What clothing says about people and their culture

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Pradip Rodrigues

An internet search revealed that there are just about 20 places left on earth where its inhabitants stubbornly cling to traditional clothing, cultural gear and religious attire. That list includes Pakistan, countries in the Middle East, I’d like to add Canada to that list, because there are parts of cities like Brampton and some B.C cities which could well resemble rural India. Urban India meanwhile has begun to look more like London, New York and Toronto. In many third-world and under-developed countries, inhabitants living in more rural or undeveloped regions tend to hold on to culture, tradition, language and ancient clothing choices more than those living in urban and cosmopolitan settings. So for example if a western politician wore some traditional headgear or dress in a more conservative and backward region of a country, it might give its inhabitants a real kick, but if the same politician thought that dressing up like a medieval warrior or a wannabe bride or bridegroom in the middle of Mumbai or Delhi, it would backfire.

When Africans move to western shores, they tend to ditch their traditional clothing and quickly adopt western wear. Indian men by and large opt for western clothes but either insist or support the idea that their women should be draped in voluminous saris and shapeless salwar kameezes, especially if they move to Canada. After all many Indian men regardless of educational background believe it is necessary for South Asian women to uphold traditions and culture and wear it on their sleeve for the world to see.

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The Chinese ditched their traditional attire around the Opium War in 1840 after having realized that the best way to deal with the barbarians was to learn from them and adopt their way of life and that included their choice of clothing. So the rulers started the “self-strengthening movement.” This explains why Chinese immigrants in Canada tend to blend into the west more easily than South Asian immigrants who tend to stick out. Chinese immigrants can be seen all around the world dressed up in the latest western fashion. Just because they have ditched their traditional clothing doesn’t mean they’ve abandoned their culture. Those are two separate issues, not so for South Asian immigrants in the west.

When it comes to South Asian immigrants in Canada, in the old days a large majority of them came from rural regions and tended to be illiterate and more conservative, today however the kind of South Asian immigrant is educated and more urban. However many observers have noticed a tendency to become more Indian here in Canada, especially so in the fashion department.

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Naturally then, Caucasian politicians who go to South Asian dominated events here in Canada dressed in colorful costumes, they find the audience very appreciative of their gesture, it is only the few more sophisticated South Asian immigrants who are unimpressed by this cultural display. This was very evident last week when millions of Indians wondered half seriously if Indian ethnic clothing had become mainstream in Canada given how comfortable Canada’s first family was wearing Indian clothing. It is unfortunate that the Trudeau family’s attire became fodder for satire.
When western leaders visit China, they don’t try to impress their hosts or the Chinese diaspora back in their countries by wearing anything traditionally Chinese, they may unwittingly end up wearing a business suit made in China and that’s okay because they are there on business and that’s the way Chinese like it. They are more likely to visit boardrooms and visible symbols that reflect the country’s rapid progress. Their delegation will reflect the need for stronger business ties and trade.

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India has been going in that direction for a while and western influence has permeated the far corners of the country, thanks to the internet. It is time western political leaders learn to distinguish between the South Asian diaspora living in their countries and those who haven’t left their shores. Twenty years ago, Indians may have been thrilled to bits to see foreign dignitaries dancing to the tune of bhangra wearing something ethnic, not anymore. The clothing choices of Indians is in the process of evolving, I cannot say it for sure when it comes to parts of Canada where more South Asians can be identified by their traditional clothing. Here in Canada it seems as though many new immigrants want the rest of Canada to be reminded of the countries they come from through their clothing. Meanwhile back in India, Indians are anxious to show the world they have arrived and want to forget their past. Indian immigrants like many other recent arrivals from elsewhere on the other hand don’t want to ever forget their roots. Politicians hoping to make visits to India in the future should take note. – CINEWS

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