A Nationality Conundrum

A few days ago a fellow blogger kindly re-blogged one of my posts on his site. He also included a few lines in which he referred to me as a being an ‘Indian university graduate’ and that really got me thinking. Whilst I may have been raised by parents who both emigrated from India and have grown up in a tight-knit South Asian community, the reality is that I’ve never actually lived in India. I was born and bred just outside of London; so is it really possible to refer to myself as being Indian?

Maybe I can. My skin is brown, I have a typical Sikh name, and both sides of my extended family can be traced back many generations in the northern state of Punjab.

However, whilst I’d need two hands to count the number of times that I’ve been to India, I’ve never actually stayed there for longer than three weeks at a time and I don’t have an Indian passport, I have a British one. So if I’m not fully Indian, am I then fully British by default?

In many ways I suppose I am. I’ve lived my entire life so far in England, I’ve had a British education since the age of four and English is my native tongue.

But that still doesn’t feel right to say. My identity isn’t that clear-cut and I can’t just completely disregard my Indian heritage like that. It’s not an either/or situation, it’s complex because Western customs have just as much of an impact on me as South Asian traditions do. For example, when it comes to certain topics like having a social life and career goals, I’m very Western influenced. But in other ways I’m much more affected by my South Asian roots, particularly in terms of how family-orientated I am.

Furthermore, whilst I may love fish and chips, I’m equally obsessed with aloo proteh. I might have a lot of RnB and Hip Hop songs on my Ipod, but there are also a fair amount of Hindi and Bhangra tunes to rival them. I’m just as much a fan of Hollywood as I am of Bollywood. I love wearing pretty dresses but I adore wearing bejewelled Indian outfits just as much. And although I’m well-versed in the dry British sense of humour, I also dabble with Punjabi witticisms and wisecracks too!

And so ultimately I guess I wouldn’t refer to myself as being 100% Indian or 100% British because the truth is that I don’t entirely belong to either country, I’m essentially a foreigner in both! But rather than feeling displaced, I’d like to think that I’m a special hybrid of two rich cultures which have shaped me into the unique (and slightly  insane) person that I am today 😀

40 replies

  1. Can totally relate! I’m a third-culture kid now grown up- I am constantly asking myself the what am I question and depending on where I am, who is asking, or how I’m feeling, the answer is always different.

  2. You are what was referred to during the Raj as an ‘anglo-Indian’. But then, the British bit would always take precedence back then. 🙂

  3. Uh oh, now you sound like an American…LOL, with a few exceptions, most of us have a dual identity. It’s a bit funny though, I’ve never heard of a British-American. I don’t think that’s allowed.

  4. I´m the blogger and can relate to that. My mother was Norwegian, and I consider myself part British and part Norwegian. I have family in Norway and have visited many times. British friends, who knew my background, often thought of me as more Norwegian than English, It´s also hard for me to think of myself as one or the other.

    But, as I get quite a lot of visits to my site from India, I have to admit, I did make the mistake of thinking you were based there. Most Indian undergraduates and graduates in India write excellent blogs in English, which is often better than English graduates, especially considering they also speak and write at least one or two other languages in addtion.

  5. Good for you, I can totally identify being Anglo-Mauritian myself. I am far more Westernised thanks to my upbringing but still treasure my heritage.

  6. I love this, we can relate. I am “American”, but I am Spanish. I have Spanish parents who immigrated to the U.S.; does that make me Spanish or does that make me American? Also, since you brought up South versus North Indian; are we better because we are lighter or darker? I have all sorts of music on my iPod; from Hispanic, to American-influenced so, I say this to you. You are YOU. You are a female with many aspects to your life; you are a big pizza with difference slices that make you, YOU! Consider yourself a beautiful eccentric, not too many people are. -Ladulcefrap.

    • You sound like the Spanishy version of me! Lol I think that the North versus South Indian debate is quite heavy to get into, I might actually write a blog post on it because it’s very interesting to explore. Thank you so much for your comment, I really appreciate it 🙂

  7. Like so many who commented above, the dualism of your identity resonates with me. Although I’ve been in the States since I was two, my birthplace is Trinidad, W.I. My favorite foods and music choices have influences from both cultures. And while I don’t have a Trinidad accent, most people wouldn’t peg me as American, and certainly not a New Yorker…although terms from both NYC and the islands weave in-and-out of my conversations. So embrace the duality and enjoy your uniqueness!

    • I’m glad that you could relate Kerwyn, it really is a gift to be able to retain influences from such contrasting cultures, I wouldn’t want to be any other way and I’m sure that you can agree! Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  8. I can relate, although my situation isn’t exactly the same as yours. I’m naturalised British citizen so people tend to refer to me still as ‘Spanish’ because I have a Spanish accent. That’s mostly people who don’t know I’ve become British, though. I think if someone isn’t sure it’s polite to simply ask how you prefer to be referred as, rather than assume you’re foreigner because you don’t look like a stereotypical English white person. For me, I prefer ‘British of Spanish origin’ 🙂

    Identity is a complex issue and I think it’s a choice that other people need to respect.

    • Definitely agree with you there, identity is a grey area. People do automatically make assumptions about what you are, they can’t help that I guess, we all do it. As long as you’re comfortable in yourself, it’s all good! Thanks for stopping by Antonio 🙂

  9. I think ‘human being’ is a wonderful identity. In a very fundamental way, that’s all I know about myself and my genetic past. I can generalize ‘Northern Europe,’ but that’s all I will ever know.

  10. These are the things that I’m fully conscious of for our son, that I’m pretty sure don’t phase my spouse as he is Indian (we met in graduate school which is why he came to the U.S.) I know our son will primarily identify as American, but I am hoping that having cousins that are the same age and frequent trips/summers in India will help him maintain some identity as he gets older.

    • You sound like you’ve got everything under control, I’m sure he’ll grow up to be very cultured with a strong sense of identity 🙂 And trips to India are definitely a must in my opinion! Thanks for stopping by.

  11. This is interesting. My husband is from Iran and I’m American,and I often wonder how it will be for our kids. Which nationality will they feel more pulled to. Thanks for sharing this.

  12. I’m Italian/American. Both my parents were born in Italy, but I’ve only been there once. I love my heritage, but consider myself to be American. Diversity is the spice of life!

    Rob

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