HOW I FEEL ABOUT BEING MIXED HERITAGE
“So, what are you? I mean... where are you from?”
Those words, those famous words, are such that I've heard over and over and over again, for my whole entire life. From random men in bars, kids in the playground, women behind the cashiers in the local supermarket, Uber drivers - the list is endless. They are usually coupled with a quizzical gaze, and sometimes even an eyebrow raise, as my face is scanned from forehead to chin.
Sometimes I'm flattered that people show enough interest, but other times I get mildly irritated. To me, it often feels as though I'm being asked to justify the colour of my skin to absolute strangers. And trust me, the amount of times that I've wanted to answer with an honest, but smarky, "London" is countless. But that would just drag the conversation out even more. Either way, I tend to just answer the question and get on with the rest of my day.
I've talked briefly about my mixed heritage on this blog and I've also referenced to both my parents, but I've never really gone into detail about how I feel about said heritage and background. So, I thought today would be a great day to address it.
As a bit of background, my dad is German but born in Mexico City and my mum is Indian but born in Uganda. Just because neither wanted to make it simple it seems haha. My dad moved to London in his twenties to pursue a career and my mum was forced to come to London when she was seven years old due to the expulsion of the Asians from Uganda in 1972 and well, the rest is history. (Sorry mum, think I've just given away your age on the internet... you look fab, don't worry!)
I'm sure you're all fully aware of what I look like by now, but the mixed background has gifted me with olive skin, dark hair and eyes, yet some very European features too. Hint: the nose. The combination has come to spark somewhat of a guessing game for those who want to pinpoint my ethnicity – some say Turkish, some say Spanish, some say Moroccan... but I don’t think anyone is yet to guess the correct combination.
Half of my family are German Christians and the other half are Gujarati Hindus; and with that strong juxtaposition comes cultural differences that even after 25 years, I’m still having to work my way around. Visiting different sets of grandparents sometimes requires different styles of dress, speech and behaviour – for example my grandparents in Germany will happily spend hours talking about politics and world events whereas my Gujarati Nani would rather chat about the latest Hindi TV program that’s being aired or 'gossiping' about one of her many sisters. Either way, I have a HUGE amount of respect and love for each of them.
I wanted to take this opportunity to highlight what it’s really like being mixed heritage and in the most basic term possible, it truly is complicated. It’s convoluted with varying expectations and sometimes it’s a bit of a battle to know which side of the fence I should stand on, so I tend to choose a foot on each side.
Growing up in a predominantly 'white' city, surrounded by children my age who were stereotypically British, was quite difficult at times. It only became worse at secondary school and then also at University when light – or sometimes not so light – forms of racism were thrown my way. I vividly remember the first time I was called a ‘paki’ and it honestly felt like a stab to the heart. Let me note, I show no inferiority toward Pakistani’s but I felt genuinely wounded that the people around me showed such ignorance toward my true heritage. I mean, if you’re going to insult me, at least get it right. I won't lie, there were many times where I just wanted to lie about my heritage to avoid judgement or unnecessary comments, but I quickly realised that I would be denying something that's inherently part of my DNA. Not only that, but I am immensely proud to call myself half Indian and half German. I truly am.
With age, I’ve learnt to embrace my background more and more. Both of my parents and set of grandparents have instilled in me some fantastic values, traits and ambitions that come from both nationalities - even if I do say so myself. It has meant that I’ve gotten to travel more, experience more, be immersed in different cultures and religions. I feel confident standing in the middle of a Brauhaus drinking a good ol' Kolsch but I also feel equally as confident walking into a cinema to watch a Bollywood film. Not many can say that. Pretty cool, eh?
But this isn't my way of gloating and I want to end in saying that every heritage is equally as fascinating and special and comes with so much to offer. At the end of the day, we're all human!
So there ya go, THAT IS ME.