Even as a child, there was something about wearing the poppy that never quite sat well me.
During my family’s first year in Canada, my fifth-grade teacher attached a letter in my agenda asking to bring two dollars for a poppy to wear for the annual Remembrance Day assembly. I handed the note to my mother and both of us stared at it confused—we didn’t know what a poppy or Remembrance Day was.
According to the Legion, Canada’s largest veterans’ organization, “a poppy is worn to honour Canada’s Fallen.” It is also donned in the U.K. and France.
As the week progressed, I saw my peers handing in their toonies and receiving a pin attached to a red flower they’d later use to poke holes in erasers. At the time, I was desperate to fit in, so I begged my mom for the toonie that she hesitantly gave me.
Today, I still feel the pressure to wear a poppy each November. But now, it’s because I fear to appear ungrateful to be living in this country. As an immigrant, I’m expected to appreciate the sacrifices that made Canada a place of relative safety and prosperity for me and my family. If I don’t adhere, I feel like I’m mooching off grievances that technically weren’t meant for my immigrant body.
Immigration, for many, is a route to escape violence. To a degree, it was also one of the reasons my parents decided to leave Pakistan. As someone who has seen the disparities of state-sponsored violence within the borders of my country of origin, I chose to opt-out of wearing a poppy that ultimately reflects sentiments similar to what my family tried to escape.
Though marked for remembrance, I can’t help but think that the poppy elicits a sense of nationalism. After starting from the ground up for the third time, I am more critical of alleging to a “home” that uses a state to define itself. My identity no longer feels attached to land nor the pride that stems from the bloodshed that occurred to sustain it.
The treatment of PoC in the World Wars
After living in two commonwealth countries, Pakistan and Canada, and moving to the colonial motherland of England this year, I realize how the narrative of the poppy holds an amnesiac effect towards the role of people of colour in a history written by the victors.
I can’t help but think that the poppy is a sentiment limited to white soldiers. India (including Bangladesh and Pakistan at the time), which sent the most soldiers in the commonwealth to fight alongside Britain, is seldom mentioned in textbooks. The sacrifices of the commonwealth volunteers and soldiers are glossed over with a “British” stroke in history classes. Non-white soldiers were paid less than white European soldiers and made to do laborious work like carrying gun power or dig trenches because “they couldn’t be trusted to hold weapons.” Racial differences also justified the deployment of PoC as shock troops in the first line of battle, making them two-and-a-half times more likely to be killed than their white infantrymen.
Furthermore, the poppy fails to consider other victims of state violence throughout the wars, like the 21,000 Japanese-Canadians put in internment camps after Pearl Harbour or the 17,000 Chinese labourers brought to Canada to build the Pacific Railway which aided in the transportation of war goods and soldiers. Why don’t these victims also receive that strong, state-sponsored remembrance campaign backed by a symbol like the poppy? I have a theory: because the notion of “Canadian,” in the heads of most, is still white.
You can argue that we have things like Black History Month and Indigenous Day, but the public buy-in for Remembrance Day, with its poppies, assemblies, and official gatherings, continues to dominate.
A glorification of war
I can understand the need for there to be a remembrance for the death of close to 80,000 Canadian soldiers in the two World Wars, however, what is the use of a poppy, which is meant to embody a #NeverForget insinuation, if it fails to serve as a reminder to not repeat such disparities.
The red poppy, a symbol that may have started with good intentions, has become rhetoric to justify war. State ceremonies are sprinkled with drilled armed soldiers observing the moment of 11:11 in silence while politicians gather around war memorials. But governments don’t appear to have learned much because wars, genocides and state-violence towards PoC continue to thrive today.
When someone like Trudeau lays down a wreath at Vimy Ridge, he is also enabling tyrannical governments. It’s hypocritical to me how leaders can wear a poppy and continue to make and keep healthy relationships with warmongering entities like Israel and Saudi Arabia who support mass weapon production and suppress freedoms.
I acknowledge that the poppy is important to many folks and I’m not denigrating the sacrifices of soldiers, but a better way to honour these veterans would be to protest the violence of our government and oppose current wars, especially because we’ve seen its capabilities to alter history in the ugliest of manners.
The expansion of digital content across radio, television and the internet has allowed audiences to engage with media rapidly. As technology advances, the entertainment industry has grown exponentially and people have a wealth of information at their fingertips in the blink of an eye. Since high school, Deepa Prashad was fascinated by this power of media and aspired to be an on-air personality who could interact with viewers through creative content whilst representing her Indo Caribbean heritage. After navigating the competitiveness of Canadian broadcast hosting for seven years, Prashad continues to push herself into various modalities of media and add to her growing successes, while championing others to share their own authentic content.
Self-confidence and the desire to show a different perspective on entertainment prompted Prashad to be interested in broadcasting. While initially nervous about her family’s reaction to a nontraditional career path for Indo Caribbean women, Prashad received her parents’ full support and became the first person in her family to study broadcasting at Ryerson University in Toronto, Canada.
She began applying for television-hosting positions in her first year despite not having any experience or a finished degree, affirming, “I totally believed in myself and my capabilities.”
In an interview with Prashad, we delve into her career path, diverse representation in media and her courage to create and promote content that reflects her individuality.
How did you begin your career in hosting and digital content production?
The kids channel I watched growing up, The Family Channel, was doing a nationwide casting call for their new TV host. The host would host interstitials between shows, digital series, and do TV show and movie interviews. I didn’t have an agent at the time so I applied on my own. I was called in for my first audition ever and it was quite shocking. A room full of 10 to 15 people just observing me as I delivered lines and did mock interviews for fake shows. Two months later, I was officially cast as the host of The Family Channel!
While ecstatic about her first job, Prashad was met with racism. She stated,
Someone else, who applied for the position, made it a point to come up to me in person to say that they hoped I knew the only reason I got the job was because I was brown and the company obviously just needed to fill a quota.
Brushing the words aside, she continued hosting on The Family Channel for five years. She has also worked as an entertainment and food reporter on Canadian shows, Breakfast Television and Cityline. By advocating for herself as capable, personable and multifaceted, she did not shy away from new opportunities to advance her career and showcased herself as a leader who could resonate with broad audiences.
Wanting to explore new horizons, Prashad approached the social media company blogTO and pitched herself to be their first full-time video host focusing on Toronto food hotspots. After being hired, she visited multiple restaurants daily to host, film and edit her own content and curated personalized food videos for viewers to immerse themselves in. Prashad later forayed into the world of radio, one she never thought she would join but quickly fell in love with. She was most recently the first female voice on Toronto’s KISS 92.5 channels, The Roz and Mocha Show. Prashad enjoyed the greater flexibility of being on the radio compared to television and video hosting,
All I had to present was me. It became such a personal experience for me getting on that mic, sharing stories with listeners about the way I was raised, coming from a Guyanese household, being part of an (interfaiths marriage), [etc…] That created an incredibly strong bond between myself, our listeners and our friends that I’m so grateful for.
Tell us about your current position.
“I’m moving onto new adventures now and adding sports reporting under my belt. I will be joining BarDown | TSN to cover Formula 1, this includes doing content for TSN in the digital and TV space. I’ve never dabbled in the world of sports, so this is going to be an interesting new road for me.”
What topics are you most passionate about when creating digital content and why?
Food has to be my number one passion when it comes to digital content. Obviously I love eating and trying new things, but food is such a universal language. It connects people, it excites people and often teaches people about different cultures. I love to see how that content can generate conversations and I love to see when people admit they’ve never tried that particular food or cuisine, but added it to their list.
I also love creating Formula 1 content because Formula 1 is a massive passion of mine! I currently Twitch stream playing the Formula 1 video game F1 22. I’ve been on a pursuit to continuously learn more about the sport and to even get better at the game, because let’s be real, I’m terrible at it but I’m also OK with that!
Prashad is not immune to online mockery and negative comments about her work. When making the switch to Formula 1, she was ridiculed by some male viewers over her love of the sport and was inundated with comments like “Go back to the dishes” or “Go do laundry where you belong.” Antiquated and sexist notions about being a working woman in the media led to her looks being graded; there were comments regarding her extroverted personality and rampant discussions over her weight. There was a moment in her career where Prashad admits,
I actually wanted to make changes to myself — try to be a little less outgoing, not be so loud, change my hosting style from this incredibly bubbly style to a more laid back informative take.
Drawing on her self-belief, she soon realized that, “This doesn’t work for me. I began to appreciate all my quirks.”
Is there an area of hosting or content production that you believe you’re better at?
I really love to host digital content in particular because there’s a certain freedom that comes with it. I don’t always have to be prim and proper like sometimes I do need to do for TV. I can be me — loud, goofy, and incredibly dorky. I never want to have two different personas — one for the public eye, and then a private. On social media, what you see is exactly what you get. Digital content has allowed me to love myself even more.
Prashad plans to continue in the industry for the foreseeable future. She recognizes the impact of being an Indo Caribbean woman at the forefront of media and defines her success as “…I can continue to represent my culture and how I make others feel.” Her best moments are connecting with others through their lived experiences and offering a different lens on growing up in Canada.
How did you feel breaking into the industry as a woman of color?
What a great feeling that was, and even better, being an Indo Caribbean woman. I went through my fair share of hardships. I’ve faced racism, sexism and bullying throughout my journey of getting to where I am today. But, I have stood up for myself every single time. I will never allow myself to be walked all over. And believe me, people have attempted MANY times. But I pick myself back up and continue along my way.
I think it really hit me that I was making an impact when I started to hear from people how much they related to my childhood stories, the way I was brought up, the movies I watched as a kid. It’s those moments that made me realize I accomplished my goal.
How has your background influenced your interest in hosting and digital content production?
I never saw people like me in the media growing up. I always wanted to change that. I didn’t feel that I had anyone I could personally connect with when I watched TV. And to me that was always so mind blowing because the media, although so broad, is such a personal industry.
I have always been proud to say on air that I’m a Guyanese woman. I have made it a point to fight for more Caribbean content on air. I’ve made it a point to share stories about my family, where they came from, and even the experiences I’ve had growing up in a Guyanese family. Promoting Caribbean culture in general has always been important to me. And progress has been made! At my previous radio job, I pushed incredibly hard to start interviewing Caribbean artists and to highlight them. I had the opportunity to interview artists like Sean Paul, Kes and Konshensand those interviews aired nationally which was massive.
Prashad often infuses cultural content into her work by showcasing Indian and Caribbean food, offering Bollywood movie recommendations, detailing her trips to Guyana, talking about new music and sharing information about Caribbean events in Toronto. She does not believe that cultural content needs to be pared down for the masses but instead advocates for aspiring Indo Caribbean creators to keep releasing diverse and authentic content that is representative of themselves.
She notes that the Indo Caribbean experience is not a monolith and that,
We need more representation! What feels most authentic to you can be vastly different from other content creators. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way of creating content, but the best version of content you’re going to create is when you’re being true to who you are, and having fun.
At only 27 years old, Prashad’s journey has taken her across multiple forms of media. From interviewing Hollywood and Bollywood celebrities to hosting various television shows and being an online and radio voice, she continues to explore different mediums as a means of storytelling and connection. Hardships were plenty during Prashad’s rise to fame, but a steady belief in herself and a willingness to take on new endeavors with authenticity have provided her the grit to overcome challenges.
Prashad is eagerly awaiting to leap into her next digital venture and is actively commending more Indo Caribbean content creators to step into the spotlight with their own personal stories.