Monday, 9 January 2017

Thinking Out Loud: Identity

Recently I have been thinking about my identity, and where I stand in the grand scheme of things. I am not the first person to explore this and I won't be the last. It is especially an issue for people who are 1st, 2nd, 3rd etc generation children of immigrants. On the one hand, we have our identity at home that is very much based on our ethnicity while on the other hand, outside of the home and away from our family we have another. Normally, people can juggle both and while some may have qualms about the interchanging identities, mine is a little bit different to that.

I fully understand that 'I can be whoever I want to be'. I have been wrestling with this for a while but feel things have changed recently. In some ways I feel that the day I ran away from home (fortress) was also the day I lost my identity as a Punjabi. I mourned for it for a very long time. It was a few years back that instead of letting it slip away, I realised that despite what I may think of myself and humiliate myself by calling myself a 'coconut', others would always see that just because of my skin colour I am always going to be different. I also realised that my family did not have the keys to my identity, that I did. Throughout this time I struggled to find my place, and in some ways, thanks to my mother, I became the hermit within my relatives, who though I hardly ever saw, still asked after me. This in a way created a space for me in that universe. This also meant that I could be a Punjabi again, and I was able to decide what that meant for me. I was so lost for such a long time, surrounded by people who did not know who I was that even I forgot who I was. It was the most bland point in my life.

Now I look at my identity and think that to some extent, the foundations are already laid- my skin colour already gives me some sense of identity, though I don't carry a mirror around to see or notice that I am different to other people. But I can't help but think that some people have it easier that others- in regards to identity- than others. What is a typical British person? And what is a typical Indian person? What do they look like?

For years I thought that I had to assimilate myself into the British culture (whatever that is), that for other people if I pretended to be British, they will be at ease, but then I realised that I am also Punjabi and by trying to put others at ease, they have not bothered to learn about the beautiful culture I come from. When I was in Punjab over a year ago, though my punjabi was very well received and I was complimented for it, my outlook and perception of the world were accused of being too British. Some of those close to me haven't bothered to learn a single thing about my Punjabi culture. They may be doing this because they don't want to come across politically incorrect but by ignoring someone's identity is a huge problem too. The other day I was told that if I am British then I have to respect the Queen! I think that's when I decided to break away from the charade once again.

I am meant to be giving a speech on Celebrating Diversity in Cambridge on 21st January and realised that I really need to figure out quite a lot of stuff before I can do that.

So hopefully this can mean that I can now work out other things and before I know it- I can be that little bit more wise and clear on the message I need to give come the day I stand in front of people. I hope to give a message of hope and something constructive. Let's hope I do that!

Until next time,
Sen x 

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Twitter: @senlanoire

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