‘I love you yesterday, I love you the same today’: Emergence on Queer South Asian family

Artist Jag Nagra recalls what life was like before she came out to her family.

“How can I give my parents what they’re expecting of me, especially as a woman in the South Asian context?” she remembered thinking. Now, her story is recorded on the big screen — and it has a hopeful ending.

Along with Kayden Bhangu and Alex (Amar) Sangha, she shares her story in Emergence, a 2021 documentary about discovering and expressing Queer identity in South Asian families.

UBC’s Centre for India and South Asia Research hosted a screening of the award-winning film on January 26, which was followed by a discussion with the cast and crew moderated by UBC School of Community and Regional Planning graduate student Chandima Silva.

Very few films depict parents’ side of the story, so this film is an essential watch in a cultural context where the family unit takes precedence over all other relationships.

For Nagra, the cis-heteronormative idea of a family was all she wanted, as she hoped to fulfill her parents' dreams for her. In her desperation, she had even contemplated entering into a sham marriage.

To Nagra’s surprise, her parents learned to embrace her alternate idea of what a family could look like. Although other issues persisted — such as the gender politics of coming out, as a woman in her family — she realized she had the support she needed to work through them.

Not all the individuals that shared their stories in Emergence – Out of the Shadows got the same acceptance as Nagra.

Bhangu, another one of the film’s subjects, was sent to Canada by his parents to pursue an education, where he continued to keep his sexuality a secret, until he met Alex Sangha. Early in the film, Sangha. “thought homosexuals were bad people. People said it was weird and not normal.”

It took him years to fight the internalized homophobia he developed during his childhood. When Sangha's mother Jaspal found out, she defied her cultural beliefs to help her son reclaim his life’s narrative.

“A mother’s resilience is the strongest,” she said. When she learned about Bhangu ’s story, she took on that role for him and showed him the love that his parents couldn’t.

Bhangu wonders at one point in the film why he couldn’t have been born to a parent like her. He explains that with the support that he received from the community at Sher Vancouver, a non-profit society for LGBTQ+ South Asians, he learned to grieve his younger self and rise above his traumatic past.

The documentary had been 10 years in the making, which is how long Vinay Giridhar, the film’s director and editor, has worked at Sher Vancouver. Sangha welcomed Giridhar to the organization when he was still a newcomer to Vancouver. Giridhar is just one of many individuals to have found family far away from home at Sher.

Non-profits like Sher Vancouver support and celebrate Queer South Asians in Western-dominant Queer communities where they are still overlooked. They’ve made several films exploring the lives of those at the intersection of the sexual and racial minorities in BC and are now inviting students to submit films to their latest initiative – The Sundar Prize and Festival.

The film is universally accessible at no cost, since the creators felt it was important that it reach all Queer South Asians to show them that they are not alone in their experiences.