How much do you hold on to your culture of birth, especially when your partner is white and your children are mixed-race? This is a question I have struggled with over the years, especially after I became a parent myself. As my children were growing up in a white-dominated culture I wanted to ensure that my side of their bloodline was not erased.
The erasure of one’s cultural identity is not something that happens consciously. It’s a decision that unfolds over years and even generations. I was reminded of this recently as I spoke to a parent who is mixed-race himself. As we stood making conversation on the sidelines at our children’s weekend activity, he mentioned his mother was Indian but after she moved to this country she thought that in order to integrate she had to in many ways try and disguise her ‘Indian-ness’. As a result when he was born he grew up knowing very little about that side of himself.
Often as immigrants we try and hide who we are in order to fit in with the mainstream.
It makes sense to me why his mother did that. Often as immigrants we try and hide who we are in order to fit in with the mainstream. I did this as a child myself after I moved to Australia. In my head I thought if I tried to be less Pakistani, then white Australia would embrace me more. Of course the reality was I could never hide the fact that I was brown and ultimately different from the white majority.
It’s taken many decades for me to come to a point where I realised I should not be looking to be embraced by anyone. Rather I needed to embrace who I was myself. The path to getting to this point has been a rocky one, and as any parent, I want to make the journey towards self-acceptance an easier one for my children.
I want to make the journey towards self-acceptance an easier one for my children.
I have already failed in in many ways while teaching my children about their Pakistani side. They can’t for example speak Urdu, my mother tongue. I tried to teach them Urdu when they were toddlers and I still attempt to from time to time, but with three kids and the fact that I predominantly speak English myself, my attempts have largely failed.
They can say the basics like hello, yes, no, but they can also say that in French, even though they have no connection to France, so I don’t count it as much of a success.
But I am lucky in one aspect and that is I have a large Pakistani/Indian family who live in Sydney and at least once a month we try and get together at an event or two. This means that my children get to experience celebrations such as Eid, like they did last weekend, surrounded by traditions such as distributing Eidi and eating delicious Pakistani food like korma, biryani and barbequed spicy lamb chops.
Having get-togethers with my relatives means that I hope my children feel they are connected to another culture. Even though they spend most of their time speaking and hearing English, they are also part of something else. And this makes them not only unique but so very lucky.
‘Your children are both Pakistani and British.’
Many years ago a journalist who was also mixed-race corrected me when I told her my children were half-Pakistani, half-British. ‘No,’ she said. ‘Your children are both Pakistani and British.’ The comment really stuck with me. They aren’t half of anything. They are a whole of two cultures which makes them twice as lucky as someone who isn’t because they get to experience the richness and vibrancy of two different places, all while living in Australia.
Our identity is such a complex beast. It’s especially complex for people like me who have lived and grown up in a number of different cultures. But perhaps it needn’t be as complex for those from my children’s generation. So many of these kids come from such different backgrounds and most of them, even as young children readily accept that people around them are part of varied cultural identities.
Who knows, perhaps being part of just one culture may become an outdated concept in the future. Maybe we will all eventually be part of many cultures and that I hope, perhaps optimistically, will lessen the types of misunderstandings we are currently seeing in the world, and hopefully make it a better place.