So you think you’re British Asian…? – Pooja Pala

Back to Stories

So you think you’re British Asian…? – Pooja Pala

I tick ‘British Asian’ on all the official forms… but is that who I really am? The number of
times a stranger has asked me, ‘Where are you from?’ whilst working in rural villages in
England with an Asian population of zero, or abroad on holiday, is countless.
My response is always the same, ‘I’m British and I’m from England.’ But that answer has
never once been acceptable.

Non-Asians are not satisfied until I say my ancestral lineage stems from India. They’re
waiting for a specific answer so that I can be put into a box that makes them feel comfortable.
That I’m Indian. They guessed and judged from looking at the colour of my skin or hearing
my name. I’ve been to India twice in my life. Did I feel connected and like I was finally
home and where I belonged, with my people? Religiously and spiritually, 100 per cent yes!
Culturally, unfortunately, no.

This identity confusion is real, a cycle of frustration. It’s a daily struggle that many first-
generation British Asians face, yet are reluctant to talk about. I’m met with shocked faces and
feel inferior when I say my name is Pooja, that I’m Indian, South Asian, but I don’t eat Indian
food. I don’t watch Bollywood movies. I don’t listen to Indian music. ‘But you’re from
Leicester and you’re Indian! How could you not?!’ At this point, there’s a shift in the
conversation, a withdrawal, especially from fellow South Asians. An awkward air of
confusion lingers. I feel a need to rectify the situation, to avoid embarrassment, but I’m at a

But then again, I’m not fully British or English, because I wasn’t raised with those traditions
either. We didn’t have Sunday roasts or attend family weddings that are only a one-day even
like my British friends. I’m a beautiful blend of both. I’m a British Asian. But what does that
really mean when I can’t fully relate to either, or be accepted as both?
Battling with this dual sense of identity often makes it difficult to connect with others.
Friendships, association with the wider family and community, and dating is harder when our
backgrounds and upbringings are the same, our skin colour is the same, even our values may
be the same, but there is a cultural disconnect.

We can’t bond through our love of the food, culture or traditions. ‘But I’m Indian, therefore I
must,’ the little voice in my head says. Otherwise, I’m the weird one. I’m the odd one
out. I’m the one distancing myself when I can’t blend in.
I pretend to be culturally aware, laugh and smile, going along with the things my friends and
family do, just so I can fit in somewhere, anywhere!

For years, I’ve chosen to hide this part of me, a battle with the two halves of my identity, in
the hope that maybe one day I’ll fit in and it’ll all click into place. But I’m not hiding
anymore. And nor should you. It wasn’t until recently when I spoke to my close, school
friend about this and we quickly realized that both of us have felt exactly the same for years,
but were afraid to talk about it. It was clear we both felt a sense of relief and safety

When we start to open up about this identity crisis, we create new communities, we create
new friendships, we create new bonds. But it has to start with yourself, one step at a time.
Look at why you feel like this. What do you like about the mix of culture and traditions?
What can you connect with in the South Asian culture? Why do these specific traditions in
your family exist? What is it about the South Asian culture that makes you recoil and resist it
so much? Did you have a negative experience as a child because you were South Asian? It’s
time to start getting curious and asking some questions – to yourself, and to those around you.
I’ve noticed this goes so much deeper.

When we become consciously aware of this disconnect, and we’re ready to do something
about it, it is so important to start listening to the stories of our ancestors, and of our
grandparents and parents. We are here because of them; they brought us up, and our heritage
and culture does impact who we are. Listening to their stories helps us to understand what
makes us who we are and we should be proud. This new generation of British Asians are here
to create that beautiful blend of cultures and find our own personal, happy medium.
We have picked up generational and cultural habits, thought patterns and beliefs, whether we
like it or not, and maybe we’re feeling this way because it’s time to break those traditions that
are no longer serving us, once and for all. British Asian Millennials and Gen-Zs are different.
We are paving a new way in society and breaking barriers every single day. We’re
questioning cultural habits every day and exploring the true meaning behind different rituals,
something our grandparents didn’t have a chance to do in their society. This is helping us to
make conscious choices about how we redefine our identities and embrace all parts of our

Embrace not having to label ourselves and fitting into society’s mold of what a British
Asian should be. Embrace each other’s differences and know it is safe to be vulnerable.
Embrace learning and integrating with our culture and with our roots.
Explore what being a British Asian truly means to you so the next time someone asks you
where you are from, you can confidently tell them how powerful it is to be a beautifully
blended British Asian.

By Pooja Pala | Instagram :

Share this post

Back to Stories