Italian | Pakistani
I identify as half Pakistani and half Italian. I was raised Muslim as a child but am not religious now. My family and I call ourselves jokingly ‘Italistanti.’ I tick the ‘Mixed White-Asian’ box when asked, I see myself as bi-racial. I see myself as BAME. If you’ve ever seen the film ‘East is East’ I relate to that film a lot.
My Mum is Italian & my Dad is Pakistani. They met in London in their twenties. My Mum moved here under the EU’s Freedom of Movement rules to look for work. My Dad was lucky to find a place to study here. They had different challenges as an inter-racial couple. My Dad was in an arranged marriage before they met. I think being immigrants trying to make it in a new country together was important to their marriage. It’s sad to think when Britain leaves the EU and as immigration criteria gets stricter, neither of them would be able to get into the UK now – it means families like mine would never have begun.
I’ve always been aware I’m mixed-race. I went to predominately White schools but I always knew me and my brother and sister were different somehow. I knew early on people had trouble pronouncing my name. I think the values I was taught growing up were different than the kids around me too. My Dad was strict and there was always a strong emphasis on education. When I was young I learnt Arabic at classes at mosque but my Mum also wanted us to learn Italian too.
I’m London, born and bred. I think that’s the same for a lot people who are the kids of immigrants, and it means many of friends are also mixed-race too. Being part of a melting pot of different cultures has become core to my identity. When I was a kid I spent time in Southall because my Dad has friends and family there, it’s basically mini Pakistan. Also, in my area now in Tower Hamlets, there’s a strong Bengali community and I think my dual heritage makes me feel closer to that, everyone is ‘auntie’ or ‘uncle’, just like when I was growing up.
It’s helped shaped my political beliefs about equality and opportunity too. I think it’s a beautiful dream to pick up and try somewhere else, it isn’t an easy thing to do and I think immigrants deserve more respect than they get for putting themselves out there like that. We need to start being more honest about how we need immigration for the good of the economy.
I think the culture clash was difficult for both my parents. They had that between their own expectations and ideals with each other, but also trying to make those fit in with the UK and London. They had different ideas of how they wanted their children to be brought up. I think it was a significant contributory factor to their break up when I was little. I sometimes think how different my life would have been if my parents had stayed together. When I was nine years old I told my Dad I never wanted to wear a hijab or dupatta, he just said ‘OK beta’, it was never an issue but I think being a very liberal place like London meant that was easier.
Sometimes I think how strange it must be for my parents to not talk to me in their mother tongues. They grew up speaking Punjabi and Italian, I couldn’t imagine learning a whole new language say like German and then only talking to my kids in German. My parents have really heavy accents but sometimes it makes me laugh that’s my Mum corrects my English.
When I was younger I perceived myself as being different and an outsider. I remember when I was a teenage wanting to have lighter skin and even brought and used bleaching creams.
I used to hate my name and planned changing it when I was older. I hated my ‘ethic’ nose. I used to wish I was blonde. I wanted to conform to Euro-centric ideals of beauty, there were no Asian people to look up to. I’m proud of my name now, I’m named after the first empress of Iran. That’s actually pretty cool, so thanks Dad. I text him that after reading this empress’s autobiography and learning about her properly and he text back, ‘better than ‘Rose’ or ‘Poppy’ no?’.
I used to get a bit embarrassed telling people I’m half Pakistani. I suppose that was because I had not really experienced any positive representation about it out there, I think I must have internalised all the subtle and not so Islamophobia out there everywhere growing up, but I’ve grown out of that now. I’ve had to go find those role model for myself, but now women like Benzair Bhutto and Malala Yousafzai are huge inspirations for me in my political activism.
Even now, I think you do see more mixed raced faces in film and media but it’s almost never includes Asian. Even the Pakistani celebrities are very ‘Wester-nised’ and fair skinned. Basically, I’m ready for the Asian Beyonce.
I think a lot of people still associate mixed-race as being Black and White, so that’s why projects like Mixedracefaces are so important, so we can celebrate all the amazing variations and stories out there.
It sounds awful to say but being also being Italian just wasn’t as problematic in the same way, it just seemed to have more positive connotations. When I was younger I never felt like being a Pakistani was a positive thing. I used to get asked strange questions. Like I once had dinner with one of my ex-boyfriend’s Mums, we were talking about spicy food. I said I didn’t really like spicy food and then we had this really bizarre exchange where she kept insisting that I MUST like spicy food (I guess because I’m Brown). It was very frustrating for me because I grew up with my Mum on a really Italian diet, but she just didn’t want to see past her assumptions. She also told my ex never to marry me because I would force our children to be Muslim.
I also find that if someone gives me a compliment about my looks, they will say ‘oh, you look more Italian than Pakistani’ or ‘you could pass for White’ and I just die a little bit inside. My Mum has blonde hair and blue eyes, so she doesn’t have what people associate as an Italian look anyway. I have features from my Mum and Dad, so if you like how I look it’s because I’m both. Someone said to me once my dual heritage is like a ‘tandoori pizza’, I thought that was quite funny.
Also, I once went a Bumble date with a guy who told me he nearly didn’t swipe right because my name was ‘weird and foreign’. I was actually really quite offended. There was no second date.
Growing up I never quite knew my place in that when I was with my Dad’s family, I always felt too White and when I was with my Mum’s family I always felt too Brown.
I think being mixed-race means I was brought up with different values than maybe you find in other British households. I don’t really understand the British idea of ‘stiff upper lip’ or not talking about issues. We always talked about things, nothing was off limits and we all talked with full force (and all the gesticulations to go with it). My Mum, for example, says what she thinks and has instilled that in me. In fact, I find it quite hard to bite my tongue, but I think that’s a good thing. I also got to watch TV programmes like Goodness Gracious Me with my Dad growing up and really laugh hard with him.
If I had the opportunity to be born again I would be me but I wouldn’t waste time feeling different or inferior. I would try to be more comfortable in my own skin earlier on. I think it’s good to be different now, I just wish I had figured that out sooner.