Second Hand Culture: The Fusional Upbringing of an Immigrant

By Yasmin Kalia

As human beings, we largely define ourselves by where we come from and what we do. Conversations usually start with “So, where are you from?” or “What do you do?”

When we have a dislocated sense of home or belonging, these questions can be hard to answer.

 

Immigrants know this challenge all too well. Leaving our homelands with just suitcases and photographs, we take a leap across oceans and mountains to search for a new backdrop that we may one-day call home.

At the impressionable age of 4 I moved from the polarising chaos of India to the far away land of New Zealand. Now 15 years later, as I delve into my impending doom of adulthood, I reflect back on this fusional upbringing.

I can say with certainty that the struggles I have faced as the offspring of an immigrant are not isolated experiences.

Having been brought over so young, I seamlessly moulded myself to the culture around me. Blessed with an appropriately integrating name (thank you dad) I started my education with every other child allowing me to learn to speak, move and behave like a New Zealander. My parents were exposed to Western culture and so I was allowed to blend in through the sandwiches I had for lunch and the sausages we ate for dinner. I played touch rugby, I watched The Simpsons and I listened to Miley Cyrus. Inevitably my Indian heritage was sometimes an unwelcome shadow in my new life as a New Zealander. My dad, as much I wished, could not talk to my friends’ dads about fishing or the latest All Blacks game. My mum did not relate to the North Shore in the 1980’s and could not for many years understand the concept of a sleepover.

The largest accomplice to my identity crisis however were my summer holidays to India. 1-2 month long endeavours back to my “home” country gave me time to dive head first into the life and culture my family and I had left behind. Blessed to know the Hindi language, it was a swift transition into a world filled to the brim with flavours, films and family. I would then return to New Zealand with a slight twang in my accent, meekly coming to the realisation that I had missed out on precious friendship bonds, summer memories and the latest top 50 tracks.

This dual battle continued on throughout my childhood, progressively becoming more apparent and worrying to myself. In the midst of an identity crisis, I found myself belittling and condescendingly judging other immigrants. If they still had accents or brought traditional meals to school, I scorned their inability to transcend into New Zealand society like I had so easily conquered. I took great pride in being the only “non-white” friend in my social circles, being the rare exception who had somehow managed to slip past the gates of exclusivity.

It was only when I experienced a very minor yet significant bout of racism that I assessed the person I had become. It was something so small like comparing my feet to the colour of “curry” by a close friend that branded me an outsider. I found myself not one of the “pure” New Zealanders and yet not one of the “pure” Indians either, unable to relate to their traditionally western and somewhat close-minded upbringing.

 

Being the bridging gap between two cultures is not an easy task. It is hard to form an identity or identify yourself with one culture without feeling disassociated and disconnected with the other. In a world where individualism is daring, an insecure adolescent finds themselves in immense emotional turmoil.

I found myself realising that I was different from my New Zealander friends but that did not make me any less of a New Zealander. I did not have a traditional Indian childhood and yet that did not make me any less of an Indian.

The colour of your skin, the circumference of your eyes and your mother tongue does not define you as a person. It does not dictate your culture, your religion and your thoughts. It is okay not to fit into a box and it is okay not to mould to pre-approved shapes.

 

My mum said something regarding the discussion once that has always stuck by me. She said “some people will like you because you are different and some people will not like you for the exact same reason.” Interchangeable to numerous aspects of life, it is a calming outlook to possess.

Even now at the ripe age of 20, I still find myself slipping into one culture far more than the other. It changes day by day but I have found myself feeling at peace with the process. I have found that self-confidence is infectious. No one will attempt to question your identity if you are yourself, so happily secure with it in the first place.

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