One’s identity usually starts out as a name, usually as the son of, or daughter of Mr. or Mrs. so and so (insert parental last names here). “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, By any other name would smell as sweet” Anyone else recall this famous Romeo and Juliet quote. It really tried to tell us our identities as a direct result of our last names or the family we come from only holds so much meaning; its just that a name but does not say much about us past that. We carve our own unique identities through our environments and individual experiences. Identity can be split into many different forms, your religious identity, your cultural identity, your generational identity, the list goes on.
In fact, I believe we continue to search for our identity throughout most of our lives, we just learn to become more comfortable in our own skins with time and age.
In this post I wanted to focus specifically on my South Asian identity and how it fit in with my Canadian identity, essentially growing up Indian in a western society. And how it has changed over time, how it has shaped me over the years and how it continues to shape my identity.
Now I know so many south asian girls who had dyed their hairs blonde, wore the blue contacts in an attempt to try to “fit in” with what they saw around them, “white” skin and light coloured eyes. I never fell into this specifically but I definitely tried my own hand at rejecting my own south asian culture, as a visibly minority teen, in order to fit in better with the more dominant “Canadian” “white” culture I saw around me. And by trying to conform to the dominant culture around me, I did lose a bit of my roots along the way. This is a story about that journey.
I showed this more with the people I hung out with, started acting like or relating to, the kinds of music and movies I started gravitating towards.
A bit of background for those that don’t know. I was born in Kolkata, which is located in eastern India and my family immigrated to Canada when I was 10. I started hanging out with people that specifically did not look like me (I hate using white or brown but I mean people that were not Indian or south asian). In an attempt to fit in with them I definitely started suppressing parts of my own culture. At the time it felt like something I had to do, almost for survival. I mean its human nature to want to belong and when most of what I saw on TV and around me did not look like me, it felt like I had no other choice. But the fact of the matter is, I wish I could tell that younger me, you do have a choice, you don’t have to pretend to not like Indian music or movies, or never proudly talk about your own culture in order to appease your surroundings.
Now I want to reiterate here and say the friends I had in high school were real friends and they were very much a real friendship (I still talk to and am friends with some). It was more realizing in hindsight that I could have maintained friendships with folks from other cultures (you don’t just have to make connections and stick to your own kind; I don’t believe in that) while still being proud of the culture I come from and show that side of me more.
Current day me loves Bollywood music, needs to have chai twice a day with those ‘digestive biscuits’ dipped in the tea, been reconnecting with my religion (I am Hindu by religion but have never been religious but the older I get the more I am pulled to learn about my religion more). I should reiterate, I am by no means becoming more religious; I am not and have never been but I am feeling more drawn to learn about it so I can pick and choose what aspects of it appeals to me. It is moreso purely out of a need to connect with the cultural aspects of religion. For example, learning more about the backstory behind Durga , Shiva or Laxmi (deitis in Hindu culture) helps me understand why we celebrate Durga Puja and it has helped me understand my culture better without necessarily becoming a devout Hindu.
As part of the South Asian diaspora, we often do struggle with our cultural identities. Most can say they’ve almost led double lives growing up, the one of you being a “good’ Indian child at home, and the other self with friends and boyfriends/girlfriends outside the home and in the outside world. There was and always will be a bit of a clash of western and eastern cultures for us in the diaspora but its how we navigate through these differences that make us into our true selves at the end of day. It’s okay to embrace this dual identity (almost essential to survive) while still maintaining who you are and where you came from (i.e. embracing your roots).