An Indian grocery store called Kamal Spice House is crammed with every ingredient, snack and condiment that you could imagine. The store’s windows are plastered with dozens of different brands and flavors of chai, the in-house bakery has a plethora of Indian breads including parathas, naans and samosas, and the freezer is full of the famous DEEP products with their overplayed catchphrase “Khao to jaano.”
It’s the kind of place where a woman who just got married can walk in and immediately find her wedding gift, or where a college student looking for a new cookbook can meet up with an old friend to talk about the latest Bollywood film they both love. It’s also a place where many South Asian immigrants can feel connected to their culture, despite being far away from family and home.
This sense of belonging is crucial for the South Asian community, which has largely been forced into diaspora by restrictive immigration policies and an undercurrent of American xenophobia. Desi stores are more than just shops: they are literal vessels for cultural preservation, actualizing the very identities of those who use them.
CBC Creator Network recently visited some Canadian desi store to see first-hand how they function as an anchor for the diaspora, and the people who shop there. One of the stories we featured was that of Amritpal Mahil, a first-generation Punjabi immigrant to Saskatchewan who says shopping at the Indian stores in his city is a way for him to stay connected to his heritage. He tells 5X Press that walking in to the stores and seeing the food he remembers cooking with makes him feel at home.
The Desi Store – An Anchor For the Diaspora
For newcomers like Amritpal, Desi stores can also act as a gathering place where they can exchange tips about jobs and neighbourhoods, or just make friends with the folks who work there. The fact that these conversations are often conducted in the language of their home country creates an even more evocative sense of familiarity.
As Desi communities continue to grow in cities across Canada, the need for these stores will only increase. A recent report by Mercer, a global consulting company, found that there are more than 13,000 South Asians living in Canada, and that number is growing. That’s why it’s so important to support Desi stores and keep their legacy alive. The more we protect these places, the easier it will be to preserve our heritage and pass it on to future generations.