What is biculturalism?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, biculturalism is defined as having or combining the cultural attitudes and customs of two nations, peoples or ethnic groups. Biculturalism occurs due to family migration, or self-migration from one’s place of birth to one’s place of residence. In part, globalisation and the rise of modern conflict, as well as the search for more opportunities for a better life have increased the percentage of bicultural individuals globally.
In Sydney, 31.7% of the population was born overseas (2014) and approximately 20% of Australia’s national population is born overseas (20%). Biculturalism has become a common facet of our lives, and for the most part, has been embraced as an emblem of multiculturalism, as well as the ability for citizens to travel between two cultural norms and immerse themselves into two cultures that are often polar opposites of each other.
When I look at my friends, the people I study with at uni and the people I’ve grown up around, at least 80% of these individuals are bicultural. Whether it be because, like me, they were born in Australia yet their parents originate from other parts of the world, or they themselves have immigrated to Australia for a plethora of reasons. In school, (high school and university more so than primary school), majority of my classmates are bicultural. We don’t share the same physical features as Caucasian Australians, we have different cultural norms that we adapt to in and out of the house, and we’re partially or fully fluent in a language other than English.
I identify as having a bicultural identity. I was born, here in Sydney and have lived here all my life. I’m an Australian citizen, hold an Australian passport and have an Australian drivers license. However, my parents were not born here in Australia. My parents originate from India. While our family are all Australian citizens, the fact that my parents originate from India has meant that the cultural norms, values and traditions upheld in India have imbibed themselves in our house, our lives and our daily activities. Therefore, I truly identify as an Australian (owing to my nationality, place of birth and citizenship) with an Indian heritage (owing to my parents’ lineage).
To go a little into detail, let’s start with the physical. I have olive toned skin, common to North Indians, my hair is black, thick and curly and I have large eyes with irises so dark, they’re essentially black. My language of choice is definitely English because it was the first language I learnt, but I am also mostly fluent in Hindi. I’m an Australian by nationality, but I possess a citizenship declaration that conveys I’m an overseas citizen of India because of my parents. At home, my parents encourage me to speak in Hindi, and often converse to me in Hindi. I identify as a Hindu, and while I don’t practice religion regularly, I’m blessed and grateful that my parents imbibed this element of our culture within me.
I see myself switching fluidly between the more relaxed communication style and level of respect shown to elders in Australian society, yet I uphold the values of respect taught to me by my parents. For example, I don’t address my older sister by her given name. Instead I address her by “Didi” – a sign of respect as it’s customary in India for the younger to not address the elder by their name. While I have an adventurous palette and try new foods and cuisines regularly, there’s nothing more comforting then a traditional North Indian meal. I’ve been to India countless times and while I don’t agree with a lot that goes on there, I love being able to reconnect and learn about my heritage. But I’ll forever be thankful that I was given the opportunity to grow and develop, physically, mentally, intellectually and emotionally in a more liberal society.
So if I know my identity and I can clearly identify my values and attitudes that relate to my biculturalism, what’s the issue?
I think the main disadvantage stems from the fact that I have so much available to me. So much culture, so much colour and vivacity and sometimes, you’re overwhelmed solely because society doesn’t have the range of experiences and cultural facets that you have access to. Yes, this sounds quite snobbish, but as a first world child with a bicultural identity and a skin colour that’s different to the norm, growing up in a “white” dominant society has proven one fact:
I’m neither Australian enough, nor am I Indian enough.
And that’s the root cause of why I struggle with my bicultural identity.