Accepted paper:

Identity and defeat: Sri Lankan Tamil identity in Canada in the wake of the defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam


Mark Whitaker (University of Kentucky)

Paper short abstract:

The bloody defeat of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam was witnessed, and experienced as a defeat, by many Sri Lankan Tamils in diaspora in Toronto, Canada. This paper seeks to discuss how this defeat altered diasporic Tamil identity in some rather surprising and almost constradictoryways, increasing at once that communities communal sense of self, and a newly felt distance from its now lost home.

Paper long abstract:

In May 2009 Sri Lanka's 26 year inter-ethnic civil war was concluded in a bloody fashion when the remnants of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (or LTTE), a ruthless separatist organization seeking a separate Tamil state, were caught by the vastly larger Sri Lankan army on a ten mile strip of beach along with roughly 300,000 Tamil civilians. The resulting final battle, which left thousands of civilians dead, and the LTTE destroyed, was witnessed by the Sri Lankan Tamil community in Canada through the complex web of media -- TV, radio, and internet -- owned and controlled by the LTTE prior to its defeat. The collective trauma this engendered provoked, I believe, a brief period of intense soul-searching and debate that resulted in a new, fairly widely shared consensus about Sri Lankan Tamil nationalism and the proper role Canadian Tamils should now play within it. This debate, I think, redefined Canadian Tamil identity in seemingly contradictory ways: on the one hand re-enforcing its difference from Canadian identity as a whole; on the other apparently sundering forever a diasporic hope of return to a Sri Lankan homeland that formerly defined it. This paper seeks to map out this communal reassessment based on several years of interviews in Canada and Sri Lanka between May 2009 and the present. Theoretically, this paper seeks to investigate the cultural consequences of defeat for a diasporic community's sense of collective self.

panel MMM17
Migration, culture and identity construction