I’ve always been proud of growing up in a family with two different cultures. As a child, I enjoyed sharing my identity with my teachers and classmates. I was proud to tell everyone that my father was from India and my mother was from America. I also used to enjoy teaching my friends how to say different words in Punjabi. As I became older, viewing the world from both an eastern and western lens became a blessing.
However, I had countless disrespectful encounters, mostly with adults. I remember a teacher erasing my answer on a race and ethnicity form. She dared to bubble in what she thought my ethnicity was. They made me feel like I wasn’t a part of their community. They mocked me when I spoke Punjabi and “tested” my skills. They analyzed my appearance in front of me. As a child, they made me feel like I belonged nowhere. Whenever I expressed my concern to some adults, they said something along the lines of,” See, this is why it’s not good to mix cultures.”
I felt misunderstood; it was frustrating. As an adult, I am now confident with my identity. I wish that I could go back in time and change things. I often daydream about it. I pour this energy into teaching my multicultural children how to be proud of their identity through my experiences.
5 Things Not to Say to a Multiethnic Person
“You don’t look like you are “x” ethnicity.”
I used to hate when people told me,” You don’t look Indian at all.” It made me feel like they were taking away from who I was. I am aware that I don’t look like a traditional Indian woman. However, I look exactly how God wanted me to look as a multiethnic person. The identity of both sides of my family is written all me. Generally, it’s better not to comment about someone’s appearance at all.
” You can really speak “x” language? Then show us.”
I used to get this statement from people who spoke Punjabi. It was so hard for them to believe that I spoke Punjabi too. I was a self-conscious child that didn’t enjoy being put on the spot. It made me feel like I was being quizzed. They may have been curious but I didn’t like the way it made me feel. Never try to quiz someone’s language ability. Most people don’t enjoy being put on the spot.
” Let me teach you about your culture.”
Many people assume that I am clueless about my own identity because I am mixed. I grew up with my Indian grandparents. They taught me Punjabi and taught me our family traditions. Yet, I still have people trying to “teach” me about myself. Don’t do this unless someone asks because it’s insulting.
” Your parents must be together for a green card.”
This statement makes me furious. I never had someone say this directly to my face but I’ve heard it said about my parents loudly in front of me in both Punjabi and English. I am aware that people also say this about my husband. This statement is completely rude and racist. It makes it sound like it’s impossible for people to fall in love with someone from another culture.
” Stop trying to act like “x” ethnicity.”
I’ve had several people tell me, ” Stop trying to act like you’re Indian”. This statement is very hurtful because being Indian is an important part of my identity. When I was younger, I use to try to explain that I was mixed. It felt like talking to a brick wall. It’s even worse when it comes from people who actually know me. No one has any business defining someone else.
To those who have had similar experiences, remember that you’ll experience true freedom when you define your own identity. No one else has that authority.