The question of identity for British Asians is something that pops up quite regularly. How do we define ourselves when we’ve been brought up with dual heritage? For the majority of us our families migrated to Britain from the Indian sub continent back in the day when wearing flares and bathing once a week in the garden was acceptable practise. Things are very different these days. Jeans have got slimmer and many of us have daily showers within the confines of our own home with various fruit flavoured shower gels.
The cultural identity our parents clutched onto ever so tightly upon their arrival into this country is slowly dwindling away. Daal is being overlooked in favour of Peri Peri chicken and roti is being substituted by tortilla wraps. We’re no longer desi in the original sense of the word. How could we be? We live worlds apart from the world out parents/grandparents were raised in. We can never tick all the boxes when it comes to being desi because quite simply, we’re not desi. We’re British Asians. We’re progressive and modern. We go Starbucks, we eat tofu and we sleep in an actual bed as opposed to sleeping on a bed made of rope.
Should we feel guilty?
Hell no. We can’t be expected to adopt a desi way of life when we live in Britain or indeed any other western country. We are only a reflection of what we’ve grown up around.
However, I feel we still owe a large obligation to our rich culture by holding on to our Asian identity in the best way we can. The most important of all I feel is learning the language of our parents, whichever language that maybe. Many of us are lucky enough to have been brought up within a household where our parent’s mother tongue is frequently spoken.
As is the case with many other aspects of our Asian identity, our mother tongue is slowly fading. This trait is ever more so apparent in the upcoming generation. At the risk of sounding like im preaching, if we ourselves can’t speak our own mother tongue, how on earth can we pass it onto coming generations?! In the years to come we’ll have little brown kids running around saying “mum, I don’t want lentils and flat bread” rather then “mum, I don’t want daal and roti”. I don’t want to live to see such a day.
Language is one of those parts of our culture that we may sometimes need to actively work towards retaining as part of our identity, however there’s a much easier way we can retain our identity and be proud of the culture and heritage from which we come from and that’s through our names.
For the majority of us, our name represents our identity, our religion and also where our roots originate from. It’s something we should be proud of. It’s the name given to us by our parents and not something we should so easily dismiss.
Living in a modern world where we constantly feels compelled to be accepted by those around us, seems to be having a detrimental effect on British Asians and the way in which they wish to be addressed. Or at least in my mind it does.
In this bid to come across as more acceptable by society, I am constantly seeing Asians in everyday life resorting to using nicknames. Now I don’t have a problem with people using nicknames, as long as the nickname in some way relates to their original name. What annoys me is when I meet someone called Aurungzeb and he then ask’s me to refer to him as Daniel. I’m sorry but that makes no sense to me at all and I refuse to take part in such tomfoolery.
Imagine how baffled you would be if you saw the name Karam Singh Ali on a job application but when the applicant turned up, he was a White Anglo-Saxon catholic.
This disturbing trait seems to be quite prevalent amongst quite a few well known British Asians.
Personalities. Some of whom are looked up to as role models by many. Take entrepreneur James Caan for example or Nazim Khan as I prefer to call him. Quite obviously Asian, but no, on paper he is far from Asian. RnB singer Jay Sean aka Kamaljeet Singh Jhooti is another prime example. Building himself a name within the Asian music scene, he has now excelled on to a more global platform but where is the connection between his birth name and his stage name?
Admittedly he may have had a tougher time breaking into the mainstream music scene with his birth name but where does the constant need to feel accepted by mainstream society stop?
It’s almost become the norm to see many Asians going against both culture and religion in order to feel more accepted by those around them. Namely Muslims drinking in bars, Sikhs in barber shops and Hindus in McDonalds. Without reiterating my previous point, it’s not easy trying to maintain our cultural/religious identities, but surely we should do what we can to preserve as many of them as we see fit.
Something I feel all the above named examples amongst many more are forgetting is that their chosen name is only on paper. If it does have any bearing on a person’s first perception of you, it is short-lived because as soon as they see you in the flesh, they’ll realise you’ll forever be Asian.
Call me naive but surely it’s our actions that we’re judged upon and not our names. The notion that changing/adapting our names to excel further in commercial success/business deals/social circles is nothing short of absurd in my mind.
I could write about this issue all night but sadly it won’t change the fact that now more than ever, more and more British Asians will dismiss not only their culture but the very name they were given, as if it was a burden and that breaks my heart because I wear my name and my cultural identity with pride.
I’m a British Asian and my name’s Saeed. That’s who I am and I shall forever remain this way.