Who am I really?

How do you learn to love and accept your biculturalism when you don’t feel like you fit into either culture because you aren’t Australian enough or Indian enough?

I feel like I struggle with the concept of cultural identity. A lot.

There are quite a few instances in my life where I’ve felt neither Australian nor Indian.

My parents were born in India, but shortly after marriage, they moved to New Zealand where my sister was born, and then moved again to Australia where I was born.

I was born in Sydney and have lived here all my life. We used to live in an apartment which I have no recollection of because apparently I spent my first birthday with my closest family, while being surrounded by a sea of moving boxes as we had just moved into our new house. My pre-school was close to our local train station and my dad would drop me every morning before going to work. We had a secret handshake that we would do at the door. I was a complete princess in my style. I never wore jeans or pants. Even in winter, my mum would have ready a cute dress, stockings, boots, a coat, little mittens and the appropriate coloured hair ties and ribbons to adorn the two braids I diligently wore every single day.

I didn’t see myself as any different to the other children I was around. At the age of three, I was the exact same as the other 14 boys and girls in my class.

I guess that all changed in primary school.

I consider myself an Australian. I’m an Australian citizen. English is my first language. I uphold our Australian values and sing the Australian National Anthem with pride. I have a solid Australian accent and love this beautiful country I’m so blessed to be in. I love the chill lifestyle we have. I love being able to go to the beach when I please, have a barbecue with friends and just chill out. I honour the traditional custodians of our land. I also know first hand the experience of an Australian summer where the first thing you experience in the car is the branding ceremony caused by your seatbelt.

But I also have an Indian heritage. I have olive toned skin. I have curly black hair and dark round eyes with long curly lashes. I can’t speak Hindi very well but I can fully understand it. I take part in every cultural and Hindu festival that comes about every year. I love being able to dress in Indian formal wear and once upon a time, I was classically trained in Bharatanatyam. There’s a special place in my heart for Bollywood movies and Indian film stars. And I will never give up the myriad of Indian dishes I’m blessed to be able to eat, cook and relish.

But I’ve never truly felt Australian. Nor have I truly felt Indian.

http://everydayfeminism.com/2015/10/self-love-hairy-brown-girl/

The above article really struck a nerve with me when I realised how similar our experiences growing up were.

Let’s start with primary school.

I was 7 years old and was encountering my first experience of bullying. At 7 years old, I was average height, skinny and had hair on my arms and legs. My olive toned skin is pretty light by Indian standards so the black hair stood out. The girls I thought were my friends blatantly came up to me and said, “You’re so unclean. Your skin is brown and hairy. That’s disgusting”. At age 7, I didn’t know what to think. I was made fun of for having a non typically “white” name that people couldn’t pronounce. I was told to go back to my own country even though I was born and brought up here in Sydney.

But we were children and I let it go. I found new friends that stuck with me and I was happy.

Then I changed schools as part of the opportunity class placement program targeted at students in year 5 and 6. I was 10 years old and three white girls cornered me in a bathroom and told me to go back to my own country because brown people didn’t belong here in Australia. I was told that I was abnormal and disgusting because I had hair on my arms and legs. Never before had I been so conscious of myself. I hated the fact that I had to wear shorts during sport. While I was an avid AFL/touch footy player, I loved dance and thoroughly enjoyed athletics, I remember staring at myself in the mirror while in my sports shorts and tshirt, and hating the fact that my fair skin was covered in this hideous layer of hair. I remember thinking, ‘I’m not Australian. I don’t belong here. I have to change myself because Australians don’t look like this.’

I remember coming home and finding a razor, running it down my arms and then staring in satisfaction at the clean skin. I later broke into a rash and after telling my mum why I did it, I demanded that I get waxed.

The first time I got my arms and legs waxed was when I was 11. My parents didn’t want me to, but obviously my stubbornness won out. I nearly slapped the beautician and cried because it hurt so much. But the end result was so satisfying. I was clean. I could finally look Australian.

But at 11, I wasn’t personally troubled by the fact that I share two cultures. I was proud of it. I possessed traits, values and mannerisms from both cultures. I could switch between being an Indian and being an Australian as I pleased. What I didn’t like was being made fun of for having parathas stuffed with spicy vegetables for lunch sometimes. What I hated was being asked why my hands were cut by a crowd of caucasian children when I came to school with henna on. And when I explained that it was a typically south east Asian tradition done during auspicious times, I was called “fking weird because here in Australia, it doesn’t work like that”. I remember being called weird when people saw a photo of me with a bindi on my forehead because I was in a sari for a performance because it was creepy to have something colourful stuck in the middle of my forehead.

And then in my first month of high school when I was still 11 and thought I was over hearing shit about myself, I remember being in tears as I got home because one caucasian private school boy had blatantly pointed the facial hair above my lip out to his group of friends as I walked by.

The next week, I experienced threading my upper lip and while it hurt, I was satisfied. I looked less abnormal and more Australian.

Even now, I am paranoid that people will see the missed patch of hair that I forgot to shave off in a rush. I am paranoid of stepping out of the house if my upper lip threading appointment is later then I wanted.

But at age 11, I learnt what it was like to hate my skin. To hate the fact that I was brown and had hair in places I shouldn’t. I learnt the feeling of not feeling confident that I could possess two cultures and still be an Australian. I learnt what it was like to be disillusioned from society because I wasn’t pretty enough for the Australian boys. I learnt about the fear of missing an eye brow threading because my thick, luscious and dark eyebrows aren’t normal even though my mum always told me that people craved having thick eyebrows that didn’t need to be filled in.

Even now, I’m still conflicted about going out to the beach and wearing a bikini because of the hair on my back. I’m terrified of getting into a relationship and being able to move forward because what if my boyfriend sees me with the hair on my upper lip?

High school was pretty much the opposite. I went to an all girls selective school. My grade was primarily Asian and I felt like I fit in for once. There was no bullshit about bringing food that wasn’t a sausage roll or a sandwich. Between the east asians and few south east asians, we shared the woes of waxing and hair removal. It was great. I felt so at home in school. Everyone loved the fact that most of our grade were fluid between two cultures. It was a matter of pride that we were all comfortable with the fact that we could speak both English and our parents’ mother tongues. And together we shot down racist assholes by proving that people who were “yellow” or “brown” were no different to the typical caucasian Australian. I found the ability to move between my two cultures. I was able to give it my all on stage as I led dancers during our annual charities day to the best bollywood songs; but also do typically Australian things like play a ton of sport, do intense amounts of charity and be involved in this great work-life balance I had created.

I learnt to give myself a voice, calling out the bigots who had mocked me when I was younger for having henna and wearing a bindi when they themselves did it to look freaking boho at a music festival. I became proud of my identity. The fact that it was freaking epic that I was both Indian and Australian. That I had the best of both worlds.

I thought I was over everything that primary school had thrown at me. Done with the bullshit and I was slowly learning to see myself as this bomb AF young Australian with an Indian heritage.

Until I realised that I don’t really belong as an Indian.

This came about after a few trips to India.

Indian society has this stigma about beauty. Fair skin. Hairless skin. Mole free skin.

I don’t feel comfortable in my own skin in India. Because my moles and pimples are always pointed out to me. It’s like the older generations of my family have nothing better to say to me. They will always point out the pimple I have or the mole above my eyebrow or the fact that I’ve gotten too dark.

These comments were the reason I started concealing the three moles on my face because I thought they diminished the apparent beauty I possessed.

And then there’s the language barrier and the fact that since I’m Australian, I’m apparently not as intelligent as my Indian cousins. I can speak Hindi and I understand it perfectly. I sometimes choose not to speak Hindi because I weird myself out with the fact that there is a strong Australian accent served with my “Namaste Nani, aap kehse ho? (Hey grandma, how are you?)”. To this, people in India make it a fact to make me feel bad about it. Aunties and Uncles and friends of the family and other people will comment condescendingly that I don’t even know Hindi and it’s shameful. Or when I attempt to speak, they laugh or pretend they don’t understand me because of the accent difference. That’s real freaking comforting isn’t it.

And then there’s education. Education is important. But living in Australia I think has given my parents a new perspective. While education and doing well is really important to my parents and to me, my parents always told me to make informed decisions and do the best I can. But in India? My HSC mark wasn’t good enough because it wasn’t a perfect 99.95. My marks are never as good as my cousins’ marks because apparently being in Sydney makes the education easier so I should do better.

It’s really comforting when you’re told you aren’t Indian enough and that the slackness of western lifestyle is imbibing your lifestyle.

And then there is the body consciousness and food issue. I struggle with body positivity. I’m self conscious and am rarely happy with myself. So hearing comments about the fact that I’m not skinny enough isn’t cool. And then on the flip side, people will not stop feeding me and get pissed when I say no to extra servings. I understand the Indian mentality of being an overzealous host sometimes, but please re-evaluate the fact that first you insult and then you get insulted when I don’t eat sweets.

It’s like I’m not good enough to be Indian. My Hindi is shit. I can’t read or write it. My skin isn’t fair enough and I’m not skinny enough for Indian standards. I’m opinionated and outspoken and I’m apparently too wild because I live in Australia. I don’t watch all the Bollywood movies and have no interest in living in India. I think the caste system is an outdated, illogical system and will always rise to question the corruption in India. I have no interest in cricket and would rather play rugby with my mates, both boys and girls, then sit inside and be asked if I’m dating and be consistently warned that bringing home a boy who isn’t an Indian will mean I should not bother coming home anymore. *The last few statements are directed at my extended family and other indians. My parents do not share this view at all. My parents are the best* I don’t want to get married after a shit experience with heartbreak and apparently saying that out loud in front of my extended family was the wrong thing to do.

So what now? I’m a 17 year old girl who doesn’t seem to fit anywhere. There will always be someone questioning ‘but where were you REALLY born?’ as if me giving the name of the hospital that I was born in here in Sydney isnt enough. I will always be told that I’m not Indian enough because apparently my independence and the fact that I will not hesitate to belt out Justin Timberlake’s Sexy Back, cusses and all makes me some wild, off the track, hopeless case.

How do you learn to love and accept your biculturalism when you don’t feel like you fit into either culture because you aren’t Australian enough or Indian enough?

xx Simran

 

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