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Where I Come From

Vijay Agnew

Life Writing Series

Paper 305 pp.

ISBN13: 978-0-88920-414-0

Release Date: August 2003

Online discount: 25%

$36.99  $27.74


eBook availability

“Where do you come from?”

When Vijay Agnew first immigrated to Canada people would often ask her “Where do you come from?” She thought it a simple, straightforward question, and would answer in the same simple, straightforward manner, by telling them where she had been born and where she grew up.

But over the years she learned that many so-called third-world people resent being asked this question, because it implies that having a different skin colour (which is what usually prompts the question) makes a person an outsider and not really Canadian. This realization inspired her to look more closely at the question — and the answer. The result is this book.

Where I Come From is a reflective memoir of an immigrant professor’s life in a Canadian university. It covers the period from 1967, when Canada was opened up to third-world immigrants, to the present. The book illustrates the ways in which identity is socially constructed by tracing some of the labels that were applied to the author at various stages during her thirty years in Canada — “foreign student,” “Indian woman,” “immigrant,” “Indian feminist,” and “third-world woman.” She shows how each of these names has affected her relationships with other people and contributed to making her the woman she is now perceived to be: a feminist, anti-racist, activist professor. This multilayered story reveals the complex ways in which race, class, and gender intersect in an immigrant woman’s life, and engages readers in a conversation that narrows the distance between them, showing not only what is different, but what is shared.

Vijay Agnew immigrated from India in 1970 and studied at the University of Waterloo and the University of Toronto. A professor of social science, she has taught at York University in Toronto since 1976, and is director of the Centre for Feminist Research. She is author of Resisting Discrimination: Women from Asia, Africa, and the Caribbean and the Women’s Movement in Canada, which won the Gustavus Myers Award in 1997 as “an outstanding book on the subject of human rights in North America.” Her other books are In Search of a Safe Place: Abused Women and Culturally Sensitive Services and Elite Women in Indian Politics.


“A painfully honest account...[Agnew’s] critical eye idealizes neither India nor Canada....Her memoir is a testament to the fact that identity (not only hers but everyone’s) is not and cannot be fixed.”

— Dana Palrascu-Kingsley, Canadian Woman Studies

Where I Come From works very well as a history of second wave feminism. But by writing of her experiences and thoughts as a Canadian immigrant from India, this book also provides interesting reading on a range of issues relating to international migration and identity. As a result [it] should attract a wide audience. As a teaching tool, the book as a whole or in part would work well in women’s history courses, in women’s studies courses, and in courses on migration. It is stimulating and entertaining reading for other academics interested in the issues that Agnew highlights in this book, but it would also be an enjoyable and educational read for a wide range of members of the public.... Where I Come From is a delightful way to learn about the history of feminist engagements with issues of racial difference. It is also an engaging study of the evolution of one immigrant’s values and identity.”

— Lisa Chilton, University of Prince Edward Island, H-Net

“Agnew’s memoir is a candid personal journey of self-revelation and self-realization as she looks back over some 30 years at the various stages of her life: her childhood and adolescence in India, her first experiences as a graduate student in Canada, her marriage to a Canadian, the birth of her daughter, her struggle to build a career as a professor of social science, and, of course, all the attendant issues of being a non-white female from a Third World country. At the same time, Where I Come From is an analysis of the construct of identity based on the fundamental feminist principle that one’s identity is defined by the characteristics that society ascribes to a person’s race, class, and gender. The result is a complex description of how one woman’s life can be shaped by societal expectations and responses in both Eastern and Western cultures.... Where I Come From makes an important contribution to feminist literature as well as to cultural studies and women’s studies.”

— Carol A. Stos, Canadian Book Review Annual

Where I Come From is full of examples which make the theoretical ideals of feminism and multiculturalism accountable to real lives.”

— Catherine Bates, Moving Worlds