defined

POST EIGHT

Have you wondered what it’s like to coexist in two places at once? To be physically, mentally and emotionally present in not one, but two realistic and very real environments? For many, it’s a daily occurrence.

I’m not referring to some out of body, science fiction-esque experience. I’m referring to being bicultural. For me, that’s existing in the Australian reality and the Indian reality simultaneously. And let me preface this post by saying it isn’t all fun and games. It isn’t always exciting and breathtaking. Behind the joy of this experience lies a plethora of hurt, dysphoria and questions.

It has taken such a long time for me to come to terms with my biculturalism. To love my Australian self as much as I love my Indian self. And I think that’s because I’ve finally come to terms that I’m an Australian that’s a person of colour. I have black hair, olive skin and eyes that are so dark, but change from amber to mahogany to hazelnut depending on the sun. Obviously, the physical disparity I share with the typical Australian wasn’t a new development for me. I knew I was different from the very beginning. What I’ve developed and come to accept is that, no matter how “Australian” my upbringing has been, there’s always going to be a part of me that’s inherently Indian. Inherently different in values, attitudes and labels. And that’s what makes me special. That’s what makes my story so much better.

Being bicultural means facing crossroads at almost every decision you have to make. Do I wear shorts so it’s more comfortable to run around or do I protect my modesty? Do I eat a paratha for lunch or a Nutella sandwich? Do I give up my loud voice because I’m not being demure enough, or do I continue my love for debating against the wishes of society? Do I join in a discussion with the men or do I stay silent? Do I go to the co-ed school dances or stay home and finish my work? Do I run around in the sun and be a kid or stay in the shade because I’ll get dark? Do I go out with the guy who asked me out, or refuse politely out of fear of someone seeing us together?

For nineteen years, questions just like that have popped into my mind, time and time again. And it’s boiled down to whether I want to make my own identity, or frame myself to a series of values, ideals and images constructed by a collective mindset.

One thing I have grown to deeply resent is when people assume and make judgements about whether I’m being Indian or Australian. When I present an opinion that would go against the demure, quiet and submissive portrayal of Indian girls, I’m typecast as being more Australian. In reality, I’m not thinking as “an Australian” or as “an Indian”. I’m thinking as Simran Goyal, a nineteen year old with a viewpoint and a pretty damn loud voice.

If anyone remembers the scene in A Walk To Remember, where Shane West takes Mandy Moore to the spot where she’s in two places at once, that’s often where I’ve found myself. Unable to decide which side of the line I should be on, when in reality, I can have my feet planted firmly on either side.

My actions don’t have to be defined by either of the two cultures that make me who I am. I’m not Australian because I love playing sport, am openly opinionated and do my own thing. Nor am I Indian because I choose to cook and help out in the kitchen, and sometimes submit to the wishes of elders even if I don’t think they’re right. What I’m doing there is choosing what I inherently believe is right, and which will make me a stronger, independent, more confident and assertive young woman.

I will always say yes to parties and the mention of having a good time, but I’ll never submit to sex before marriage. Not because I’m demure, but because it’s personal choice. I will always advocate for strong and assertive female voices, but I’ll also be a good daughter for my parents. I’ll flirt and have fun, but I know how to hold my own and only make decisions that I’m wholly comfortable with. I’m brown, loud and proud. I do things that I know I’ll benefit from, not because I know they’ll please someone.

I want to make something clear. My decisions aren’t based off me choosing one side of my identity over the other. I don’t make decisions as an Australian or as an Indian. I make decisions as a strong, independent young woman who is doing the right thing for herself. There has been so much dysphoria and inner turmoil that has come with accepting this fact about myself. But today, I’m so proud to call myself bicultural. To know that I’m wholeheartedly and unashamedly a part of two beautiful cultures. Two beautiful environments that have given me the opportunity to define myself without labels.

I am as Australian as I am Indian. There might be times where I’ll feel more of one part of my cultural makeup than the other, but that doesn’t mean one culture is wrong or inferior to the other.

xx Simran

BRANDED

POST SEVEN

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.

xx Simran

 

 

 

S K I N

P O S T  S I X:

“Your skin looks unclean. You’re so unclean Simran”

Those words will forever be burnt in my mind. They are the product of losing my childish innocence to the hands of a girl I thought was my friend.

She may have been playing around, but the comparison of my skin colour to that of waste, faeces and mud became so common. It was the typical angle that bullies would come at when they taunted me. I thought little of it, because I did have a great circle of friends. I played it off as bullying that occurs because children are children, and it’s no different to teasing someone who has a mark on their skin, or who is overweight.

I came to realise, years later, that it was the systemic teachings by parents, siblings and society that bred these horrendous thoughts, and made children of colour, like myself, disassociate from their heritage.

Comments stick with us, whether we like it or not. In the backs of our minds, we always have a little tape of our biggest insecurities. For the longest period of time, mine was my skin. Girls struggled with their weight, the size of their boobs, how pert their asses were. I struggled with how brown my skin is.

I spent a lot of my childhood constructing a shield around myself, to mask out negativity and convince myself that it was ok. That the comments were alright. They were little steps in making myself more Australian.

I think I almost started believing that if I was outspoken, loud, active and involved, my skin would automatically lighten. If I could convince myself and society that I was “Australian”, my skin would change and I would no longer stand out.

Obviously, it didn’t.

At the age of 10, I think I was akin to a chameleon. Masking my true colours from those who didn’t want to see it. I actively sought to weed out the indian from my life. I asked my mum to stop making me parathas for lunch, and instead give me sandwiches, or let me buy the only vegetarian option from our school canteen. I tried to give up my mother tongue – an action that I still, to this day, regret ever venturing upon. I prided myself on how non-Indian I thought I was becoming.

I played sport out in the sun. I wore shorts and singlets and played with boys. I was outspoken and loud, unapologetic and enthusiastic.

I’m still all of those things today. I’ve just had a change in attitude and mindset.

When I was 12, and I started high school, I quickly realised I was again in the minority in my grade. I was one of six Indians in a group of 150 girls. However, I remember, very clearly, being told by one of the first girls I befriended, that my skin colour was so nice and tan, and that I was lucky I was naturally bronzed and olive.

In that moment, I think I was thrust into a very different pair of glasses, because it was one of the first nice things I had heard about my skin colour from someone who wasn’t family.

I found myself in an environment where cultural diversity was celebrated. My friends and peers were genuinely interested in my culture, identity and heritage. there was great pride with knowing you did come from “somewhere else”. But I was so far away from my heritage. I was so removed from what I used to love as a child, that I didn’t know how to come back. I didn’t watch Indian movies, my Hindi had become so limited, and I stopped dancing as much because I took on different sports and activities.

I was lost between wanting to accept my skin and who I truly am, and not being able to.

In a learning environment where cultural difference was prided upon, I felt like I was losing grip on mine. By trying to mark my identity as a simple, linear path, I had lost the understanding that our identities, our bicultural identities are so complex, diverse and multi-faceted, that there is no one equation to creating our identities.

So then what brought me back?

I think it was self acceptance and the creation of a safe environment where difference was a matter of pride. I was surrounded by students who wore their differing heritages as badges of honour. It was a matter of pride to be able to fluidly move between two cultures when they felt like it. To be able to effectively communicate not only in English, but in their mother tongues as well. To relish traditional, home-cooked food. To be able to dance and sing their cultural songs.

I started immersing myself in the bits of Indian culture I knew I would always enjoy. Weddings, dance, fashion and food. I gained more interest in understanding why my mum would add certain spices to our food when she was cooking. I learnt how to cook by watching mum and just listening to the stories she would tell me about the dishes she was preparing, and how she used to enjoy them as a child herself.

I asked my parents to take both my sister and I to different parts of India every time we visited, so I could immerse myself in the different elements that make up the whole of the subcontinent. We travelled to the west, to the south. We lived like locals. Hiked to holy grounds and I learnt about my heritage. I learnt about the rich history that I come from. And I was mindblown.

I started respecting my mother tongue.

And all around me, there was an air of acceptance, that difference was and is ok. When you’re different, you’re interesting.

For so long, I had struggled with the notion of difference. I wasn’t Indian enough to be a true Indian owing to my lack of submissiveness, my inability to be a proper young lady and my terrible Hindi. But I wasn’t Australian enough in my lack of courage, my vegetarianism and my dark skin.

What I needed to realise is that the term “Australian” has no one true meaning by default. My parents immigrated to Australia because they knew the quality of life here would be better. There was no restriction on who or what made an Australian. In fact, the term Australian encapsulates the different voices, accents, beliefs and values that we all bring to the forefront and truly accept about ourselves.

To be Australian is to strongly believe in yourself and be true to yourself, regardless of the colour of your skin.

It takes time to accept. To this day, I face bigots on the street who tell me to go back to my own country because of my dark skin. And the irrational fears do sometimes creep up. But then I remember that I have so much going on for myself, knowing that by day, I am a young, confident Australian, and by night, I am a young confident Australian-Indian, dancing and singing, eating my favourite dishes, and immersing herself in two cultures that made me who I am.

xx Simran

Mission

To myself. When you’re feeling low or sad or less than. Here’s to you.

This is for you. Because you are a boss. You are that loud, brown and proud young Australian woman. You are that double major Commerce student who will do great things. You are that compassionate, dedicated and courageous young lady. You are that fierce, sassy and loyal friend, sister, niece, cousin and daughter.

I know there are days when it feels like everything is coming down. Everything is crashing down around you and it seems like it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever work through. But baby girl, remember that you were born running, walking, leaping and exploring. You were so eager to explore the world and face challenges and learn new things, that you decided your nine months were too long. You were born to always take the stairs instead of the lift. Because deep down, you know that regardless of how tired you might get, or how sore your legs and lungs may feel, the stairs will always guide you up. Where your lift might fail, those stairs will always be there.

It’s not easy to quell anxiety. But you’ve never been a quitter. And I know it sounds so easy when I’m typing this. But there is so much out there for you to conquer and make your own. I need you to promise me that even when times are bad, you’ll look at how much you’ve achieved, how much you’ve done regardless of the judgement and the questioning; and look at what a brilliant and strong young woman you are.

I want you to always be proud of who you are. I want you to be able to accept compliments about your work, your photos, your food. I want you to show your skills off with pride, and show everyone and yourself how dedicated you are to making yourself better. Because I know you’ve always been like that. You’ve always strived for higher things. To make yourself better for you. For your family. For your friends and loved ones. For your society and your home.

There’s something I learnt recently, by looking at one of the greatest inspirations in my life. Battles aren’t about eradicating fear or discomfort. Battles are about finding the emotional, mental and physical strength to persevere with life despite the speedbumps that might arise.

I want you to realise that sometimes you won’t feel your very best. But that doesn’t mean you should let yourself down and stop striving to be your best. Because strength sometimes can’t be perceived until much later in the journey you’re on.

I want you to accept yourself and love yourself unconditionally. Flaws and all. Love yourself for who you are and who you want to be. That strong young woman with a loud voice and a lot of thoughts on a lot of issues. That young woman who loves the ones close to her unconditionally, and would go to the ends of the earth for them. That young woman who has time and time again, proven those who put her down wrong. That young woman who loves to cook and feed people. That young woman who will confidently belt out Justin Timberlake’s Sexy Back like her life depends on it. That young woman who’s in a love affair with shoes, clothes and celebrity biographies. That young woman who has an insatiable thirst for knowledge and will spend hours reading, talking and listening just to open her mind up some more. That young woman who loves to brunch, explore, discover and take photos. That young woman who has way too many celebrity crushes. That young woman who is competitive and fierce and wildly protective.

If there’s something I know I can say with pride, it’s that you’ve never been one to stop when someone has tried to stop you or hold you back. You’ve looked at fear and struggle and outrun them to come out on top. You’ve stared men in the eye and challenged them to think of you as anything less than successful. You’ve chased your dreams and fought for your successes. And you’ve relished that satisfaction of knowing you’ve earned everything you’ve been given.

And I think that’s one of your most admirable qualities.

Chin up baby girl.

Speedbumps are necessary in life, otherwise the same view would bore you.

xx Simran

 

 

 

On confidence

“I wouldn’t wear that if I were you. Your shoulders are too broad.”

“Has Simran gained weight?”

“Has Simran lost weight? She needs to eat more.”

“Maybe you need to invest in a contouring kit to slim your nose and give yourself some definition”

“Skipping the bread is the best way to go in my opinion”

 

Body confidence is something that has plagued me since I was thirteen. And I know right now I must sound like every other teenage/young adult girl out there, talking about body confidence and how she learnt to love her body blah blah blah.

But if I’m being completely honest, I’ve never accepted my body. I’ve never truly been happy with what I have. And I know the mantra of if you aren’t happy, change yourself. But somehow, no amount of self control so I don’t eat foods my body doesn’t require, exercise, meditation and attempts at positive reinforcement has truly satisfied me. I’ve always seen my body more as a machine that helps me strive for success and achieve my goals.

I have days where I hate my reflection. I don’t want to leave the house because people will see the trouble spots on my body. I don’t want to make my hair and do my makeup and see friends. I have days where nothing looks right. I’m never satisfied with how I look and feel.

And I know it’s irrelevant. I have nothing to be ashamed of with my body. Physical exercise and a proper diet has always been a part of me. I’m a vegetarian with the exception that I eat eggs. I exercise for a minimum of 30 minutes a day, doing intense cardio and yoga to stretch and relax my limbs and muscles. I love to cook and pride myself on eating healthy and having the mentality that on a day to day basis while I’m working or studying, my diet should be wholesome but simple; so when I do go out, I can fully enjoy myself and treat myself. I’ve been blessed with an Indian heritage. I have naturally tanned but still fair skin with the luxury of not being privy to lines and freckles.

But even still, the slightest comment about my appearance does so much damage to the self esteem I’ve mustered.

They say we are our worst critic, and it’s true.

I take comments about my skin and weight to heart. I have little tolerance when it comes to people commenting that my eyebrows aren’t done or that I have a mole on my face. It’s like there’s a burning sense of shame that emanates from comments like that. I feel ashamed of myself when people point out the little imperfections which is quite frankly, stupid, because no one is perfect. No one has perfect skin, no moles, no trouble spots, no battles with acne, no skin discolouration. No little bits of fat that refuse to leave your body.

It’s gotten to a point where I crave autumn and winter, because I know I can hide behind sweaters and full sleeve clothing and not have to worry about showing myself. Summer frankly terrifies me, and I use the fact that I’m allergic to sunscreen to cover up all the time because I’m terrified of wearing sleeveless shirts in public, lest someone see me and judge.

I can’t take compliments about my ensembles and shy away fitted clothing.

But the irony is that I love fashion. I love clothes and shoes. I have a whole section of my wardrobe dedicated to jewellery and nail polish. There’s nothing more exciting then finishing a look with a new piece of jewellery I’ve bought. Makeup excites and fascinates me. I love seeing what I can do with makeup. My shoe collection is continuously growing. It’s like I have a boot fetish with the amount of ankle boots I’ve bought this year alone (7 and counting). Leather and suede statement jackets bring me so much happiness. I love the way gold compliments my complexion and Prussian blue brings out the copper and gold in my eyes.

I can easily spend hours combing through fashion magazines and websites and put together ensembles I know I’ll love and look good in.

So you might be asking, why the lack of confidence if you love and know all this about yourself?

Like any perfectionist, striving to attain perfection doesn’t just stop in our work. I strive to perfect everything I do. From ironing my shirts to making a dish, I want everything done perfectly. And this mentality has transferred into my self confidence. I rarely see perfection because there’s always something wrong.

I could have had my brows freshly threaded, have a non bloated day, look cute AF in the ensemble I’ve chosen and have my hair actually cooperating with me. But I’ll always find a fault.

And that’s the root cause of my issue.

So, my question is, how do I stop finding the faults in myself and learn to accept what I have at the present moment so I can live a more happy and fulfilled life?

I know it isn’t an easy process. But somehow, I think I’ve put myself through enough trials with the unhappiness I feel sometimes. I work for my happiness, but somehow, I need to learn to feed self love and appreciation into that work ethic as well.

I’m allowed to not be perfect. Because perfection simply doesn’t exist. Perfection is a figment of our imaginations that torments and impassions us. And maybe throwing caution to the wind and not striving for perfection will do me good. 

xx Simran

 

POST FIVE

“Where were you born?”

“Oh, I was born here in Sydney”

“But you don’t look Australian?”

“Yes, um my parents are originally from India.”

“So you’re Indian?”

“No. I’m Australian”

“But then where are you from?”

“From Sydney. I was born here and I’ve lived here all my life.”

“No, where are you really from?”

How am I meant to respond to “where are you really from”?

I had this conversation last week with an elderly lady while on a train to the city. And while I’m sure she meant no harm with her questions, I couldn’t stop the self doubt and that little stab of pain and shame from blooming onto my cheeks, albeit hidden by the olive tone of my skin, because I did not know how to answer her.

And I think it was a blessing that my stop arrived and I could politely excuse myself and leave the situation, and pretend it never happened.

The elderly lady I was conversing with may not have had any intention of being racist or narrow minded, but every question about my identity was another reminder that no matter how hard I try to portray myself as an Australian, I will never be accepted as one.

As much as I know I have patience and tolerance to deal with obtuse questions, there is a limit. Having a different culture to the “norm” – if something like the norm even exists in a multicultural, secular nation like Australia – is something that’s extremely difficult to accept. When you’re constantly asked shallow questions like if you’re part of the caste system, if you’re vegetarian because of religion and whether you’d like a piece of beef (really classy attempts at humour here), you begin to distance yourself from the thing that provides the fuel for aggression.

People may mean no harm when they ask questions like this, but micro-aggression has been a source of the externalised and internalised racism I’ve been subjected to. And it’s a source of the psychological and emotional struggles many bicultural Australians like myself are going through. Micro-aggression or passive-aggressive racism is still rampant in our multicultural society. I noticed that I worked so much harder to perfect this “true Australian” image of myself. I spent hours trying to cultivate the perfect image to please society. I spent so much of my childhood trying to create two versions of myself. I tried to separate my cultural dichotomy into two different beings so I could try and erase the shame that was inflicted by the classic passive-aggressive rhetoric of our society: “But where are you really from?”

And that has gotten me nowhere.

And it saddens me to say that I know I’m not the only one. I’m not the only child of a migrant family, who hosts a bicultural identity she should be proud of, but spent so lon trying to sever ties to one in order to be accepted in another.

It saddens me to think that I’ve had to take these measures because in 2016, living in a secular multicultural nation means nothing when you don’t have fair skin, light hair and light coloured eyes.

It’s a bit distressing when there is so much emphasis on one’s place of origin as a discerning factor of how valuable, worthy and prominent they are in society. It’s distressing when race and where someone is from is a key political issue and the backdrop to many racist and bigoted campaigns.

Micro-aggression has reached a point where I’ve armed myself with the long explanation that my parents are from India but my sister and I were born abroad, and I was born here as an answer to “Where are you from?”

But I do look to the future with hope. Because I know that we don’t have time to focus on the pettiness of such trivial matters like where someone is from. One day, maybe I won’t need to arm myself with the defensive rhetoric I use right now. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to say that I’m Indian-Australian. And maybe one day, I’ll be proud of that little element of my bicultural identity.

xx Simran

 

 

 

WE AREN’T FLOWERS

Isn’t it time older generations let go of the things that have been imbibed in the Indian culture, to see how the youth has adapted to being split between two cultures that are so different?

 

POST FOUR:

I know this is coming after such a long time, but life has been a slight tornado and I’m finally finding the time to get back into writing.

I am as Australian as I am Indian. 

I am eighteen years old. I have brown skin (to keep it easy), black hair and dark brown eyes. And in these eighteen years, I’ve been buried under a mountain of expectations, judgements, critiques and frankly unnecessary commentary on how I should live my life.

This post serves to tell anyone who’s listening that I am not a flower. I am not a delicate little thing that needs guidance and constant watering from people who believe in imbibing ways of thinking because it’s the “right way”.

From youth, there has been this struggle for the two cultures that create me to work harmoniously. For the most part, it’s been pretty breezy. I’ve been able to stay true to my Australian nationality and my Indian heritage. And I’ve always loved knowing I can come back to one culture and just embrace it for a day or week or whatever whenever I want. But what has continuously stressed me out as a child, a teenager and now an adult, is this presence of “right and wrong” that seems to always be around.

It’s very common for people of the same or similar culture, or from the same country to form friendships. This is apparent with many of my parents’ friends. We’re part of these circles of Indian families, who will get together and have dinner parties, have whattsapp groups where they talk everyday, and are constantly clutching onto their roots and heritage even through they’re all Australian by nationality and citizenship.

If you’ve read/watched The Namesake, you’ll have a great visual of what my childhood was like. Every weekend, we would be at someone’s place having dinner. The mums would be around the kitchen, talking about the latest movies and sari trends (and obviously, boys and the culture of the youth). The dads would be getting serious in the living room with bottles of beer or glasses of wine or whiskey in hand. The share market was a classic favourite topic of discussion. And the cricket.

And the kids? Well if you were with a circle of friends that you liked and were your age, you would be playing games, watching movies and having a riot. If you were the youngest in a crowd of older children like I sometimes was depending on the circle of friends, you would be counting down the minutes until you could leave.

These dinner parties and events were always fun when I was with the group of kids I liked. It was great to see your friends who didn’t go to the same school or who weren’t maybe in the same grade as you on a weekly basis. And looking back on it, it was because as a child, I never thought about the amount of subtle controlling members of the Indian community used to impart on us.

Growing up in Sydney meant coming home from school, downing a glass of milo that was 2/3 milo and 1/3 milk, and then running back out to meet the gang at the local park. It was a ritual. We would play for hours after school, running around, riding our bikes and having a blast in general. And I think the moment I started resenting that childish innocence was when another Indian mother passed a comment at my mum, saying how dark I’d become.

“You shouldn’t let Simran in the sun so much. Once she becomes dark, it will never disappear”.

To tell a young girl with a lot of energy that she shouldn’t go outside was unheard of. I continued to play outside much to the chagrin of some members of the community who were wholly invested in my life, and my mum dutifully applied “besan and dhai” body packs to ensure I stayed fair.

Looking back on this, I’m so grateful my mum never stopped me. Because I do know girls who were asked to stay inside and they listened.

What a travesty.

So that was my childhood. Grandmas, aunties and overly concerned family friends indicating that I was too dark, and to remedy it, apply all these packs to my skin. Yes, my skin was fantastic, but that was also because I was breathing fresh air on a daily basis, running around and being a child.

I think the most resent comes from my experiences as a teenager. Firstly, there’s the physical appearance – the body hair.

I think one of the reasons I remove all removable forms of body hair is because it was engrained in my mind that it isn’t a normal or attractive thing to have. And frankly, I resent having that thought in the back of my mind. Yes, I would remove the hair for myself, but knowing that I’ve taken comments to heart about my eyebrows needing to be done really annoys me.

But that’s pretty minor.

As a teenager, there was always this small voice following Indian girls my age saying we were too brash. Too crude. Not ladylike enough. Not demure or submissive or quiet.

We were told to not befriend girls who were deemed wild and out of control. Girls who went to parties and knew many boys were red flags. There was always this circle of gossip, where all the girls were constantly talked about.

“why are you hanging out with that girl? Did you know who she was going around with last week huh?”

I once “got caught” hanging out with a guy friend and honestly, some acted like it was the end of the world. My parents had no issues because they knew the boy. They didn’t care. So I was left confused as to why the oppressive force of the indian community did.

It is so taboo for indian girls to date. To flirt and not be in a committed relationship. Friends with benefits is virtually unheard of because it’s so shunned. Casual sex is a sin in our community. And while I personally don’t want to/won’t engage in a casual lifestyle, there is nothing wrong with it. But there’s a generation of thinkers who haven’t left the seventeenth century and think it is a sin.

We were instructed not to play sport with boys because the length of our shorts weren’t acceptable. Our clothing had to be loose modest and demure. I remember getting these judging looks from a group of mothers when I turned up to a beach event in shorts and a tee. Because that isn’t what I’m meant to wear apparently.

“What will people say if they see you dressed like that huh?”

And obviously that started the whole, “Simran sit in the shade, you’ll get even darker than you already are” bullshit.

We were told not to engage in activities that weren’t ladylike. I was condemned for liking and playing sports like touch footy and rugby. My friends were condemned for listening to rap music.

And now, as an eighteen year old, I’m no stranger to mothers asking each other whether we’re in relationships and who’s next to get married. Because yes our goals in life are to get married, leave our careers and bear children for our husbands. Cook and clean and slave after kids and husbands and have no lives whatsoever.

But let me make something very clear. In this group of “wild youth” you see, you’ll find business students, engineers, medical students, law students, designers and architects. Artists, dancers, musicians, photographers. Girls who can cook damn well. Girls with a keen eye for fashion and makeup. Girls who love sport, cars and going out. Girls who are proud to be themselves regardless of what you might have to say.

You’ll find a confident group of young women who love themselves, love their heritage and love the freedom that comes with being Australian. We aren’t these delicate, touch-me-not things that need constant protection. We were raised to not take any shit from anyone. We were raised to be strong. To argue and defend ourselves. To be bold. To be absolute bosses in the boardroom. To dress to impress for ourselves.

I might have an indian heritage, that that doesn’t mean that the backwards bullshit that comes with oppressing my desire and right to express myself comes with me.

You might think that my love for shoes, photography and celebrities is a waste of time. That I should’ve been studying medicine instead of business and economics. That I’m too ambitious, loud and brash. That my shorts are too short.

Let me tell you that I really don’t care. I am a proud, loud brown girl who isn’t going to be held back by these cultural stereotypes. I don’t want your guidance and your beliefs infringing on my experiences growing up. I am free to wear what I like, what makes me comfortable and what I feel confident in. I will not hesitate to shut down people who start shit with me. I love my sport, I love my inexcusable taste in music and I love the fact that my parents are so open with me wanting to find a partner for myself. My friends are some of the most wonderful people and I would go to the ends of the universe for them.

I love my heritage. I will never let go of my heritage. I will always love and respect who I am, who my parents are, what my lineage is and how significant being an Indian is to so many people.

But, I’m not a flower. And I sure as hell don’t need your constant watering.

xx Simran

 

 

 

 

brown skin appreciation day

There is so much I could write for this post, but I have a law exam and presentation on Wednesday 😦 This is short and sweet, and a longer post will come later!

According to twitter and other social media accounts, today, August 15th is brown skin appreciation day. And seeing the tag and what it was all about warmed my heart so much. Today is essentially a celebration for people of colour. It’s a day where we can openly share the love for our skin and by extension our heritage and culture, without having to feel like we’re preaching or get hate for wanting to celebrate our skin.

 

As many of you know, I’m a young Australian woman who boasts a North Indian heritage. And you also know that I have a little bit of a love hate relationship with my skin, and by extension my heritage. But on a journey of acceptance, each day makes it a little easier to see exactly how amazing it is to be looped into two cultures and nations that are so different and exciting.

 

For most of my eighteen years, I’ve always had a little disdain for my skin. And it isn’t just because of the racial victimisation I went through as a child/teenager. Throughout my childhood and primary education, not being deemed “white” enough by my teammates, classmates and teachers because I have olive toned skin always made me look at myself in a negative light.

 

And on the flip side, always being told off by relatives and older Indian women that I was too dark because I was always playing in the sun, made me hate my colouring a lot more. A little time in the sun, coupled with my sunscreen allergy, did no wonders for my complexion. Or so they said.

 

BUT.

 

It’s been a long journey, and I’m still on the road, but I’m coming to accept that I frankly don’t care and shouldn’t care about what people say or think about my skin. I have brown skin and that’s it. There should be no judgement or preconception to my skin tone. I’m just another person on this planet who is blessed to be born with fair olive toned skin.

 

In growing up and creating my identity and myself, I’ve come to see just how incredible brown skin is. I’ve come to see how badass my olive toned skin looks against a bold red lip or a sexy scarlet dress. How I look regal in royal blue and black never fails to compliment my complexion.

 

I’ve come to see how insanely lucky I am to have a skin complexion match my features so well. Round eyes, irises so dark and mysterious, long curly lashes and hair so curly and black, it looks blue and red in the sun. And ALL of this framed with olive toned skin.

 

And at the end of the day, my skin tone is a part of me to love, celebrate and accept. It isn’t a tool of judgement or preconception for greater society to bring me down with. Because society should see me as a strong, independent young woman who is using her voice, her words and her actions to do right and do what she believes in. And by extension, they should appreciate diversity and change and celebrate that our world is being transformed by individuals who fill up every part of the skin colour spectrum.

 

My skin is for me to celebrate and love, and for you to accept and look beyond.

 

We’re all beautiful in this world. We were all blessed with unique features that make us so exquisite. And no culture or community has the right to say that one skin tone boasts a superiority over the other. I shouldn’t be looked at or judged because of the colour of my skin. And if I am, hear me loud and clear when I say that brown skinned men and women are some of the most dedicated, hard working and inspirational people I’ve ever seen. I have a colossal amount of pride for my cultural community and my self-love is growing by the day.

 

No one can take away our pride. No one can take away the validity of my skin tone and my colour.

 

I’m a brown skinned young woman and it’s just another part of what I love about myself.

IMG_5377

I know I’ve used this photo in a few posts, but all my other selfies are so tragic. Such is the life of a student who works and studies at the same time. 

xx Simran

 

POST THREE

On what I thought it meant to be Australian:

 

When we’re growing up, we’re fed these ideals that we should follow, believe and aspire to be. Our schools do it. Our media does it. Our books do it. The educators and mentors we have as youth engrain these values into us.

 

And the values I’m referring to include egalitarianism. Giving everyone a fair go. Accepting everyone for who they are, regardless of race, sexual orientation or gender. Acceptance. Pride. Patriotism.

 

We’re respected by the international community for our relaxed lifestyle. Our beaches. Our great coffee. Our sense of community and unanimity. The international community looks to Australia as a muse for multiculturalism and peace in society. We’re a mix of all different skin colours and stories from all walks of life. We have our own style, our own slang, and we’re all proud to be a part of this beautiful nation we’re so fortunate to call home.

 

In fact, there isn’t a way that I can describe a “true Australian”.

 

But that being said, I’ve also come to realise that my holding an Australian passport, being born in a hospital in Sydney, having an Australian citizenship and possessing an Australian drivers license doesn’t immediately make me Australian. No matter how much I try to justify to myself that my place of birth defines my nationality, I struggle to parallel my life to that of an Australian’s.

 

The cultural norms prided upon here in Australia have imbibed themselves in my life.

 

The fact that we shorten everything and anything we come across. Whether it be McDonalds becoming Maccas. Or avocado becoming avo. Even the suburb names around Sydney are fondly referred to with shortened monikers. Between mates, we’d refer to the suburb my high school was located in as Crowsie, short for Crows Nest.

 

Barbecues aren’t a stereotype. It’s a way of life. Regardless of if you’re vegetarian, vegan or a proud carnivore, in hail or shine, the barbecues will be running. It’s become a bonding ritual for all of us. To convene at a park or the beach or someone’s place, have the barbecue going and the stereo pumping. Having drinks passed around and just relaxing in the peaceful vibe we’ve created.

 

Inclusivity has been a huge part of my life. I know that in Asian cultures, as far as I’ve seen, girls are discouraged from getting dirty around boys. But for me, my childhood was spent running around on the sports fields at my school, playing AFL, soccer and more childlike games like Cops and Robbers or 44 Homes. I’ve always enjoyed playing a friendly match of footy with my mates. Running around and just enjoying the competition and team spirit we all foster, regardless of if we’re guys or girls. I was always encouraged to get involved with team sports and activities, and to this day, have always been so thankful that my parents never held me back from all the activities I was a part of.

 

But with all of this, I’ve still struggled to call myself Australian. Proudly and comfortably. Because the reality of all this is that our cultural norms and the values we’re taught are so shallow. Being considered Australian comes with a lot more complication.

 

I’ve grown up around a plethora of races and nationalities. But when I look at my closest friends, most of them possess either Indian heritage or East Asian heritage. And we’ve all come to connect being Australian with being Caucasian. Having fair skin that’s prone to becoming red in the sun. Having bright coloured eyes instead of dark brown eyes. Having blonde hair instead of jet black hair. Rarely being brought up in a household that speaks a language other than English.

 

Growing up so physically different to what I consider to be Australian has revealed the not-so-lovely side of what it means to be Australian. Things I hope and pray will change so that future generation bicultural Australians won’t have to deal with the hardships that I know so many of us have to deal with.

 

When we were taught that being Australian meant being inclusive, I didn’t realise that inclusivity didn’t stretch to including us if we were a different skin tone. I can no longer count the number of times where I’ve been told to go back to my own country because I have black hair and olive skin. It’s humiliating when you walk down a street in Sydney’s CBD and a man in his 30’s tells you to go home to your third world hell. It’s humiliating because I know I can easily be a smartass and retaliate by saying that I was born here, so I’d be returning to the hospital I was born in, or that the land isn’t anyone’s unless they have Aboriginal blood within them. But I’ve never retaliated. I’ve always just walked away and pretended I didn’t hear, because why give dogs more meat to chew on? It’s so humiliating that I’ve accepted myself as a second-class citizen because of my skin tone, when in fact, I was born and brought up in Sydney and I consider myself an Australian.

 

We were always taught that being Australian comes with living a great lifestyle. But I didn’t realise that came with a stream of racist jokes about my culture and how I’m so different. I didn’t realise I became the butt of all jokes because I don’t like drinking to get drunk. I didn’t realise that society would actually play into the stereotype that all Indian parents are hardcore and cruel and expect their children to just pursue academics. I didn’t realise that society has never expected me to become an all-rounded young woman because of my parents’ birth place. I love having beach days and barbecues with my mates. Playing footy and beach volleyball and going for walks and hikes. I love going on foodie adventures and drinking great coffee. But I also value the fact that my parents immigrated to Australia to provide a better life for themselves and for us, and the rest of our future family lineage.

 

It’s ironic to see how respected we are on an international stage for our said multiculturalism. When we really aren’t. acceptance of different races, ethnicities and religions goes above and beyond playing into stereotype. Eating a samosa doesn’t make you culturally aware. Nor does knowing when Chinese New Year is. It’s so shocking to see how misinformed our society is about culture and tradition that doesn’t stem from Europid origins. We sing it in our national anthem:

 

“For those who’ve come across the seas/ We’ve boundless plains to share”

 

But society still cannot fathom to accept those who don’t share the blonde/brunette hair, pale skin, bright eye combo.

 

It’s a misconception to suggest Australia is multicultural because my accent and mannerisms aren’t enough to determine whether I’m “Australian or not”. To be asked, “where are you from” is such a degrading question, because it suggests that no matter how Australian my behaviour is, I’ll never be called Australian. 18 years on, I’m met with disbelief when I tell strangers I was born and brought up here. I’ve been asked, “But where are you really from” as if my indication that I was born in Sydney is all a fabrication.

 

Whether our society will ever admit it or not, Australian society is so imbibed with racist preconceptions, regardless of whether it’s direct or indirect.

 

To be Australian means to apparently be upfront and bold and brusque.  For me, that means hesitating when wanting to retaliate in the face of racism or to correct someone’s preconception about Indian culture, my lifestyle or my parents. For fear of upsetting or angering the individual. Because the liberty of free speech and defence of the individual is taken differently. If I retaliate against a racist or culturally derogative remark, I’m told to “suck it up because it’s a joke”. The liberty of freedom of speech has been taken to a whole new level here in Australian.

 

To be Australian apparently means to be armed with inbuilt assumptions. I can’t stress the number of times teachers, other individuals and strangers have commented on my choice to not pursue the sciences, or my upfront nature. It’s still a thing where people on trains will move their bags closer to themselves if I sit next to them, because my skin tone obviously suggests evil.

 

I thought being Australian meant watching this young nation flourish and grow and change with the myriad of races, ethnicities and cultures that are so fortunate to amalgamate on the shores of a beautiful country. I thought being Australian meant to love and accept regardless of race and culture and upbringing. I thought being Australian meant living a great life. I thought being Australian meant spreading positivity and inclusivity for all to enjoy and be a part of. I thought being Australian meant to be proud of the brilliance of having more than one culture, one religion, one language being spread across our shores.

 

I guess I was wrong.

 

And maybe, this is the fault of our educators. Because our educators are all so narrow and shallow and hardly ever suggest that Australia is a nation that comes with more than just bright coloured eyes, fair skin and blonde/brunette hair.

 

So isn’t it time we start seeing Australia for its cultural vivacity? Or is it still to early to understand that a nation can be successfully made up of more than one culture and still succeed.

 

xx Simran

 

 

 

 

 

POST TWO

Before I begin, a huge apology for the erratic posting.  I just finished my semester finals and I’m honestly frazzled, sleep deprived and unsure if I actually made it out of that hell. The past six weeks have taken a lot out of me and I’m drained. BUT I hope to be back to my usual activity soon, and since all I’m doing is working and going out until I go overseas, I’ll have a lot more down time which is fantastic.

I thought post two would be a little narration into the daily aspects of my life, and how having two cultural identities plays a role and plays a part in who I am, how I act and the values and attitudes that have been imbibed into my lifestyle.

There are various cultural norms that we subconsciously adopt as we grow and mature. And I’m quite happy with the things I’ve picked up from both living in Australia, and having an Indian heritage.

I’m a free spoken young woman living in a first world society in a first world country. I’ve been blessed with the liberty of access to free speech – a right that I use, and honestly would not be able to survive without. I believe in an egalitarian society, regardless of whether that’s referring to race, culture, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status or status of work. I believe in an individual’s right to equal treatment an representation in all walks of life. I live quite a liberal and free life. We have a relaxed stance around people in society, and there are no qualified signs of respect that we display to our elders or superiors, except for addressing them via their titles, rather than their names.

I’ve always been encouraged to broaden my horizons, socialise with all members of the community, and seek friendships with everyone. I’ve grown up playing a lot of sport, joining various extra-curricular activities, and the importance of work experience has always been stressed. There’s nothing more I love then having a kick back with mates at the beach or having a barbecue. I’m an avid sports fan and also thoroughly enjoy giving back to my community.

These ideas, cultures and values, I associate as Australian cultural norms. These are facets of my life that I’ve been exposed to since the day I was born.

However, I think I’ve only uttered my sister’s birth name 10 times in my 18 years. Out of respect for my elders, my sister is always referred to as didi. And I don’t think I’d ever be able to address her by her actual name. I am able to somewhat fluidly change my tongue and accent to wrap around the different sound of Hindi, and am exceptionally passionate about weddings and celebrations. On a more general note, I’m expected to remove my shoes outside the house, or near the entrance, as to not dirty the house; and I have a specific pair of slippers that I should wear around the house.

We eat with our hands usually, and cutlery is only used for gravies, “wet” dishes and occasionally rice, depending on what the rice is paired with. Every time we invite friends to dinner, the fathers of the families will always argue over the bill, as its customary for the wealthiest or the host family to foot the bill at a restaurant. We come bearing gifts every time there’s a house party, and will spend hours saying our goodbyes at the doors (this isn’t stereotyped. It’s a fact). As an Hindu, I take great pride in our religious activities, although I’m not a practicing Hindu. But I love that my parents ensured I know about my religion and the rituals that occur at auspicious times of the year.

These are the ideas, cultures and values I associate with my Indian heritage, and Indian cultural norms. These are the facets of my everyday experiences that have been introduced by my parents, my extended families and the amount of indian culture we’re exposed to, here in Australia.

So then what’s the issue?

When you have two explosive cultures residing within you, you realise you aren’t enough of either.

I once thought I fit into the Australian and indian definitions of cultural norms, but I realised I didn’t. I don’t drink like an Aussie. My attitude, while it is carefree, isn’t liberal or relaxed in everything I do. I’m not demure or shy, and I don’t shy away from interacting with guys. I don’t believe in the hierarchy in India, and hate the system of maids and workers for each family. I can’t handle large family gatherings, and struggle under the pressure of not being good enough for my identity.

The struggle is not being adequate enough for either, and not knowing how to merge these two identities together.

xx Simran