Indian | Iraqi

I identify as a London-born, American-British-Indian-Middle-Eastern, I’m kind of kidding but I’m not. I think if I was specifying what kind of ‘other’ I was on a diversity monitoring form, I’d boil it down to Indian-Iraqi. If you asked me in person, I’d probably have to give you a longer version.

My mum was born in Kenya, but her family originates from India and Iraq. My dad was born in London, but his family is ‘from’ Pakistan— as Muslims, they were forced to flee to Pakistan from Amritsar after the Partition. My paternal grandparents come from Kashmir and India. My parents met in London, at work. I grew up in the US but was born in London and spent most of my summers there.

I didn’t consider myself as mixed-race at all until last year. Since Indian culture was the most dominant in my household, I never stopped to question why my features looked the way they did. And the thing is, India is not a monolith and is hugely diverse, so Indians from different parts of the country look different and have different subcultures, anyway! However, as I got older and was asked what ‘my background’ was more often, I started to ask questions about my heritage. To be honest, I haven’t been comfortable recognising that I’m mixed until now, probably because I internalised that ignorance that it doesn’t matter how many shades of brown you’re mixed with—because at the end of the day, you’re still Brown.

I’ve been lucky in that haven’t perceived any overt or ‘huge’ challenges because of being mixed. Mentally, it’s probably because the cultures I come from aren’t worlds apart and have influenced each other throughout history, so I haven’t had much to reconcile culturally. I think mixed people who come from backgrounds that historically haven’t mingled much might have more of a challenge reconciling the cultures they come from. Physically, while I’m not part White, I’m fair-skinned, and that’s given me a lot of privilege. My skin and features are passable across a few countries, and I’ve been told that if you were just looking at me in a crowd without hearing me speak or knowing my name, you’d probably think I lived there. That’s the biggest challenge and biggest privilege I have: I feel like I fit everywhere but belong nowhere. I guess it’s a nice problem to have, as far as problems go, but it’s still frustrating.

I definitely think being mixed-race has had an effect on my work/personal life. People tend to feel more comfortable around people who look like them; I’ve found that this has given me an ‘in’ no matter what ethnic group I’m with and has blessed me with a really diverse set of friends.

I can speak Spanish fluently, but that’s not my mother tongue! I can only think of this as being detrimental. There is so much culture I’ve missed out on because I can’t speak Urdu or Arabic. I have definitely felt resentment toward my parents for not speaking it to me when I was younger, like my cousins’ parents did. It’s even worse because both of these languages are known for being particularly beautiful and poetic, and I’m a poet! I’m trying to learn Urdu now, but it’s difficult. I feel much more self-conscious when pronouncing the words because I haven’t grown up with them and haven’t acquired a natural way of speaking or the right accent. I’ve reconciled myself to being a coconut forever and having to speak Urdu with an accent.

When asked where I’m from I usually say, ‘I was born in London but raised in the States.’ Then I let whoever’s asking fumble if what they were really trying to ask is ‘what’s your ethnic background.’