Growing up dual heritage – Leena Patel

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Growing up dual heritage – Leena Patel

Growing up with dual heritage and a different mother tongue had many challenges and many benefits. Although I noticed it, I hadn’t actually realised how large the gap I felt between my Indian culture and my British identity.

For children of immigrants, there is a constant duality in existence. We have the freedom to choose from both cultures, identities and communities. But that also comes with the isolating reminder that we don’t totally belong to either. It gets harder as we try to raise our own family. I get FOMO (fear of missing out) and I want them to learn about the Indian culture but then I forget to speak anything but English at home. My mum lives with us now and we’ve had this set up for a good few years and it works great for us. I thought when my mum moved in, my girls would pick up the language but even she has reverted to speaking English in the house.

I remember going to Gujarati school when I was younger but friends will tell you, I spent more time out of the class as I used to distract everyone and get in trouble and then I ended up dropping out. Hence, I can speak and understand the language but I can’t read or write. And my Hindi is all from Bollywood – I am a die hard Bollywood fan!

I’m constantly asked where are you from? I’m British, born in Leicester. Then comes the question: but where are you actually from? I’m not sure what people want to hear when they ask this question.

Many of my friends have struggled with their identity. With asian friends they don’t feel brown enough, with white friends they feel too ethnic.

I was often teased for having a darker complexion. In the white community I was different, some even said exotic. But it was my own culture that truly fascinated me, the things I heard and experienced. I mean, dark skin is frowned upon in the Indian community. I used to always be told ‘stay out of the sun, you’ll get darker, then no one will marry you’ and this was from all the auntie’s in my community. Light skin is coveted, especially in India. Fair is considered superior. I think media and history have a lot to answer for. Colourism isn’t born it’s taught and it’s very real.

And the other thing that fascinated me growing up was clothes. I always felt awkward and somewhat embarrassed of my mum and her bright gawdy salwar kameez suits. And I always used to wonder why my friends could get away with wearing crop tops and hotpants and if even my bra strap was showing under my shirt it was a big deal. I mean it’s just a piece of clothing right?

One of the things I remember growing up is how my parents never really told me anything. I know this was through no fault of their own, it just wasn’t something that was talked about. They were never raised that way. I learnt about the birds and the bees, periods, boys and how to fight from my best friends parents who were totally liberal. They even took me on holiday with them – my first trip that wasn’t India!

For me, it was everything. The pressure we are put under by our parents, family and society – to study hard get a good education, get married, have kids etc.

This all stems back to how we’ve been raised, the stories we’ve been told and the traditions that we’ve been made to follow. If you think about it, really, this is what has messed us up. Our heads are overflowing with nonsense that we just don’t understand… And even when we want to understand there are so many stories and so many versions of why things happen and what’s involved that we just don’t know what to believe.

Growing up, I always found that my parents didn’t understand me. I grew up with conflicting beliefs to that of my parents. Maybe, that’s why I hid so much from them. At the same time, I used to share a lot with my mum and as I have grown older our relationship has got stronger. I think it’s important to value your parents but it is also important to ensure that you are happy and that’s not always easy.

All this said, now I’m older, and even as I was growing up, I actually love my culture and all the traditions. I grew up with my mum sending me to India most summer holidays – it was cheap childcare! I loved all the rituals, the colours, the music, the ambience at all our events. I love the whole family feel. Now, I’m trying to teach my kids this.

I love my culture and I’m deeply connected to my roots. Equally I have grown up in a different world.

As we grow as individuals, I truly see the importance of embracing this fused identity and I am grateful that I have the opportunity to embrace both cultures.

By Leena Patel


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