Anyone that has known me for more than a second will attest to the fact that I am absolutely obsessed with South Asian Culture. The food, clothes, poetry, history, people and everything in between has fascinated me for as long as I can remember. So why is that I wasn’t able to openly share my love of all things Desi until far into my teenage years, if not later? Was it the fear of being ‘too cultured’ – is that even a thing?
A couple of weeks ago I was at a Bridal Shower, and being my usual competitive self, was nailing all the questions during a wild game of Indian Wedding Jeopardy. It was at that point that a friend turned to me and whispered, “Wow, you’re really cultured, eh?” I smiled (really big), nodded, and then continued on with the shower game madness. But the comment really got me thinking about how far I had come as an individual, and finally being able to feel comfortable being me.
Growing up, my school was in an almost completely white neighbourhood and I always stood out…always. I did everything in my power to fit in with the other kids, and failed miserably at it. The fact that I had the beginnings of a femme stache and 4pm curfew didn’t help matters, but that’s another story all together. I was often teased and tormented, which only pushed me further into denying how much I loved and needed my culture, even to myself. My life at home was very different. My parents always encouraged us to be proud of our heritage and try as much as possible to infuse it into every part of our lives. But every time I stepped out of my house, this felt impossible.
High school was very different, lots of different cultures and almost half the school seemed to be newcomer Canadians (the terms used back then were not as politically correct). This only complicated things. I was finally given the freedom to express myself and my deep rooted culture, but only to a certain extent. The problem there was not to be so cultured that people would confuse you for a newcomer yourself. Because that would be horrible. *cue sarcastic eye roll* If we’re not going to discriminate against our own people, then who is, right? It was acceptable to identify with my culture, but only in a hip westernized way. So I got my nose pierced, danced to bhangra music and swore in Punjabi…I acted like a brown girl…but within the acceptable Westernized limits.
Then came University…finally.
The four years that I spent in University changed me completely. My eyes were opened up to a whole new world of people who did whatever they wanted to do, said whatever they wanted to say, and didn’t really care about others opinions of them. I quickly stopped trying to be down with everything pop culture, and accepted that I wasn’t being true to myself. That’s not who I was. I loved black and white Bollywood movies, listened to Ghazals in my car and read Urdu poetry…all the time. As the years passed, I fell more and more in love with my culture. I became comfortable in my own skin.
I was fortunate enough to find a life partner that also understands the importance of holding on to one’s culture (not as much as me, but I’m working on it) and the role that it plays in our lives. Movie night is often the latest Bollywood release, most family discussions are held in Urdu (okay, maybe not most, but definitely some), and our recent trip to Pakistan had the kids more excited than our trip to Disney World.
In the end, it was important for me to understand that the concept of being ‘too cultured’ is completely external. It is something that was, and still is, imposed by Western Culture and expectations. How we confront and question that internalized racism is completely in our own hands. One of the most important decisions that I have ever made in my life, the one that affected so much of who I am today, was the decision to accept my South Asian roots and build a foundation to keep it thriving within my family. My kids will not be embarrassed of who they are, or try to hide it from others…they will learn to find their own perfect balance of culture (whatever it may be) and take pride in sharing that, and themselves, with the world.