all by my abilities. It's not fair, and it hasn't been, getting this one answer has opened up a Pandora’s Box of other questions which I'm working away at. My hope is that someone reads this and sees that they are not alone or lazy or worthless. I label myself with these things all the time and I'm only now starting to be kinder and gentler with myself.”
What is a fun fact about you that you haven’t told me yet?
“I love washing dishes by hand while singing along boisterously to power ballads, like Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keys, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé (the list goes on…you know the women’s whose vocal range I could never reach.) One time right after Whitney Houston passed I was singing along “I will always love you” and everyone in my family came running in to the kitchen because they thought I fell down and was wailing in pain… I was not, I was washing dishes with my headphones on (100% true story.) Also washing dishes is one of my favourite pastimes, it gives me time to think and reflect on my day when I’m not belting “I Wanna Dance with Somebody”
What’s most important to you?
“My friends and family are important because they remind me not to take myself too seriously- they continuously call me out on my BS, tell me when I need to tone it down but they’re also my greatest support system. Living in Saskatoon has allowed me to make and stay friends with people I’ve known for quite some time, and continuously meet people who know others with like 3 degrees of separation, so that’s really cool I because I continue to make new friends and yet the ones I’ve known the longest are still constantly in my life lifting me up.”