B is for Bi-cultural Identity
Culture is an interesting thing, especially when you think about how one develops his or her own sense of culture. I have had the term “culture” defined countless times for me in various psychology and history classes, but I have never really connected with any of those textbook definitions. We all know what culture is, even if we can’t all agree on one common and accurate definition.
When I was little, I’m not sure if I had a sense of what my culture was. I went to a private Islamic school from kindergarten to fifth grade, so for me, my culture was Muslim. Other than that, I don’t think I ever really saw the racial divisions between me and my classmates. In my class, we had Indian, various kinds of Arab, and Filipino. In my own family, I had Indian, White, and Black. For at least the first decade of my life, these characteristics of the people around me didn’t mean anything special. Her being Egyptian and me being Indian was no different than her liking blue and me liking purple. It made us different from each other, but not in any defining way.
As I grew older, I realized that racial and cultural differences mean much more in society than differences in a person’s favorite color. There was the difference between White and everything else, and then the differences between each of the “everything else.” I still marvel at the fact that these differences weren’t really differences for me back when I was a kid.
However, one thing has remained constant in the whole culture discussion for me: I never knew where to put myself. I mean, I was Indian. I was one of the Desi kids. But unlike the other Desi kids, I didn’t know how to speak Urdu. My parents didn’t speak a language other than English with me at home, unless you count my mom throwing in Spanish words here and there from what she learned high school.
Unlike the other Desi kids, my parents were both born here in America. Unlike the other Desi kids, I had a completely White grandma, and even with the mix of my three other Indian grandparents, people say that I look the most like her. Anyone judging me based on my skin wouldn’t automatically realize that I was Indian.
So by the time I reached middle school I figured, okay, I’m part of two cultures. I’m Indian, but I’m also White. And more important than either, I am American.
But then you take the White kids I met in middle school. They would never consider me White. Then I start watching the news and the social media world was born and I started seeing what being part of the “White American” culture meant. Part of that culture was seeing Indian people as not White or not American. Then you throw the Hijab in there and I was definitely part of a minority.
So now I’m stuck. When I’m with Indian people, I’m not considered totally Indian. When I’m with White people, I’m not considered totally White. So what am I? What do I do when I see my fellow Indian people blaming White people for things and vice versa? Which side am I on in the debate?
Because racial divisions are so painfully apparent in American society and conversation, I don’t think my problem will ever be resolved. My temporary solution is that when people ask “What are you?”, rather than give the quick “Indian” or “Indian and European” answers I used to give, I’ve settled with the truth: “Most of my family is from India, but parts are from Europe and I was born and raised here in America.”
Now it’ll be up to them to figure out how they want to categorize me.