As much as we hate to admit it, we live in a world of stereotype. There’s no need for me to even open my mouth, for someone to throw me into a pool of stereotypes. Stereotypes have played a crucial part in both taking me away from my biculturalism, and me owning my differences and “otherness”.
I’ve been branded as a brown skinned girl who couldn’t possibly have been born in Australia. I’ve been branded as a girl whose parents had to work odd ended jobs to make ends meet, and of course, my dad was the proud owner of a 7-11. I’ve been branded as a twisted joke because I’m a vegetarian who was forced into this lifestyle by her religion. I’ve been branded as an unclean freak because my skin is “shit coloured” and I eat with my hands.
All these assumptions, these stereotypes, are untrue.
I am the Australian born daughter of Indian immigrants. But that shouldn’t brand me as anything.
Growing up, there was always this seemingly childish innocence that accompanied questions like: Why do you eat with your hands? That’s gross. Adults would brush it off as curiousity, of course. But to be in a position where you’re challenged about the things you’ve grown up with, isn’t a walk in the park.
There were always giggles and snickers accompanying questions about why we wear colourful stickers on our foreheads. Why our clothing is so embellished and embroidered. Why our food stank so much. Why we were all curry-munching, sheltered kids who had sergeants for parents.
I detested these stereotypes. I still do.
I remember asking my mum to stop giving me indian food. To not put coconut oil in my hair. She never stopped me from anything. My parents are liberal. They always have been. They trust me and know I won’t make stupid decisions.
It hurt so much growing up, knowing that I couldn’t truly express and value myself. I was crowned Display A when we looked at India during our social sciences classes. It was with some sort of perverse satisfaction that people would ask questions that they knew would be disrespectful to any other culture.
Part of growing up with two cultures has been growing a thick skin to the bullshit, as horrible as that sounds. I have trained myself to be immune to the snide remarks about my brownness. In fact, today, I own my brownness as a traditional Indian-Australian would.
I want to remind the world that bindis aren’t a fashion statement endorsed by the likes of Kendall Jenner and Vanessa Hudgens. You are not allowed to shit on my culture and then flip when an overhyped socialite wears them to a music festival, claiming how ethnic and boho you are.
The deities you giggled at and imitated out of sheer disrespect aren’t signs of your awareness when they are emblazoned on shirts from every known international clothing company.
You mocked my use of coconut oil in 2006, yet here we are in 2017, when you come up to me and rave about how good it is. Calling me a stinky curry muncher for my use of coconut oil will never go away, just because you make the discovery 11 years too late about the benefits of oil for the skin.
It’s been a tough journey, but I own my brownness.
I’ve come to realise that my culture and heritage will always be used incorrectly. That’s an unsettling thought. But I need to accept, move forward, and remind everyone that culture needs to be respected and valued. Not made into a celebrity endorsed commodity.
To end this post, I want to disregard all of the stereotypes I was typecast as.
I was born here in Sydney. I’ve lived here all my life. I have the most wonderful parents, who did sacrifice a lot, but who have established themselves as prime members of our society. They worked hard and worked their way to where they are today, instilling in me the same values, motivation and drive. I am a vegetarian out of choice. I’m intolerant to meat and eggs so I don’t consume either. It isn’t a forced decision because of religion. Religion has nothing to do with any of my decisions. I love my tanned skin. I love how olive and warm my skin it. How it’s so healthy and luckily immune to lines and the onset of wrinkles at an early age. I love my food. I love the simplicity and the complexity of Indian food. How comforting it is. And you know what makes it even more comforting and delicious? The fact that I can break a piece of roti with my fingers, wrap it around a piece of tamarind pumpkin and really use all of my senses when I consume my food. It makes the experience so much better.