Growing Up With Immigrant Parents and as a Person of Colour
It took me a long time to embrace my ethnic identity. I always saw it as a hindrance to fitting in socially.
I distinctly remember the first time I felt ‘othered’ at school. I was in kindergarten and I was eating my delicious lunch of leftover pizza. My friend Cathy looked over at me and said, ‘Oh…I love pizza (pronouncing it ‘peet-zah’)’ and I responded, ‘Pizza (pronounced ‘pee-zah, without the damn silent ‘t’) is my favourite!’
Cathy started laughing and between snorts told me that that was not how you say pizza. She proceeded to explain the correct way, with the silent ‘t’.
I was so confused. I was saying it the way my parents had taught me to say it. I did not know there was a right way or a wrong way, but I blamed my parents. I did not dislike Cathy any less, but I was very angry at my parents for not knowing the right way. I started to question how they pronounced everything after that point.
I had also started to gain the knowledge that my parents were different than my friend’s parents. The food I sometimes brought for lunch, curry and roti, was not received positively. My food smelled and looked different; some of my friends said it was ‘gross.’ Sometimes I would choose not to eat, rather than be ridiculed.
In high school, my father started to wear a turban, for religious reasons. Being one of two brown kids in the entire school, this was very difficult for me to process. I was angry because he had just othered us even more than we already were.
Now, not only was I not allowed to date, go out late at night or wear makeup, but my dad had a turban. Not one of my other friend’s dad’s had a turban. I was angry at my father and knew I could not tell him because it was wrong, but I felt how I was being subjected, by his choice, was wrong too.
I hated my race. I hated being different.
I wished every night to walk up as an Amanda, rather than Aman, with long blond hair, and cute bangs, without the restraint of another culture’s traditions imposed on my day to day.
I did not want to be different. It is not unique or cool to be different when you are young. Everyone is trying to homogenize and assimilate with the rest. No one wants to stand out.
I use to think that I was the problem. I use to think that the more I hid my ethnicity, the easier it would be for me. Trying to hide who I was only compounded the issue. I would make excuses to my parents why they should not attend certain events at my school. I would not invite my friends over to my house, for fear of judgement. I would lie about what I did on the weekend because going to temple was something I was not willing to admit to.
I started to live a dual life and it exhausted me. It was not until my twenties when I started to embrace and own my culture and community. I started to be proud of being a minority, but I still did not like it to be pointed out to me.
Growing up different is very trying. You cannot seem to conform to the norm, no matter how hard you try.
I blamed my parents a lot; them, being immigrants, did not know the customs I was competing with and were learning alongside or even after me. I was teaching them things to better assimilate to the majority because assimilation made you more invisible and that was easier.
I spent a long time longing to be someone other than myself. When Michael Jackson changed his skin colour, I understood. I did not judge him. I got it; he did not want his skin colour to be a complication in his life.
When you are white, you do not think about your place in society because society has been built around your placement.
When you are a person of colour, you are constantly searching for where and how you fit into this pre-existing environment and are constantly apologizing for your other otherness.
You will not believe the lengths I have gone to, just to ensure that white people do not feel uncomfortable. I am not blaming or shaming anyone, I am just trying to shed the light on the struggles a little East Indian girl had growing up in our multicultural, non-racist Canadian environment.
It was not always pretty and it was not always accepting.