Updated: Nov 17, 2019
I'm nearly 60, and this topic has me hooked. Who are we? My colour identifies me as an Asian, yet my birth in London was at a time when it was rare to find an Asian shop let alone an Asian person - yet it defines me.
Early childhood memories
Hiding my identity as a young child, I felt that as I walked in through my front door, I entered the world of the Asian family. The aromatic smells, the divine music, unforgettable movies, never ending pujas and innumerable informal parties that surrounded us, made me.
Then I would leave it all behind as we walked out of the door into the outside world. Painfully aware at the tender age of ten that our identities were very different from that of the indigenous population. This was brought home when a new topic session at school encouraged us to bring artefacts from home. I brought a dancing Shiva, a popular Bollywood vinyl and a beautifully crafted rosewood box. I clearly remember my classmates looking at the items and then being completely perplexed as the music played. As the chorus began, they asked ‘Is that the children singing?’
As the Ugandan political situation worsened the result of the migration from there created a new identity. Our food shops now readily selling many delights, our restaurants became more plentiful. It became more normal to be able to relate to our Asian identity. Suddenly my class filled with people of similar background. Hard working families leaving their lives to make a new one here. I felt a sense of normality, but I also remember that racism then escalated and that brought its own problems.
We always knew what was expected of us even if we didn’t agree with some of the double standards. Maybe to ‘keep our identity ‘we were moulded to believe we only had an Asian identity -whatever that was. It was naive of our parents to assume that our country of birth would not leave its mark on us. Another stamp would be definite.
Our identity is a tag; a name that creates us and the future. Like our ancestors before us, we have been moulded and adapted to these conditions set for us by our for-fathers. And that’s why sometimes we become stuck in a rut and if we fight against our identity; we appear difficult. Unable to identify with parents and their norm, many seek to question their identities. Parents are safe in the knowledge that if we kept other influences out, our identities would be maintained, and we would continue as our families had existed through time. Little did they know how communities would merge and start to leave an indelible print of its own and therefore start the wind of change.
I feel the real identity now is what we have become. Relying on ourselves to lead the way forward as Asian women in so many spheres of life. Whether it be in our careers or in our community work by accepting and embracing others. We will no longer be judged or judge others on their identity alone because in the mix there is a new outlook to a person’s perspective. An understanding that we have come from a real mixture of influences and the identity cannot be defined we are ourselves; we are just an entity.
Be who you are regardless of the conditions set. Living an identity of someone else for someone else’s values is not right. Embrace some of the values that sit right with you. Let your offspring fly. Teach them your values and importantly that of other faiths. Encourage them to grow a garden of good deeds and make a new stamp of integrity to take forward to the next generation as their identity.
Being Asian and a woman is a divine combination. I have that Asian base and have built upon it the values of a woman then inter woven with the silken thread from the values of my country of birth. And then finally the experience of life and its own unique life changing prints.
Finally, where from here?
Now that we can identify with who we are because of our origins and our experiences where do we go with this? Expectations have changed. To be an independent woman who can stand on her own two feet yet can ‘serve’ the family as daughter, wife, mother etc may still exist for some but there is the importance of the Asian women now being a woman first and going ahead to fully realise her dreams and aspirations.
I feel the most important part of being an Asian woman is how our next steps in the UK will define us and the next generation. Woman valuing women to encourage sisterhood in communities, irrespective of caste and religion, only then will get rid of any gender inequalities. Learning from each other and removing prejudice in our own communities I feel is the way forward. Embracing the rainbows of identities that should be celebrated.
So how do we retain identities yet merge into other communities? By celebrating those who made us and who we are, yet still seeing the cracks in their logic or in their opinions. Learning from others and creating a medium of acceptance.
I dedicate this to the lady who gave me my identity. The mum who shaped me and stamped the very identity I have and hold dear. Despite the attempts to impart some suspect ‘knowledge’ it was her wholesome and more importantly her life lessons teaching respect for all that helped me make sense of my world of mixed messages and inbuilt hatred in communities. She taught me to be me and gave me my identity.
When I peer and look at the mirror
There’s a face littered with messages
To be that dutiful daughter
Then be the ideal wife and mother
Between the messages there’s me
The real me with feeling and intensity
I’m just me made of the memories good and bad
British values set in Indian stone
Yes, that’s my identity
Guest blog by: Rita Soni
Rita is involved with a number of charities tackling issues such as food waste , poverty and causes that empower women that have been affected by devastating life changing events.
She is married with two sons and also works part time as a primary tutor specialising in English and Maths.