The global fight for migrant health rights has played out on various levels. While work to address migrant health at the global policy level has “remained largely uncoordinated and often vague,” migrant justice activists have continued to fight for migrant access to welfare services in nations across the world (Bhugra and Gupta 2011; McCarthy and Colebourne 2012). In Canada, the story is not so different. National anxieties about the health of the body politic have long left migrant communities vulnerable to health problems.
Most research into the history of migration and health in North America has largely focused on public health and the regulation of migrant bodies at border sites (Shah 2001 and Molina 2006). My research extends this literature by exploring how diasporic communities in North America organized to tackle community health issues in the latter half of the 20th century. In my research, I approach this topic by examining the ways in which South Asian migrant women in Canada–both documented and undocumented–mobilized beginning in the 1980s to address community health concerns that existing healthcare systems in Canada could not tackle.
In the 1980s and 1990s, progressive South Asian communities in North America started self-describing as “South Asian” in order to signify a new politics that rejected the religious bigotry, narrow nationalisms, heterosexism, elitism and sexism of mainstream Indian and Hindu diasporic organizations (Bhattacharjee 2001). Progressive South Asian Americans imagined, designed and built new community spaces for themselves–ranging from LGBTQ groups such as Trikone to art festivals such as Des Pardes. While scholars in South Asian American Studies have written about similar community organizations in the United States such as Sakhi for South Asian Women, there has been no comparable research into South Asian women’s groups in Canada, let alone their health activism (Vaid 1999; Agnew 2009 and Takhar 2013).
For the South Asian community in Montreal, issues of cultural, linguistic, and citizenship difference, have made it difficult for many South Asian women to access Quebec healthcare services (Roopa 1998 and Agarwal-Narale 2005). It is within this context that a number of South Asian women living in Montreal coalesced in 1982 to form the South Asians Women’s Community Centre (SAWCC)–a space where they could provide services and support to their sisters regarding healthcare-related issues ranging from mental health to sexual health. In my research, I look at how issues of gender and ethnicity factored into SAWCC’s community health strategies. I will approach the question by researching the archival material at SAWCC and conducting oral histories with early organizers. Placing these primary sources in conversation with secondary literature about migration and health in Canada and with archival material stored at the Bibliothèqueet Archives nationales du Québec (BANQ) and Library and Archives Canada (LAC), I intend on writing a short history about the ways in which South Asian women living in Montreal organized beginning in the 1980s to produce new resistant politics of healthcare.
Agarwal-Narale, Tulika. Mental Health of South Asian Women : Dialogues with Recent Immigrants on Post-migration, Help-seeking and Coping Strategies. Thesis. McGill University, 2005. Print.
Agnew, Vijay. Racialized Migrant Women in Canada: Essays on Health, Violence and Equity. Toronto: U of Toronto, 2009. Print.
Bhattacharjee, Anannya. Whose Safety?: Women of Color and the Violence of Law Enforcement. Philadelphia, PA: American Friends Service Committee, 2001. Print.
Bhugra, Dinesh, and Susham Gupta. Migration and Mental Health. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2011. Print.
Molina, Natalia. Fit to Be Citizens?: Public Health and Race in Los Angeles, 1879-1939. Berkeley: U of California, 2006. Print.
Nair, Roopa. "Renegotiating Home and Identity : Experiences of Gujarati Immigrant Women in Suburban Montréal." Thesis. McGill University, 1998. Print.
Shah, Nayan. Contagious Divides: Epidemics and Race in San Francisco's Chinatown. Berkeley: U of California, 2001. Print.
Takhar, Shaminder. Gender, Ethnicity, and Political Agency: South Asian Women Organizing. New York: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2013. Print.
Vaid, Jyotsna. "Beyond a Space of Our Own: South Asian Women's Groups in the U.S." Amerasia Journal 25.3 (1999): 111-26. Web.