Blogging from A to Z Day 2: Bi-Cultural Identity

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.


4 thoughts on “Blogging from A to Z Day 2: Bi-Cultural Identity

  1. Trancify says:

    Welcome to my world! Nicely written.

  2. ann bennett says:

    I am much older than you but I understand what you mean. I am white but have Native American ancestry and had to settle how people reacted to it.

    You have to be proud of both of your ancestries and recognize whenever someone has a problem with either one, it is their problem. As far as culture goes, your parent’s attitudes are probably what you will have as an adult.

    Your grandparents came to this country for a reason. Yes you have Indian DNA. But you are an American. It just doesn’t matter where your ancestors came from. You were born in the United States. So you are an American.

    When you get married, I would marry someone who shares my religious beliefs so you can pass them to your children.

    One fact though, your father will never believe your future husband will be good enough for you.

  3. Chuck Allen says:

    Thanks for this peek into the challenges brought about by our (American’s) insistence on categorizing people into groups. I wish we could just appreciate that we are all human. At the same time, I find learning about people’s background and history fascinating. Good luck with the AtoZ Challenge!

  4. josna says:

    Thank you for writing this so clearly and forthrightly. I do the same thing when people ask me: just tell them the truth, where my mother and father are each from, and how much of my life I’ve lived in the United States. This business of not being totally one thing or another is something to be proud of; for the truth is that nobody is totally one thing or another, even if they look as if they fit in. They just can’t accept or aren’t aware of the complexity of who they are.
    I still can’t come to terms with the totally artificial notion of “white” and resist it every chance I get; just as I continue to resist the categories of “East” and “West.” Keep on being who you are!

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