Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Where are you from?

I am Canadian. Yet for some reason, I've always struggled to identify myself as one.

I suppose this is partially because I spent the first half of my life as a citizen of India. I was born there and spent my childhood immersed in its culture and traditions. Growing up in Goa wasn't easy either, because there were many times I felt I was different from other Indians. I didn't have a traditional Indian name, I went to church, and ate beef during meals. Being Goan in its own sense, however, allowed me to be part of a particular community... I was a child of post-colonialism. Yet, when I finally began to feel like I was part of something larger than myself, the time came to relocate and take on a new culture, with new values in tow.

The struggle to find a balance between what was ingrained in me as a child, and what I came to know as a teenager and young adult has always occupied my movements, thoughts and decisions. I've never been able to simply just do something. Every time I take a step in life, I zig-zag and teeter-totter between what I know I should do, and what I think I should do. It's gotten better over the years, but the struggle is ongoing.

Canada is a plethora of cultures from all over the world, existing together to create a unique and modern blend of multiculturalism. In a way, I was blessed to have spent my teenage years growing up in a community that wasn't defined by race, ethnicity or colour. However, any Canadian will admit that one of the first questions a stranger will ask them is, "What's your background?" As in, where are you or your parents/grandparents from? That's part of Canadian culture.

So my answer has always been, "I'm from India."

It's usually not the answer these strangers are looking for, as my name says something different. My family's accent says something different. My family's religion says something different.

The other day, a student asked me the same question, "Teacher, where are you from?"

"Canada," I said.

"No! Just Canada?" she asked.

"Well, Canada... and before that, India," I answered, knowing exactly where this was going.

"Wow, you are lucky! I envy you," she said, with a sad look on her face.

I was curious about her reasons so I asked her to go on.

"Your blood is mixed, so you are lucky!" she said, with a straight face that told me she was serious.

She'd somehow interpreted my answer to mean that I was of mixed-race. I sighed, and then spent the next 20 minutes explaining immigration to my sixteen-year-old ESL student. I can only hope that she understood at least some of what I said.

As it turned out, neither answer -- Canada, nor India -- satisfied her.

It's been the story of my life, and I know I'm not the only one with these experiences. Still, I haven't come across a lot of people who've spent their lives in two or more very different cultures, without choice. A lot of immigrants I've met in my age group have either been born in a country different from their parents, or came there at a young enough age, where the only values and traditions ingrained in them, were that of the society they lived in.

However, coming to Korea, just shy of 25 years on this planet, has made me realize that I'm one of the fortunate ones. Having two different cultures make up my being, has made me open-minded and understanding when it comes to the traditions and values of others. Though I may not always agree with them, I'm able to see things from their perspectives.

I've found myself constantly sympathizing with the misfits and those who journey towards self-discovery. I think I'm one of them. And though I spent a fair number of years confused and absolutely irritated that I wasn't able to fully fit into one particular identification group, I'm now thankful for just that. I don't want to fit in. I like sticking out and not being able to look at the world from just one angle.

The view I have, allows me to see the world from so many highs and lows. Traveling a fair bit and meeting people from all walks of life has given me a chance to pick and choose fragments from different cultures, and add them to who I am. I prefer it that way.

I'm finally starting to embrace the fact that I'm a child of post-colonialism and multiculturalism -- a regular jambalaya.

And I think the world's moving quite well towards a sense of global citizenship... and we're fortunate to live in these times.


Jambalaya image courtesy of Google Images


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