Papow Ponders 13#: Being British Asian

This post discusses race, culture, society and skin colour from my point of view. Apologies if it’s a bit all over the place! This is just one person’s thoughts and feelings – there are many voices out there to hear.

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I’ll be blunt – I don’t really know where I belong. I live in the UK as a third generation immigrant. My family are from Fiji and I know I have a great-grandfather from Uttar Pradesh. English is my first language with German as my second. I roughly understand Hindi but I can barely speak it. My family is made up of Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims and Christians but I have no religion. Since moving to Berkshire, I have been the minority, being educated or working in majority-white institutions. Taking a step back from it all, I find myself feeling that I’m not enough anything to feel like I fully belong anywhere.

In these pictures, I’m wearing the only sari I’ve ever worn. It’s my mum’s and it’s a prized possession. Prior to this shoot, I’d worn the sari once before for a good friend’s wedding. Mum had to teach my better half and me how to wrap and secure everything. It took a lot of repetitive instruction for us to get it kind of right but my mum just seemed to do it perfectly in seconds. Before the photo shoot, it took my husband and I half an hour to get the sari to look somewhat OK (even then we were still umming and erring about it). All this faffing led me to question whether I should be in the sari at all – if putting it on doesn’t come naturally to me, do I deserve to wear it? The reason why I wanted to wear it in the first place is because it’s my only handed-down vintage piece and I wanted to celebrate it.

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I have not always been comfortable discussing my culture or my skin colour. You can’t hide being brown – you’re just there for everyone to see. Some people see your skin colour as a conversation starter or it becomes your only identifier – my brown/Indian/Asian person. Fifteen years ago, I would have given anything to blend in; I hated being stared at, being asked ignorant questions or being seen as just a colour. Now I still hate all those things but I do not hate who I am because of that — I take pride in myself, even when the world doesn’t make it particularly easy. Here are some of the most common questions and comments I get from people (a selection from the last three years):

  • You’re such an exotic creature
  • You’re so beautiful for an Asian girl
  • Do you go dark in the sun?
  • I bet you make amazing curries
  • How do you eat a curry with your hands? Don’t your hands get smelly?
  • You’d prefer something spicier, wouldn’t you?
  • It’s unusual to see Asian women looking like that
  • Is your partner also Indian?
  • Did you have a normal wedding or a Hindu one?
  • What language do you speak at home?

Speaking to new people or going to new places always gets my shoulders up as it’s when these kind of things are usually said. There are so many other things to discuss than old stereotypes around a person’s skin colour. I have also been called a coconut/Oreo/Malteser (insinuating a person is white on the inside but brown on the outside) by friends and family members. It’s not a nice thing to have that said to you. It just adds to the feeling of not belonging – you’re not white enough and you’re not brown enough either, an imposter in your own skin.

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I have a few questions myself:

  • Who decides who does and does not belong?
  • Have I appropriated my own culture?
  • What does it take to be accepted?
  • Who decides if I am enough?
  • What authority do I have to speak on these issues?

To be perfectly honest, I don’t have the answer to any of these questions. This post has been as close as I can get to putting my ideas out without writing a bunch of word vomit. It’s not easy to write about this stuff but I feel it’s worth discussing these issues, especially in the world we live in today.

Moving on from this, I hope to write more about these issues – sometimes thinking aloud is just what you need.

Thanks to the insanely talented Lars (Made In Eighty) for these wonderful images and to Laine (lainebeautyfx) for the brilliant hair and make-up wizardry. You guys did such a great job!

6 thoughts on “Papow Ponders 13#: Being British Asian

  1. People can be so thoughtless. I remember one of the first people I met at uni asking me if I owned a crowbar or even a mini crowbar. Coz obviously as a scouser I’ve got to be a thief.
    When I first me you my first thought was (stealing a quote from my mum here!) What good quality skin you had! Not the colour, just how clear and luminous it was. And if someone looks at you and sees that first then they’re missing out on knowing an amazing woman xx

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  2. Great post! Writing about identity can be such a complicated but beautiful thing. Loved reading your ideas and thoughts! Look forward to reading more… Also that sari is so gorgeous 😍😍

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  3. You are a beautiful strong woman that’s what I see a human who should stand beside anyone never behind or below.
    I can not even imagine what you feel everyday. And the stupidity of others.
    Your blog is awesome keep it up.

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