Cultural Traitor or Cultural Hybrid?

This last week or so, I have been thinking about my identity in terms of how to make it more ‘me’. You may have seen my ‘#QueeringAsianDress’ hash tag on Twitter and Facebook. I felt empowered to find my own identity and really myself through melting together in a cultural fusion (I love that word!) both my Western upbringing and my South Asian heritage. Of course I’m doing that already to some extent by being just me in terms of appreciating things about the West and South Asia too. However, recently I’ve been wanting to explore it more so particularly in terms of dress. The way we look and indeed dress is a pretty big aspect of who we are.

It was a few years ago that I had this thought for the first time and last night, this thought came back to me after a very frank and somewhat confrontational conversation: I am too Asian for the West and too Western for the Asian community. When I first thought this I was left in an identity limbo. I was confused as to what to do with this revelation. I was confused as to what extent this was true and confused as to what to do next… I mean, would I have to pick one culture/identity over another?

Fast forward a few years later and I am more confident in exploring both of these identities and more comfortable in them both being an integral part of who I am. I love the Western liberalism and I love the South Asian values and emphasis of family and the community. I love the Western idea of ‘live and let live’ and I love how the South Asian community have a certain ‘properness’ about them. I don’t love how the West have a love with over-indulgence. I don’t love how my community love to gossip and judge. Of course these are generalisations of both the West and indeed the South Asia but in many respects they are true and certainly do ring true in my own experiences.

I’m sure you’re wondering of the conversation I had last night. Well, in light of #QueeringAsianDress I diced to wear Converse, purple skinny jeans, a black and purple kameeze and a purple scarf to a galia (Asian version of a hen night which lasts for a few days). For any of you who have been to South Asian events before you will know just how very improper this is. At such events or indeed any South Asian community event one must dress very ‘Asian’. I however, chose to break the mould. Hell, I do it with so many other things in my life I may as well start to be more comfortable in what I wear and ultimately be more comfortable and open as to who I really am within the community. My mum certainly did not appreciate what I was wearing as it wasn’t Asian enough and that there’s ‘a time and place’ for wearing such clothes. Clearly a pre-wedding bash isn’t one of those. A woman who I only knew in passing asked if I was going to wear a suit to the wedding. I thought she meant a shalwar kameeze but she actually meant a Western style suit so I had said ‘yes’. Upon reflection, why would it be wrong to wear a suit to a wedding? South Asian men do as a norm and no one bats an eyelid then. She went on to say that I should ‘embrace my culture more’ bearing in mind that she barely knew me. According to her remark embracing my culture more would be in respect to dress. Culture is not just about the way one dresses. It’s about the values and ideals you have. To her remark I said that I was born in the Western and so my culture is both Western and South Asian. She didn’t say anything to that and instead glanced at my mum giving her one of those pity looks of ‘Oh dear. I feel sorry for you that your daughter is a rebel. Poor you.’ This just vexed me more.

I think that a lot of people confuse me wanting to be who I am with rebellion. As if, I go out of my way to push the boundaries in ways that disrespect my culture. Actually, if truth be told sometimes I do it more so because in order for these barriers to be broken down they need to be pushed as far as they can go before they are ultimately broken down. I must say though, I do not wake up every morning with a burning desire to see who I can piss off or offend today. I wake up wanting to be me, more freely and more comfortably and if through that need and indeed desire I help people along the way then that’s brilliant.

As I am a #SelfConfessedSocialNetworkingAddict I of course Tweeted about my evening and here is the response:

Me ‘Verdict on the #QueeringAsianDress? I’m not “Asian enough”. I’ve been told to embrace my culture. Riiight, you mean force it on me? #Hybrid’

Reply by follower: ‘absoloutely hate wearing Asian clothes. I’m good with the hoodie, jeans and converses, if only that was good enough…’

Me: ‘It’s not that I hate wearing them, I love them when I want to. I just hate being forced to wear them.’

Reply by follower: ‘Yh is does such being forced.’

The following is the response I had on Facebook:

Person 1: Just from a male perspective I think asian girls look yummy im in asian cloths 😛

Person 2: ‘‎#hybrid!!!!!!!!!!!!! all the way! forget if you look yummy or not, be yourself, reflect yourself and be happy ♥’

Me: ‘Bro, thank you so much for that. It’s put a smile on my face! ♥’

Person 2: ‘i always say, we are in a unique position, as british asians, to decide and create our new found identity. there is no structure for us. we either follow our parents footpaths or get lost in following our english counterparts. You take what you deem valuable, and shed what you deem irrelevant. and we will be the trailblazers for future generations to be even more ‘themselves’ than we were able to be’

Me: ‘Heh… Trailblazers. I love that. In seriousness though it’s true! The thing that people often fail to realise is that I live my identities. I love aspects of the West and I love aspects of South Asia and then I love how they can come together in me on a bizarre kind of melting pot way. I can take the great aspects of both cultures and fuse them together to become myself and indeed fulfil my missions in life.’

It has to said that the best advice came from a near stranger whom I texted my annoyance to. Her first response was

‘Muslim first. Daughter second. Sibling third. Friend forth. Community member fifth. Relative sixth. Asian seventh….. Muslim first. Tell them to spin on it! You stick to being who you are. XXX’

I’m not sure if I would have ordered them in the way that she did but she certainly made an interesting point as to where our priorities lie or rather should lie. What preceded next was a very deep and personal conversations about our inner most thoughts and mental health struggles. She shared with me her inner monologues and I found them so powerful and not because some of them resonated with me but actually because it is so powerful knowing that you are not alone in your struggles. She went on to say that she didn’t want to do the whole thing of ‘I’m here if you need me’ as she thought it was patronising and made it would like I’m a victim. What she said next was both powerful and comforting:

‘We are not victims… we are survivors’.

There were two quotes which left a lasting impact on me:

‘Look up, brush yourself off and stick that finger up to those who judge.’

‘We will be the trailblazers for future generations to be even more ‘themselves’ than we were able to be.’

I never usually conclude my blog posts per se but I feel compelled to do so properly today.

In conclusion, it’s not about being a cultural traitor or even necessarily about being a hybrid. I believe that it is about finding your own identity through your respective beliefs, traditions, cultures, values, religions or not and all the other things that make you who you are. You know how I love my quotes, well, this morning I woke up to a great one!

‘You can lose yourself in the process of trying to prove yourself.’

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