When Reema Fuller was five, her family moved to India because of her father’s work opportunity. Since she spent her formative years there, Reema, felt she had two identities. “My dad traveled back and forth for business. He’d bring tapes of TV shows, Robert Munsch stories, little hints of the culture,” says Reema who has an older sister and younger brother. “When we moved back to Canada, in many ways I thought I was coming for the first time, mirroring the experience of my parents, but I evolved quickly from being Indian to being Canadian.”
Her father immigrated in the early ‘70s from a village in the Punjab. He returned two years later, married, and brought his wife to Canada. They worked hard to integrate, but Reema recalls two incidents illustrating the seemingly little challenges of initial culture shock. Her father was poured a cup of tea on the train. “Tea was such a symbol of comfort. He’s handed a pack of milk and didn’t know how to open it. Confused, bewildered, and frustrated all in one minute.” And her mother once called home on a layover during her first flight wondering how to operate a water fountain.
I’m proud of my Indian culture and heritage, but I don’t identify as an Indian living here.
Reema’s father, a “true entrepreneur,” is a mechanical engineer who worked at various companies before establishing a successful now-international family business in the fencing industry. Her recently retired mother worked at soap and chocolate factories, and then 20 years as office manager of a second-hand-clothing company where she became the informal cultural and settlement advisor to a mostly immigrant staff of 100. While her parents’ friends were mainly from India, Reema had a broad range. She often challenged assumptions of those from India. “Some who felt I wasn’t Indian enough,” says Reema, who knows both Hindi and Punjabi. “They grew up here learning about India in the ‘60s and ‘70s. I had come in from a more progressive approach.” Her husband is third-generation Canadian, half British, half Hungarian. “Of all the large extended family, the kid who grew up in India married outside,” she laughs.
Reema earned degrees in business management, and non-profit philanthropy. She worked as fundraising officer at Coady Institute and as Director of Fundraising for the Nova Scotia Liberal Party, a move that concerned some family members. “Politics in India is a dirty business — corrupt and nothing good about it. But quickly doubt dissolved into a sense of pride. I had a leadership role, and they’d see me next to the Premier.” She has been Managing Director of Festival Antigonish Summer Theatre and Theatre Antigonish since 2016. She is on the board of a non-profit daycare organization, and does volunteer political work.
Reema’s interest in non-profits comes from her parents’ charitable actions. She recalls her father’s speech at her brother’s wedding: “Be grateful to this country that has given you so much, embrace it and give back.” She and her husband and eight-year-old twins celebrate Christmas and Divali. “I’m proud of my Indian culture and heritage, but I don’t identify as an Indian living here. If anything, I’m an Ontarian living in Nova Scotia.”