English/Spanish | Indian (Bengali)
I identify as mixed-race (White and Asian). My Mum is Spanish & English, her Father is Spanish & Mother was English. She was brought up in Spain. My Father is Indian. He was brought up in India and Mauritius. They met in London.
I recognised I was mixed-race quite early on I think. I used to watch Bollywood films when I was really young and realised I looked nothing like the actors on screen. I also started Bollywood dancing when I was 5 and was the only ‘White-ish’ person that did it. It didn’t stop me being the best though.
I lived in central London and went to a very diverse school in North London. The main ethnic groups in school were the Indians, the Chinese, and the Jews. Whenever there was a Jewish holiday, half the school would be absent. The ACS presence also became more active during my final years. All this mix meant that I always felt very comfortable and didn’t realise being mixed was such a rarity. Everyone knew about/ was involved in all the different cultures. My friends went to garbas, and bat-mitzvahs, and hillsong etc. It was very normal. I’ve often been called inverse coconut/inside-out oreo. However, one thing I did sometimes find uncomfortable was that all the Indians were Gujarati, and the Gujaratis have a very strong sense of community amongst themselves. My Father is Bengali; it’s a different language and a different culture, so a lot of the time, I couldn’t even relate to the other Indians.
It wasn’t a struggle for my parents to combine their cultures. My Mum was very into all things Indian and cooks the best curry and dhal. We lived in Spain for 3 years (Spanish was my first language even though now my English is better) and we go to Spain every summer so its impossible to lose touch with that side. The Indian family is very large so its hard to escape its grasp, especially now that they’ve all discovered social media. Nevertheless, it is frustrating that my Father never taught me Bengali; I was always going to stick out more in India that in Spain and knowing the language would have helped me feel more at home.
I’ve never experienced any ‘struggle’ because I still have White privilege. I’ve often felt out of place in certain Indian functions/wearing clothes and felt annoyed when people assume I won’t know something or are surprised when I do, but I would hardly call that a challenge or a struggle in any way. Someone once told me after we saw a group of ‘freshies’ to ‘go and collect my Dad’. As I said before though, this hardly constitutes ‘challenge’; it was a one-off incident and hasn’t worn me down the way regular casual racism might have worn down others. I suppose people do fetishise the mixed thing quite a lot, but that’s never affected me.
The majority of people I surround myself with have a very strong sense and awareness of their cultural background, whatever it may be. It’s easier to be around people who understand what it is to have strong affinities to certain dishes, music, or traditions and ways of life etc. When I came to Oxford I realised I knew barely any English-origin people. Most of the people I’ve known during my life have always had some foreign origins, even if that’s elsewhere in Europe, which has given them a dominant cultural background.
I think being mixed-race has just led me to have quite diverse tastes regarding all of the above. I will eat absolutely anything and everything as long as its not bland and is in plentiful supply. I enjoy most music that isn’t EDM or Indie, from Fado and Flamenco to Afro-basement and Indian classical. Re fashion and hair, there’s been a lot of controversy about cultural appropriation recently, and to be honest, I’m unsure where I stand on that. I feel like sometimes appropriation and appreciation are confused but equally it makes perfect sense to feel the injustice when something is only appreciated when it wasn’t before because the person modelling is White/western. I sometimes wonder whether the same rules would apply if an Indian wore a cheongsam or a Black person wore a bindi. It’s probably still possible to appropriate a culture if you’re from a culture which has been appropriated from, the same way it is sometimes still possible to be racist even if people might be racist against you.
My heritage wasn’t a factor in my decision to attend Oxford, but I was conscious that I’d be in a much whiter environment than I’d ever been before. Every time I come back to London I notice how much mix there is; something I always took for granted before.
I haven’t experienced casual racism at Oxford, but I have felt that people are sometimes more comfortable saying things around me that they almost definitely wouldn’t say if I was darker which can put me on edge as it was pure chance I came out as pale as I did. For me being at Oxford has been great, but for all intents and purposes I seem White. My experiences at Oxford have made me more aware of my status as a mixed-race person. There is a notable lack of mixed or POC people and a divide between them and White people. My friend who is from India calls me ‘mongrel’ which is jokes but also makes me realise how true it is, especially when there’s so few around. The undertone of any racial/cultural jokes that were made back home is different to those made in Oxford. At home everyone had more or less grown up surrounded by this mix and jokes weren’t made for ignorance of the culture. At Oxford, its very obvious that some people haven’t really been around POC’s before. As I said, this doesn’t affect me directly, but indirectly I guess it does a bit. Be aware that these are just observations, I am a big proponent of un-PC humour. It’s just a bit awkward when you’re not sure if people would have made the joke in the first place if they had known your ethnicity/if you’d looked your ethnicity. This is the first involvement I’ve had with the Mixed Heritage Society, but its existence has definitely made me feel more represented.
If I had the opportunity to be reborn I would want to return as the same mix (preferably without the English 25%), but with darker hair and skin. If I’d looked the type of Spanish that comes from Andalucía, then I could’ve blended in with both cultures (Indian and Spanish) easier.
In the context of the University of Oxford, we hope our names; faces and stories will emphasise that there is a place for everyone at Oxford. According to last year’s admissions data, 700 Oxford undergraduates identify as mixed. In 2016, BAME students accounted for 15.9% of the undergraduate intake. Oxford is diversifying, albeit slowly. We hope to empower mixed heritage students at Oxford and foster a community where they can safely share their own opinions, experiences and stories.