England, United Kingdom
Prince George, BC
Baljit (aka Bally) Bassi was born in England and came to Canada in 1988 for an arranged marriage. She moved to Canada when she was nineteen years old and lived with her sister in Surrey, BC. When she first arrived to Canada, she describes feeling as though she was in a prison because everybody was so busy in their jobs and lives. In the first five years of Canada, she married her husband who was originally from India and they settled in Prince George, BC. Baljit’s husband’s family was a large, traditional joint family where everyone spoke Punjabi and their cultures and traditions were different compared to her own family back in England. Although Baljit could speak Punjabi, she always spoke in English to her siblings. In addition, because all her siblings lived away from home back in England she wasn’t used to a joint family. Baljit and her husband lived in Prince George for eight months but her husband couldn’t find a job there, so they moved to Osoyoos for four months where they had a fruit farm. They eventually moved back to Prince George and were settled there. Bally started looking for jobs in her community and faced some difficulties as her accent didn’t match the way she looked. She came across organizations that wouldn’t let her past the reception after scheduling an interview. She was a British born Punjabi Sikh woman and it was hard for other people to identify her as that. She was surprised to face racism in Canada as it was portrayed as a diverse country that welcomes diversity. Bally is a strong advocate for human rights, women’s rights, family rights, and uses her experience as an example in her training workshops. In England, she would teach Punjabi but when she would visit the local gurdwara, she felt that women in the community would judge her because she was from England. Now she feels that there is a lot more respect, warmth and love. She used to be an introvert when she first moved in with her husband’s family but over the years she became an extrovert and speaks when needed with respect all the while not shying away from a healthy debate.
Bally has visited India twice, once in 1996 and just recently in 2015. She loves that her kids were raised in a joint family with the grandparents and learned so much about their culture, traditions and language. Bally loves the support she received within the community, especially from an organization called Immigrant Multicultural Society. The Executive Director at that time, Baljit Sethi, did an informal interview and Bally got her first job as a settlement worker, assisting and supporting individuals who are new to the country and are moving to Prince George. In 1994, she started working at the Elizabeth Fry Society and has been working there ever since managing community social justice programs there.
Bally is also proud of the annual Prince George community Kabbadi (a type of wrestling) tournament and how they were changed into family tournaments over time so that women and children could come out and play games as well. A lot of people from the general community come out as well. Bally thinks Prince George has a lot of diversity, and this diversity is represented through different events. She believes it takes a lot of pride living in Northern BC but that the community is still able to share their culture, knowledge, history and experiences with their friends and other communities. Bally also feels like the relationship with the Indigenous community needs to be strengthened so we can share our knowledge and culture. Bally believes the two communities have so much to learn from and give to teach other.