British | Indian
I identify as mixed-race, British. My Dad is White British, and my Mum is Indian, but grew up in Malaysia. Mum moved to the UK to study when she was 19. Apparently when I was small, I used to think I also had to move to a new country when I was 19, just like my Mum. I think I was more perplexed at how one picked a new country than worried about the move. My parents meet in Waterloo Station. My Dad went up to my Mum, made an excuse to speak to her, and then read her one of his poems. I think it’s the cutest and I can totally imagine him doing it - he’s a romantic and I guess it was the 70s. I find it amusing because my Mum isn’t really into poetry, but they’ve recently celebrated their 37th wedding anniversary, so something clicked.
I grew up in South East London. I love London but when I was younger, I used to wish I grew up in Malaysia because all my cousins there seemed to be so rich! They lived in big houses, with swimming pools and live-in nannies, whose purpose (to my childhood eyes) seemed to be making my cousins snacks (imagine!!) Meanwhile, we were living in a comparatively small house in a ‘rough’ area of London. There are a lot of interracial marriages in my extended family across three generations, so I accepted it as a norm growing up.
I think the biggest challenge for my parents in terms of managing their different cultures was about religion more than anything else. My Mum is Catholic, and religion is a big part of her life. My Dad was raised Church of England but isn’t religious at all and identifies as atheist now. Dad supported my sister and I going to Catholic schools (they were the best non-fee-paying schools in the area), but he finds church bemusing and often teases my Mum about it.
I guess I don’t feel I quite fit in White or Brown spaces although I think I am able to float in and out of both. I am more familiar with navigating White spaces, although I am aware of being ‘other’ even when White people say they ‘forget’ that I’m Brown. I can sometimes find it harder in all-Brown spaces as I don’t feel connected to Indian / Malaysian-Indian culture enough to be fully accepted in these circles. Like, I’m not sure if I identify as a ‘Desi girl’. I feel I fit in best in really diverse spaces, but I’m finding as I am getting older, I care less and less about ‘fitting in’ anyway.
My little sister used to think the term ‘mixed-race’ was ‘mixed raised’, as in you are being ‘raised’ by mixed parentage. There’s also the analogy with mixing different colour flour when cooking (my sister used to love to bake as a child). I used to boast that being mixed-race was the best of both, like the bread, but I think I privately worried that I was the worst of both. I wasn’t bi- (or multi-) lingual. I didn’t go on frequent holidays to exotic places. I didn’t identify as Indian or Malaysian, but I wasn’t seen as ‘fully British’ in British culture. Perhaps most potent, I wasn’t naturally stick-thin like my Indian Mother although a chronic eating disorder saw to my meeting that body-type…up until about four years ago.
My Mum grew up speaking Tamil, Malay and English, but as my Dad is English and I was brought up in the UK, she didn’t see the point in teaching me. I get it, but it would have been cool to have grown up multi-lingual. I think it might have helped feeling more connected culturally.
When asked where I’m from, my first answer is always London – it’s where I was born, it where I grew up, and it’s where I think I will always refer to as ‘home’. When people quiz me, trying to get at my ethnic identity, I say I’m half Indian-Malay, half White-British. White people often assume I’m ‘fully’ Indian, which I find a little odd because it’s not a complete representation of who I am.
I love that there are so many interracial families within my extended family and learning about my family history in recent years has been a really enriching, affirming experience. Being mixed-race is increasingly common and I love it. I love seeing different mixes – it’s why I love this account.
I love being mixed-race and I’m enjoying embracing it more and more as I get older. I am close with my family and over the past few years it’s felt really important to learn more about my family history. It feels cliché, but it has really helped me find who I am and grow into myself. I’d return just as I am, I wish I just cared less about fitting in when I was younger.