Being raised in a half-Indian and half-Irish household was definitely an interesting experience. These two cultures are wildly different, so I naturally found myself feeling confused about my identity and couldn’t find a label that fit for me. Growing up mixed race, I took some time to learn about both cultures and finally began to embrace the mix of both which identity with. These are some of the highs and lows from growing up with this different experience.
Noticing my contrasting cultures
Growing up in the south, I did not meet many other people who were Indian or mixed race like myself. I didn’t think much of this until one day, my mom visited my classroom to help out in elementary school. One of my classmates genuinely asked me if my mom had adopted me. I remember asking my mom why someone would ask that, and she had to respond that at first glance, we do not look much alike at all. This instance was the first time when I really noticed that my brown skin was much different from my mom’s and classmates’ pale, porcelain skin. Growing up, I have heard many Indian jokes, been asked my ethnicity countless times, and can count on one hand the number of Indian people outside of my family that I’ve met. Knowing this, there is no question that I’ve noticed many of my friends and classmates from growing up have very different cultures than my own. Luckily, spending time with both sides of my family has helped me earn a deeper understanding of the two contrasting cultures.
Learning about my Indian culture
There is no question that my mom and dad’s families are very different in almost every aspect. Attending my dad’s family gatherings meant aromas of homemade, savory Indian foods, and extra-academic practice with my cousins. We were not behind in school, but because academics are such a large part of the Indian culture this became a large part of our lives. My grandparents always put a heavy emphasis on academics, because they know that receiving an education is a privilege that not everyone has. My dad has told me stories of my grandfather studying under streetlights because they did not have electricity, but he would not let it stop him from succeeding. When we’re told this story, it’s clear we have no reason to complain or fall behind in school. Although this large emphasis on academics was sometimes irritating and not the most fun, it has made me realize the importance of education later in life. After we had finished our homework practice, we would notice the savory aromas of traditional Indian food filling the house. From samosas, to palak paneer, to naan made from scratch- our plates were always filled with delicious food. Nothing compares to homemade Indian food like my family makes it.
My mom’s side of the family
Visiting my mom’s side of the family was a much different experience. Thanksgivings with my Irish aunts and cousins meant true southern cooking, attending church together and making up dances to perform for the family. There was always a football game playing on the TV and a warm cobbler on the kitchen table. The St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Savannah, Ga is always a huge event among the Irish community in the South- my family included. This parade could possibly be more important than the fourth of July or even Halloween. Being raised in Savannah, my mom’s family attended this parade every year for a long period of time- my grandpa even walked in the parade for a while. St. Patrick’s Day in Savannah especially, is a time to embrace our Irish heritage- sporting the colors of Ireland, listening to the sound of bagpipes playing, and the flag of Ireland proudly displayed throughout the streets. This parade always made me feel proud to be a part of such a colorful, joyous and unique culture. Although I didn’t always feel like I physically “fit in” with my cousins, we always had endless fun together. When we weren’t celebrating St. Patrick’s Day, you’d find us in the kitchen testing our family recipes out. Whether it was brownies, waffles, blueberry cobbler or french toast, the kitchen always smelled of homemade food when my cousins and I were together.
Finding my identity
Being raised with these two very different cultures and always marking “mixed race” on exams, I experienced some confusion growing up. I didn’t fully fit in with my dad’s side- only speaking English and not always following all of the Indian customs and traditions. But I also didn’t fully fit in with my mom’s side because of my Indian roots and different appearance. If that wasn’t enough, I also attended predominantly all-white schools, so many of my friends did not understand my Indian background. Like any other middle schooler, my attempts to fit in did not truly work because I was one of few kids at my school that were mixed race. It wasn’t an issue but my friends made sure, there were plenty of Indian jokes to remind me of this. Luckily, I learned to grow tough skin and later discovered my identity.
Moving to Seattle
After transitioning to college and meeting more people with diverse backgrounds, I began to accept my identity. My family moving to Seattle was also largely a part of this acceptance. I met more people who were also Indian and was able to try new foods and learn more about my culture I had not known. Also, moving to a new city and not knowing many people, I had much more free time to myself. Learning more about my own culture and spending vast amounts of time on my own allowed me to do this. During this time, I was able to spend time with my mom looking through family photos and memories. This, along with learning to cook Indian food has helped me to gain a deeper understanding of my two different cultures. Although I love my hometown in Florida, I’m grateful my family moved to Seattle where I was able to truly find my identity and embrace being mixed race.