As a born and bred North West Londoner I pride myself on being a culturally rounded individual, with a healthy balance of both East and West running through my veins. The daughter of a Ugandan born father and a Kenyan born mother I welcome the many cultures which have entwined to make me. We are of Hindu, Indian descent and growing up I was exposed to stories of life on three different continents of the world. India being the land of my mother tongue and where my grandparents were born, East Africa where my parents were born to hardworking immigrants looking for a better life and here in the UK, my home. The rise of Idi Amin in Uganda followed by the expulsion of Indians from their homes and businesses built the strong Indian communities you see in the UK today.
My father has told me many stories of life in Uganda, growing up as a boy in a family of eight siblings and of life before the rise of Idi Amin. Life seemed to be focused on hard work and better outcomes. My grandfather from what I understand, was a man of principal and few words. His beliefs strong and his dissatisfaction even stronger. I sometimes wonder where my strength of opinion and high expectations come from. My father passed down these qualities to me unknowingly I am sure. The qualities I very much take pride in.
Growing up as a female in a family with parents who were obliged to set up life in an alien environment with western values that questioned eastern traditions was very tough. Not only was I expected to learn my own cultural values but to also adopt the British way of life. When in a situation of such cultural clashes, it is difficult to solidify values that can please everybody. I was torn growing up. Torn between pleasing my parents and pleasing society enough to be accepted. When you are taught certain cultural rituals at home which then contradict the acceptance of western rules you become somewhat confused about your place in the world. I adore my culture and my history, which is engulfed in traditions I am proud of yet I chose quite early on in life to question religion as I had no concrete beliefs in something I was told to believe in, not something I grew to believe in. Don’t get me wrong, I have the utmost respect for religion, but I chose a path where I needed to ‘feel’ what I believed in. I needed to be able to say ‘why’ I believed in my religion. I couldn’t answer that question so I retreated back to a more respectful position when it came to the topic of religion, moreso the choice.
In all honesty, I am widely more westernised due to the fact I was born in London. A culturally diverse city where practising two cultures can tear your beliefs apart – if you have any! Growing up, I was very sheltered from life. I didn’t know which milestone in life came when – I was a puzzle of two cultures trying to fit together. I had questions my parents could not answer and questions my teachers at school could not answer. So I guess I ended up inventing beliefs of my own which stemmed from a deep rooted Asian upbringing dusted with western promise. I still adopt confusion at times when life throws at me character questioning experiences. Should I deal with these experiences as an Indian woman or as a British woman? This question haunts me every time! I, as many British Asians my age, had to learn two languages, two cultures and two histories. I had to learn about being my home self and my British self. I cannot say it hasn’t set me back in life as I believe it has at times. Being an Asian girl growing up in the 80’s in London not understanding my role as a daughter, a student or understanding my role as a young British Asian girl. I was torn between pleasing everyone else and myself.
When two cultures combine, they will inevitably clash as group beliefs offer a strength you cannot gain as a lone soldier. I guess I could say I was hindered growing up but I was positively richer than most. Your outlook on your own life can really help you to understand who you are and what your beliefs are. As an educational practitioner I support the views that the education system really needs a helping hand in teaching religion and spirituality in a much rounded & fair process. Where there is knowledge there is a culturally confused individual screaming out for balance and if we can teach children tolerance and understanding then maybe those individuals can accept themselves as lucky instead of confused.
I knew growing up that I was different to my western peers, my life rituals were different, everyday rituals were different. Yet I survived, I grew! I look back at how tough it must’ve been for my parents, being uprooted as children, forced to grow up before their time and forced to be somewhere they had no choice over. I am thankful that they built such a strong family through all those challenges. I can sit here and complain that at 6 years old my mum refused to buy me a Barbie doll or the latest toy yet I wont. I wont, simply because I can appreciate now what sacrifices my parents made as children. We were never spoiled and I thank my parents for not instilling in me a sense of entitlement.
Cultural clashes are inevitable in our day and age and I hope for the younger generation it is less of a mountainous climb but more of a hurdle paced sprint. It is frowned upon in Indian culture by many to have children out of wedlock, to have a boyfriend, to live together, to marry out of religion and culture and even to leave school and work without qualifications. I invite my western counterparts to take a step back and imagine the obstacles these beliefs could bring your life. There is a constant war between respecting your culture and living as a British Asian in the UK. It is challenging to say the least. Challenges many people don’t ever think about. I’m lucky to have an amazing set of parents who with strong cultural & religious beliefs allowed us to follow our dreams. My father once said to me, “Do what makes you happy in life”. And that is what I did! Though the culture clash is exhausting, it’s something that has taught me a resilience others may never learn. A stregth to accept the battle with yourself & a challenge to be selfless.
I appreciate that I’m lucky my journey was challenging but fruitful growing up. And whatever my culture clash develops into in life I am glad the challenges taught me skills I am proud to possess. The words, “what will people think”, echo in my mind most days and I resign to the fact that above religion, culture, traditions and beliefs you can be proud of who you are by simply being a kind person.
Strip away a persons history and if you are left with kindness then you have very much already succeeded in life, no matter where you come from.