Meet Jasmin Kaur. A spoken word artist, illustrator and educator living on unceded Sto:lo First Nations territory. This means that the land she was born and lives upon was taken through colonial violence from the Indigenous communities that have lived here long before Canada was ever a concept. Growing up in a community – and a world – that has otherized her identity as a Punjabi Sikh woman, Jasmin Kaur writes to celebrate her existence. She writes to confront all the ways she was taught to shrink, erase herself and feel uncomfortable with who she is.
Tell us about the path you took to get to where you are today.
I became a writer through my passion for reading and consuming spoken word. In high school, I was deeply inspired by spoken word poets I would encounter on YouTube, but never perceived myself as being able to contribute to the craft myself. It was through Kaurs United (a summer camp for Sikh girls and women) that I found the courage to share a poem with a community of uplifting kaurs. Through the encouragement I received from other women, I was inspired to pursue creative writing during my English undergrad. I had some amazing creative writing professors that acted as mentors as I developed in both poetry and fictional narrative writing. Through years of practice, feedback and revision, I’ve gotten to where I am today as I complete my first manuscript! My development as a writer came from both consuming literature and practicing my craft. I definitely wouldn’t be where I am if not for the poetry community that has uplifted me.
If I could offer any advice to South Asian women wanting to do what I do – or pursue any of their passions – it would be to ignore those who try to decide what you are capable of. As an organizer and writer, I have had people tell me that I will never be successful trying to do what I do. When I first started organizing community arts events, I had a family member tell me that I shouldn’t bother trying to organize an event because I would do a terrible job. The most important thing I ever did for myself was ignore the people who told me these things. Very few people are naturally amazing at their artistic craft – it takes endless hours of effort to improve and grow. Give yourself that opportunity to grow by refusing to cater to those who don’t care about your process.
How important is it to you to make South Asian women feel empowered?
I often describe my work as a serenade to kaurs (Sikh women) in a public space. While others may resonate and identify with my words, my eyes are on kaurs as I speak. I dedicate my work – both writing and art – to Sikh women because of all the ways that we are erased from public discourse. Growing up, I rarely saw myself in my surroundings, in art, books or public media. I want that to change for the generation of kaurs who will follow us. We all deserve to see ourselves in the places where we find joy.
What is your personal motto or mission statement?
“No one is going to give you the education you need to overthrow them. Nobody is going to teach you your true history, teach you your true heroes, if they know that that knowledge will help set you free.”
Besides your work, what are you passionate about?
I think that all of my passions somehow play into my work as both a poet and a public educator. I’m deeply passionate about issues of social justice both in my local community and homeland of Punjab. As an elementary school teacher, I hope to inspire my students to feel connection to community and challenge injustice in whatever capacity feels right to them. I believe that as a Sikh woman living within a politicized body, all aspects of my existence are always political. I honour this and the purpose of my visible Sikh identity by refusing to dismiss the social justice issues that surround me.
Where can one find you on your days off?
You will most likely find me curled up in my bed with chaa and a good book.
How do you balance work, life, family?
Teacher burn-out is very real. In my first year, I often found myself working before work, during lunch and after work for a few hours. I have to remind myself that I’m human and that a tired teacher isn’t a good teacher. I try not to say no to friends and family because of work. I can work for the rest of my life – I won’t always be able to spend time with my loved ones.
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