Photo: Nadia Hadid
Experiences

Being comfortable in your cross-cultural skin

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I write my blog, mylifeasanimposter.com, using the moniker Nadia Hadid. I am not strictly anonymous, but when speaking so openly about my personal life and my dating experiences as a British Pakistani Muslim woman and my interfaith life with my non-Muslim husband, having a secret identity has definitely come in handy, I must say. Blogging as Nadia affords me the freedom to talk openly about my personal life growing up; particularly the ways in which I struggled to reconcile my cultural and religious identity with my British, guitar-playing, Buffy the Vampire Slayer enthusiast, big-gobbed, hyperbolic, Generation Y (I refuse to say millennial and you can’t make me) identity.

You see, being religious or having strict parents/cultural restrictions around socialising was a great deal more challenging pre-internet. Whichever way you looked at it, your particular set of circumstances was incongruent, and therefore a constant barrier when interacting with your peers. For a teenager or young adult who was one of the only people of colour in their friendship group, it could be incredibly isolating. Especially because, during my childhood anyway, there seemed to be a consensus that coming from a more reserved culture equated to that culture somehow being considered unevolved or lesser. I remember feeling so embarrassed at first, like I had a third arm growing out of my face that everyone was trying to be super nice about, but we all knew it was weird, really. You couldn’t just dive into an app and discover an army of people exactly like you, all feeling as shy, awkward, and conflicted as you were. So you felt like the girl with the arm through her face, who hadn’t figured out how she felt about drinking yet, let alone love, sex, relationships, and marriage.

The pressure to stop causing a fuss and default to ‘normality’ can be overwhelming in this situation. So much that it’s enough to shove you right back into the Brown People Closet. I know what you’re thinking, and no, that’s not the cupboard in the kitchen where we keep the atta and ghee; it’s where our brownness goes to die. It’s a big old colonial hollow filled with shame, inferiority, and intravenous skin bleaching. Yep. I see you, Kajol Devgan. I’m looking right at you.

To clarify, there is nothing at all wrong with being Westernised; but scrubbing out all the ways you are Easternised to make who you are, as a human being, more palatable to others is one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen. I do understand why it happens though, because it nearly happened to me. The natural, self-preserving response when what you want (and what everyone else has) does not align with what you’re working with, is to eradicate the anomaly. But that isn’t going to bring you any closer to yourself, and it certainly isn’t sustainable. I’ve seen people in my life struggle with the fallout of this in their late twenties and thirties. It’s not pretty. Rather, it renders you rootless and as lonely as hell.

 

As my own adulthood unfolds, I am discovering that knowing, loving, and accepting who you are is directly proportional to how you will walk through the rest of your life. So, if you have reached your 30s uncomfortably wriggling around in your cross-cultural skin, minimising all the ways you are different from your peers, then the chances are, you may feel this unease and disconnect indefinitely. When readers contact me about this struggle, it breaks my heart. It seems they either have to choose one way of life over the other or, more worryingly, to live two completely separate ones, and never the twain shall meet. But maybe it isn’t about minimisation, or even replacement. In my view, you can be wholly and completely both; because you already are both. Or all three. Or all fifteen. Every facet of your cultural and religious heritage is an asset to you and your life as it stands, right now. It is gold dust and, I don’t know about you, but I like to wear my gold. All over my body, audaciously and unapologetically, like Goddamned Cleopatra; and I invite you to do the same.

The things I used to be so nervous divulging about my home life, culture, or religious beliefs, roll so easily off my tongue now because I state them as fact, without apology or shame, like I would my shoe size (another detail about my person that is not subject anyone’s approval whatsoever). I’ve found I speak more freely in my mother tongue, so much so, that even my husband calls it, aloo gosht and knows what we mean when we refer to the closely guarded mystery that is the, wait for it, lotah. Oh yes. I went there. Because if my husband didn’t want to be fully immersed in the balls-out, madness that is my big, loud, brown life then, he just wasn’t ever going to be my husband.

But he did so; I married him right in his face. #desislutdrop

#sobasicallysmileandawavethencrapyourpantsandloweryourgaze

 

I just wish I could go back in time and reassure young me that we are just so much more relaxed as grown ups. Things like having a curfew, or my dad not being comfortable with me going to boy/girl parties when I was younger really don’t seem that embarrassing anymore. You’d be surprised how many people accept and accommodate your boundaries when you stop viewing them as things that persecute you. But if they are, literally, things that persecute you, never underestimate the power of an army of friends sneaking you out of the house or coming to your rescue when necessary. But it all starts with being real about your circumstances without shame or apology because you have absolutely nothing to apologise for or be embarrassed about.

Now, obviously, I don’t mean walk into social situations screaming, ‘Yo Alice, I can’t come to your birthday party, DEAL WITH IT WHITEY’ *karate chops the table* I just mean, there’s no need to look down on who you are, just look at it. Know it, accept it and love it, because it’s gorgeous. And if you need reminding of this, I’ll keep telling you.

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