The Sanitized Sensorium
The fluo rescent bulb flickered as it always did, emitting an unrelenting,
low, and per sis tent buzzing that filled the space. The windowless room and
harsh institutional lighting made all the participants feel uneasy. Every one
shuddered and fidgeted— physical manifestations of the anxiety, panic,
anger, fatigue, and desperation that filled them. As the class got under way,
some participants taking notes and others seemingly distracted, a cascade
of proscriptions filled the room: Don’t show up smelling like foods that
are foreign to us,” Don’t wear a shalwar cameeze,” “Change your name if
it’s hard to pronounce,” and Don’t wear a hijab if you want to get a job.”
This was the core curriculum (and moral imperative) delivered to a room
full of professional Pakistani, Indian, and Bangladeshi women seeking work
in Toronto. I looked around at the fifteen participants in this government-
funded workshop, trying to gauge their reactions. The instructions seemed
astonishingly dissonant for a workshop aimed at foreign- trained profes-
sionals with advanced levels of education, skills, and experience.
The strangeness of it all was not lost on the participants. As one attendee,
Saima, remarked to me later, “It’s diff erent back home. At home there’s
more importance stressed on qualifications.” I met numerous Pakistani im-
migrant women like Saima in settlement- services agencies, many of whom
were unemployed or underemployed. The majority of these women lived in
relative poverty in government housing proj ects in peripheral parts of the
city. Despite having migrated as “skilled
most of them will never
enter their chosen fields again. In fact, 44  percent of the Pakistani popula-
tion of Toronto lives below Canada’s low income cut-
And yet, in this
pedagogical effort to facilitate their entry into the workforce, immigrant
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