Opinion: How I lost my name after 9/11 – and why I’m taking it back

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Chantal Khan da Silva is a freelance journalist based in London.

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“But Khan is a Muslim name.”

Being a Khan myself, I knew that “Khan” could be a “Muslim name”.


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I can’t understand why my crush is announcing it in our middle school Classmates in what appeared to be a heated argument.

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But, as soon as I saw her cheeks turning red as I entered class, the conversation suddenly stopped, I knew my classmates were talking about me that morning—and I didn’t wonder why.

In the months following 9/11, the day when a series of coordinated attacks by al-Qaeda against the United States rocked the world, I began to see a growing interest in my family’s background.

In our largely white and middle-class Toronto neighborhood, our mixed-race families – half Indian-Pakistani and half Portuguese – always felt somewhat out of place. But for me, at age 12, standing out in a near-identical neighborhood has long been a matter of pride.

Both of my parents came to Canada as expatriates, my father, Ray Khan, born Imtiaz Hussain Khan, arrived in Toronto at the age of 11 from the UK, where he was born and raised, and where his parents, Mumtaz Hussein Khan and Shamslaqua Begum Khan had lasted for years after they fled India to Pakistan during the Partition.

My great-grandfather, Abdus Salaam Khan, was an active judge in the All India Muslim League and, facing political persecution, he married off his daughter at an early age to my grandfather, who was a Muslim member. Indian Air Force. They fled to Karachi and later traveled across continents before calling Canada home.

Meanwhile, my mother, Celeste da Silva, moved to Toronto at the same young age, leaving behind her small town of Chao da Parda in Portugal that she and Mary Grandpa, or my grandmother, Maria Sarava sought to start a new chapter after the death of my grandfather, Germano da Silva.

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Having spent the lion’s share of her savings on her care while battling illness, with little money left by the time she landed in Canada, my mother often got up before school to go worm-cutting with her grandmother Had to. To help pay golf course rent.

The story of my family, I thought, made us unique and yet, in many ways, uniquely “Canadian.”

Canada was, after all, meant to be a “cultural mosaic,” where people from all corners of the world and from all walks of life were to be celebrated. So what could be more Canadian than the family that celebrated Christmas with a big turkey dinner on Christmas Eve and a smorgasbord of curry dishes with pastis de nata and sweets for dessert on Christmas Day?

However, apparently being white myself, I was unaware as a child how privileged this belief was. I enjoyed all the benefits of a rich heritage, while others, including my older sister, Dani Khan da Silva, who had been targeted on the playground on several occasions for the color of her skin, suffered a bit.

And when the terrorist attacks of 9/11 broke out, all of a sudden, that reality began to sink in. In the months after the Twin Towers collapsed, Canada saw a sharp increase in hate crimes against Muslims, and my father began to worry that his shop, which Khan proudly kept his surname, over the years, might affect business. Is. Meanwhile, at the predominantly white private school my sister attended, her peers began to call her a “terrorist.”

“When 9/11 happened, I became acutely aware of the fact that I was different,” my sister, now 34, told me recently.

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As the taunts went on, they took a toll on my sister and eventually, when they didn’t stop, she and my mother came up with the idea of ​​changing our surnames.

Of course, in times like these, one can expect parents to send a message of self-love and acceptance to their child rather than encouraging them to succumb to the pressures of prejudice. However, my mother, a woman herself who used to taunt her Portuguese accent as a young girl, had already devoted much of her life to trying to assimilate Canadian culture.

It was a determination that both she and my father shared, with the quest to be accepted and successful as “Canadian” became the definite goal of their marriage. Despite being Muslim and Catholic respectively, neither of my parents felt particularly devout and together, they joined a Christian church in the community. My father opened his own telescope shop with the help of my mother, while she pursued a career as a law clerk, the pair determined to keep up with the “Jones” of Toronto. Together, they bought expensive homes in “good” neighborhoods, gained access to the “best” schools and shopped at high-end stores, where each purchase added to a growing body of evidence that “made it” in this country.

And so, the idea of ​​changing our last names from Khan to my mother’s maiden name, Da Silva, felt like another small adjustment—one my father, distracted by his own doubts, was specifically consulted by a family therapist. -Assuring the father, who would divorce many years later, that it was the right thing to do.

My sister’s name changed in 2002 and my name changed the following year, giving me the chance to watch the rest of middle school as Chantal Khan.

At the time, I had not recorded the full weight of the decisions we made as a family. But, almost 20 years on, my name has become a burden that has become even more difficult for me to carry.

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It pains me to learn over the years how deeply the name change cut my father—especially knowing how growing up, he had already been made to realize how diversity was considered a nation’s “strength.” Known as “, he is “different”. “There was an inconvenience to others.

In his first years as a student in Toronto’s education system, he was told by a teacher that his name, “Imtiaz,” was simply “difficult” to pronounce. Instead, his teacher started calling him Charles, urging his classmates to do the same. Years later, he would leave Imtiaz altogether, choosing “Ray” when a girlfriend started calling him “Sunray”.

Imtiaz, a name meaning “distinctive” and “unique”, melded into a more palatable identity which he hoped would be easier for Western society to swallow, began to take shape.

my father told me He wishes he had done more to stop his children from doing the same: “This is your identity, this is you. Why should you be ashamed or afraid of it?”

An aunt of mine put it more bluntly, once telling me years ago that the name change was a “slap in the face” for the Khan side of my family. And as much as it hurts me, it also bothers me to think about what privilege a name change has bought me with in a lifetime — after all, it’s a huge privilege to be able to throw off one’s identity like a shawl. . Want to wear the first one – and it makes one wonder who Chantal Khan could be.

For years, I’d wanted to reintroduce Khan to my name, but felt reluctant to start a journalism career as Chantal da Silva and publish byline after byline under that name, as well as claiming that Wasn’t always felt like me, I’ve always hesitated.

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Of course, as to Chantal da Silva, I still managed to get comments like this one under his articles: “Part of the problem with Canada is that it didn’t allow all third-world people like ‘da Silva’.” in a country which was built by the British. I can only imagine how they would feel if they knew the full story of my name – and it is at a time when I wish they did.

So, here it is. I know our story will make many people uncomfortable when I share it. I face a certain level of scrutiny: “Racism isn’t so bad in Canada.” “Did your family really have to change your name?” “Why would you do that?”

Of course, we didn’t have to and, in fact, I believe we shouldn’t have changed our names. Whatever fears our family had, they did not scratch the surface of the realities of racism that many people face every day.

But whether you like it or not, our story is a Canadian story. And as much as Canada may celebrate diversity as its strength, what really matters is how strong – and how secure – those representing a diverse Canada actually feel in this country.

Earlier this summer, we saw a Muslim family – Salman Afzal, 46; Madiha Salman, 44; His 15-year-old daughter Yumna and his 74-year-old grandmother Talat Afzal – killed during an evening walk, along with their 9-year-old son Faiz, were seriously injured in an attack that would haunt them and Canada. Muslim community in the coming years.

Meanwhile, Indigenous communities continue to uncover the remains of hundreds of children whose lives were lost to colonialism and racism that persist today, coherent, yet adapting forever. Canada has seen a rise in anti-Asian hate crimes amid the coronavirus pandemic and “Black Lives Matter” continues to sound on Canada’s streets – a reminder that the message has yet to hit home.

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My father was made to feel that the name he was given when he came into this world was not enough – or perhaps, too much. That’s why I am writing this composition as Chantal Khan da Silva. I need my father to know that I am proud to be a Khan. I am proud to be Da Silva. I am proud of the tangled roots that allowed me to be.

Keep your opinion sharp and informed. bring…


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