12 Mixed-Race Indians Share Stories That Celebrate Cultural Diversity - Homegrown

12 Mixed-Race Indians Share Stories That Celebrate Cultural Diversity

“What are you?” might just be the most commonplace question every Indian child learns to respond to, dodge, or deflect, depending on how they feel about the person who’s doing the asking. Ethnicity, race, and personal identity continue to forge an inexplicable link the world over—often highlighting our differences rather than bringing us together. The latter two, however, are aspects of the human experience we consider far too little in a country like India, which remains insulated by a particularly contextual bubble we have created around us. And despite further global interaction than ever before, it’s still a bubble that’s best understood from within.

Perhaps it’s the fact that cultural diversification from state to state is so immense—it often feels and looks like individuals might as well be from different races and ethnicities, despite belonging to one nationality. It would certainly explain why mixed-community marriages are still considered a huge break away from the majority mindset, or why minority groups still feel so targeted. Or perhaps it’s the fact that our instant labelling of people’s ancestry is usually based on tracing their last name over their appearance? It’s a method through which our parents, if not us, can easily gauge what caste, class, religion, and part of the country somebody is likely to be from. But what happens when we take an axe to these comforting boxes we put people in and split the wooden cage wide open?
Splinters, splinters, everywhere. 

In 2013, National Geographic ran a wonderful and insightful feature on visualising race, identity, and change through the transforming face of America. Having never forgotten it, in a similar vein, we set out to uncover young (partially Indian) Indians whose ancestries serve as reminders of the blurring race/ethnicity lines we’ve been seeing over the years, more stratified and diverse than ever.

In this first volume, we covered the story of 12 of them, in an effort to understand how the multiple cultural influences played into how they see themselves. Many embrace their ‘DNA disco,’ revelling in their ability to move between cultures, enjoying the more convenient parts of their lineage too. Like a wider exposure to different cuisines, of course. Others admit to facing constant challenges in how they identify themselves, largely depending on where they are. Still, almost all of them appear to reject the notion of easy labels, and are opting, instead, for a far more fluid sense of identity.

If the current trends of globalisation are anything to go by, we can only hope these cultural cocktails become more commonplace. Because these 12 individuals prove that with more diversity, comes a greater acceptance of different kinds of people. Something we can all agree our country needs more of—let alone the world.

Scroll on to know them better…

I. Arjun Dutta | Bengali-English.

Where the unconventional union began 
Arjun’s grandfather, a Bengali doctor, found himself working in a hospital in London, and as luck would have it, he met someone who would change his life—an English doctor working in the same hospital. They fell in love and got married. Arjun’s grandmother’s family disowned her for marrying a brown-skinned man, and the couple, equipped with their principles and love, moved to India.

“Being from a mixed blood background in India is an adventure everyday.”

The melting pot of cultural influences
With decent Hindi and an Indian name, Arjun has no identity difficulties in India, but the occasional doubt regarding his Engligh-influenced appearance does rear its head, and that’s when Hindi comes to his rescue. European food and festivals like Christmas have always been a part of his culture, and these traditions intermingle with his Indian ones to create a beautiful blend.

II. Arman Menzies | Scottish-American-Mizo-Mangalorean.

Where the unconventional union began
Arman’s grandfather, a Scottish American, was working for the ‘V’ Force in Mizoram during World War II. His grandmother, a local Mizo, worked for the same office in Lunglei, and in the midst of the war-torn world’s strife, they fell in love. In 1944, they were married in Chittagong, and Arman’s father was born soon after. In 1990, he met Arman’s mother, a Mangalorean from Mumbai, and the cultural cocktail that is Arman was born.

“Being from a mixed blood background, I feel lucky that I’m a part of so many cultures and traditions. And I’ve learnt to never judge anyone.”

The melting pot of cultural influences
While the amalgamation of these different cultures and traditions might be confusing for some—with identity being a recurring question mark—Arman’s family had a different approach. They embraced the blend, and had no social or cultural difficulties despite the mixed ethnic marriages.
With his long, brown dreadlocks and light eyes, Arman personally feels the diversity in Indian tourist places. “I get cheated a lot because people think I’m a tourist. I get the ‘foreigner tax’, and then I have to speak in Hindi to convince them otherwise,” he laughs.

III. Lilya Sabatier | Parsi-French.

Where the unconventional union began
Born to a Parsi mother and French father, Lilya muses that, in some way, her mother was never destined to marry a Parsi man. “She learnt French at Alliance Française and always had an interest in the language. When she turned 18, she left for Paris to study at La Sorbonne. She wanted to get away, to be independent,” she elaborates. At the time her mother did this, it was quite unheard of for a young Indian woman to leave for Europe on her own, but Lilya’s mother was bold. When her father came to Bombay to work at the French Embassy, he met her mother at a party, and they got married soon after. The mixed-ethnic culture of marriage in Lilya’s family continues with her siblings as well—her brother married a Ukrainian American, and her sister, a Dane.

“Being from a mixed blood background is like being a tree with no roots, belonging everywhere and nowhere at the same time.”

A melting pot of cultural influences
Having just moved back to India, Lilya feels like half her life is still in Paris. “I think the challenges one faces regarding their identity is the same whererever they are. My personal experience of being a mixed-race woman has evolved throughout the years,” she confides. Both her backgrounds intermingled in many ways, a simple example of which is the fact that they spoke English and French equally at home.
“I think the first time I really felt like I didn’t belong was when we moved to France. I was 10 years old. I faced racism and misunderstanding. India was considered a third-world country back then. I got questions like, “Do you have toilet paper?” “Do you have electricity?” I didn’t understand these questions, and I don’t think the people asking meant any harm, but I think that is when I started feeling different. They didn’t see me as French. To them I was the savage Indian girl. To be very honest, when you have money in India, no one questions your background. There is a sort of acceptance and respect. If you’re from a less privileged background, then I’m sure it is an entirely different question,” Lilya shares.
“I will never be fully Indian, nor fully French. The land I belong to does not exist. I can’t go to a Parsi temple because I’m not considered Parsi by the community and priests. I don’t speak Gujarati. There has been a divide in me that is just starting to harmonize itself,” she tells us, “But I’m very much Indian at heart. The soul and chaos of this country feels like home, like a part of me.” She considers herself to be a chameleon that adapts anywhere—and not belonging to one particular community gives her the freedom to redefine herself and find her own land. French delicacies of saucisson, foie gras, paté, cheese, rillette and so forth have always featured in home-cooked meals, along with various Parsi delights. Having left India at an early age, her family lifestyle is more European than Indian at large, but they still find a way to celebrate Christmas, Diwali, and Parsi New Year, truly uniting the two worlds.
“In terms of values, the biggest struggle for me a couple of years ago, was the idea of family. In India, family is very important. Most of my Indian friends still live with their parents and Parsis are known for sticking together as a community. In France, most kids leave home at 18 and never come back,” she muses. “In the end, life is all about making the most of what you have, and in me, I have two beautiful cultures intertwining. Although it is at times confusing, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m an Indo half-Parsi, half-French woman, but before anything else I’m a citizen of the world.”

IV. Maya McManus | Swedish-German-Spanish-English-Bengali-Irish.

Where the unconventional union began 
Maya McManus’ kaleidoscope of mixed blood is one full of beautiful hues and shapes. Her maternal great-grandmother was born into a mixed European family—a gypsy-origin mother with some Spanish blood and a Swedish-German father. Their amalgamation of a daughter added another pinch of mixed ethnicity to this pot by marrying Frederick, a man who was as English as could be. Frederick and his Spanish-Swedish-German wife gave birth to Valerie Ann, or Psyche as she was fondly known, who grew up to fall in love with Jhupu, a Bengali from Calcutta. Maya McManus’ grandmother Psyche of Spanish-Swedish-German-English origin and her Bengali grandfather make her a unique cultural cocktail whose story we can marvel at today. And if that wasn’t enough, Psyche’s parents got divorced and her mother married Zyggi, a Polish air force pilot and war hero, adding yet another nationality to this global melting pot. But we still just scratched the surface. Psyche and Jhupu gave birth to Maya’s mother Sara. Now we move to the other side of the story, to Maya’s father.
“My father Peter was from Wolverhampton. His father was from Northern Ireland, and his mother was English—one of 11 children! My parents met in London through my uncle Miti (Sara’s brother), who introduced my father as ‘the last English poet,’” she shares.

“Being from a mixed blood background broadens your horizons at birth.”

The melting pot of cultural influences
With ingredients of so many different ethnicities coming together, the resulting dish is a delicious mix of exotic spices and flavours. And in that mix, finding an individual identity can be confusing. “It’s a little easier for me as I speak both Hindi and Bengali. My younger sister finds it a lot tougher, though. One thing I have noticed, is that as soon as people think that there is a person in the room who will not understand what is being said. Nine times out of ten, they will start speaking in that language, and often about the person,” Maya shares. She has shocked and embarrassed her fair share of such people with quick Hindi retorts. “I think my grandmother Psyche had a hard time adjusting to life in India initially (although she lived here her entire life), because she was thrown into a joint family situation as soon as she got here—a stark contrast to what she was used to.”
Coming from a family of foodies, meals together around a dinner table were always stressed upon, “My grandmother, as a rule - always had Indian food for lunch, while dinner was always English or continental. My grandfather Jhupu, and his second wife Shona (there are a lot of seconds and firsts and halves in my family, and happily so) also stressed the importance of mealtimes, something I wish to instil in my own children one day.”

V. Nathan Rao | Indian-Armenian.

Where the unconventional union began
The story of Nathan’s ethnic blend dates back to 1930, to the beginning of World War II. His grandfather, Nalkur Sripad Rao, born in Udupi’s Karkala village, earned himself the opportunity to work in Tehran, Iran, as an accountant for Mitsui Bussan Kaisha, a Japanese shipping company. In the background of this liberal Iran, a politically different country from how it is today, he met Vartanoush Badalian, an Armenian girl he went on to marry. As the complexities of the war continued, Mitsui shut shop and withdrew from Iran, leaving Nathan’s grandfather unemployed. Thereafter,  his resourcefulness bagged him a job with a British businessman, and he worked his way up to being in charge of a unit that fumigated surface convoys carrying rice and other supplies for the allied forces. In June, 1942, Vartanoush and Nalkur got married in an Evangelical Church in Tehran, and returned to India in 1946.
“Upon arriving in India, initially, it was an obvious culture shock for my grandmother, who had never experienced Indian culture or customs in the past, but she was always an extremely loving, and welcoming woman. She took to the culture very quickly: she learnt how to speak both Konkani and Hindi fluently, wore a sari often, and spent hours meticulously tending to her garden, which was her pride and joy. After being financially ruined due to the inability of my grandfather’s small pest control business to gather steam, whilst also being in the initial stages of the partition of India, life did become rather turbulent and difficult; a predicament that my grandparents shared with quite a large populace of India at the time,” Nathan shares. But his resilient grandparents never gave up.

“Being from a mixed blood background, there is a certain freedom in not having to assert oneself as ‘this’ or ‘that’, but rather just being whatever the hell you happen to be, without any real reason for being so. I believe it’s inevitable that we will all be products of inter-mingling in the near future because of obvious globalisation, and this to me seems like the better way forward, biologically. Your offsprings’ genetic variability is strengthened by procreating with someone whose genetic makeup differs vastly from yours, which is most definitely an evolutionary aspect, but all it comes down to is just loving whoever the hell you want to love, really. I read that on an Archie’s card.”

A melting pot of cultural infuences
Having grown up in Mumbai, Nathan was always in a ‘giant petri-dish of DNA disco,’ where he was constantly meeting multi-ethnic people. “ Along with our colonisation, came a sufficient number of outsiders that inevitably populated with the indigenous people, creating variations of ethnicity, further broadening the spectrum of our culture,” he adds, “Luckily for our family, my grandmother imparted in us important family values and was the proverbial glue that held everyone together.” A number of Armenian recipes entered their Kannada home, and Nathan particularly recalls a dish named dolma that is relished by his family every Sunday.

VI. Olivia Ganga | Indian-German.

Where the unconventional union began
Hailing from Frankfurt, Germany, Olivia’s father met her Indian mother from Dehradun about 30 years ago. They were both in their twenties in the film industry, met on a movie set, and fell in love. The wedding occured soon enough, and two beautiful mixed blood children followed suit.

“Being from a mixed blood background, I feel stuck between two worlds, both of which I love dearly and cannot decide which one to spend the rest of my life in.”

A melting pot of cultural influences
Currently working to be a doctor in Germany, Olivia hopes to be able to combine the knowledge of her two cultures and her love for different situations to be the best version of herself. “I tend to have great challenges to identify myself to one or the other ethnicity. What is home? Do I feel more Indian, or more German?” she questions. Born and raised in Germany, she knows more about that culture, and unfortunately never learnt any Indian languages either. Her interaction with India was reserved to vacation travelling and backpacking trips. “Sometimes my own behaviour in specific situations make me think: oh this is very typically Indian,” she muses, referring to her affinity to bargain, eat with her hands, and so on. Still, she has the German attitudes of hard work, structure, correctness and tidiness—the best of both worlds, indeed. While Christmas time calls for a glass of Glühwein, Olivia finds herself enjoying Indian curries, chai, tandoori chicken, chutneys, mangoes, thalis and more, making her house one of fusion cuisine, much like the cultural fusion of her life.

VII. Princeton Ugoeze Aguocha | Nigerian-Indian.

Where the unconventional union began 
Gretta Mary Louisa D’souza, Princeton’s mother, met and married his Nigerian father Christian Onwukwe Aguocha in Mumbai. The couple moved to Delhi soon after, and Christian pursued law. Eventually, in Delhi’s AIIMS hospital, Princeton was born. For a year after his birth, he lived in Nigeria with his parents, after which his parents separated. As Gretta moved back to Mumbai to live in her mother’s house, Princeton discovered that the city became his home.
“It’s basically living like an alien in your own home sometimes. People in this country aren’t used to seeing a different skin tone or feature, I guess,” he contemplates. He’s had to get used to people passing stupendously blunt comments, staring, and making him a subject of curiosity. But he has his fun too, and uses the full range of Hindi, Marathi and Konkani that he speaks to shock people, and he calls this his ‘foreigner game’. “That dumbfounded look on their face is the best last image I have on the way out of there,” Princeton adds.

“Being from a mixed blood background makes me feel awesome! I love uniqueness, I appreciate it highly in others, and I hope I evolve uniquely forever.”

The melting pot of cultural influences
“My mom did have to face a lot of judgment and criticism from my family and other social elements, even a little after the separation. But being the super rock that she continues to be, she fought through all that and almost singlehandedly brought me to where I am today, and I thank the universe for linking me with a soul like hers. A collection of truths that I live by are her legacy to me,” he tells us.
The influence of this mixed ethnicity in his personal life has been, as he calls it, quite cliché. “I’m a music head or wannabe musician, and though I love to sing songs by anybody from Michael Bolton to Passenger, Frank Sinatra to Ed Sheeran, and even Tracy Chapman to Jason Mraz, my forté is rap,” he explains, “ Artists like Eminem, Snoop Dogg, Busta Rhymes, Pharrell Williams, Jay-Z, Andre 3000, Labirinth, Tinie Tempah, LL Cool J, Shaggy, Bob Marley (of course), Damian Marley, Sean Paul, Notorious B.I.G., 50 Cent, Tyga, Kendrick Lamar, MGK and Drake (among a million others, I think) are constant influences, my inspiration, and guidance in this world where I feel truly at home.”

VIII. RadhaMohan Rajani | Gujarati-Ukrainian.

Where the unconventional union began
RadhaMohan’s father, a Gujarati born and brought up in Mumbai, travelled to the USSR in the 1980s as an undercover devotee of Krishna, and worked for the movement. When he was in Moscow, he met RadhaMohan’s mother, a Ukrainian woman who was also a devotee of Krishna (which was illegal in Communist USSR at the time). “My mother told me it was love at first sight. Apparently they even met for the first time in the Moscow train station by chance, and within a short time he acquired a visa for her to come to Vrindavan in U.P., the centre for Krishna devotees in the world. In 1989 they got married, and in 1993, voila, me,” he shares.

“Being from a mixed blood background, I feel like I have the best of both worlds. I mean it, I try to take the warm-hearted, emotional Indian aspects of life to me, the ages of cultural history rich in every art form, the scrumptious food, and at the same time the simplistic nature of my Ukrainian mother who comes from a farmer family, and the blunt, open way of talking that simple Ukrainians have. All of the above, along with my childhood being surrounded by people from every country in the world, have led to a amalgamation of cultural Kichadi—with emphasis on Kichadi because I’m Indian with so many ingredients.”

A melting pot of cultural influences
Growing up with a mixed identity in Vrindavan was confusing for RadhaMohan. “Most of the locals I met had trouble accepting me as Indian, even though I speak fluent Hindi, have been in India my whole life and my father is Indian. I have numerous Indian habits, traditions, beliefs, but I have never been accepted as an Indian, and this goes on even now,” he confides. While people in Vrindavan saw him as ‘white’ and not Indian, the big, Western-influenced city of Mumbai was more accepting of his identity. And on the flipside, he explains, “When I travel to the West, many people accept without a doubt that I’m Indian. Some do guess that I’m mixed—it’s different everywhere. Of course the look on the face of the guy who thinks I am a white boy when I spout a string of North Indian-influenced swear words is truly hilarious.”
Having grown up in India, RadhaMohan lives and works in Mumbai today, and his beliefs, values and morals are based on his upbringing as a Krishna devotee, but he clarifies that this does not make him any less liberal. “My mother is as Indian as the next Indian. She loves and accepts this country,” he explains.

IX. Rahul Malaney | Gujarati-German.

The tale of the unconventional union
Rahul’s maternal grandfather ventured to Germany to study chemical engineering, and he gained a lot more than just an education. Hailing from Bon, known for the Haribo gummy bear factory, was Oma, who happened to meet this Gujarati in college, and soon enough, they tied the knot. “It was a pretty bold decision for her to move to Bangalore and get married to a Gujarati engineering student she’d met only a few years ago,” Rahul muses. “After almost 50 years of living in India, she is the whitest Indian person I’ve met, speaks perfect Hindi (with a proper accent), has complete Indian mannerisms, and even does pujas.”

“Being from a mixed blood background is such a blessing.”

The melting pot of cultural influences
As Rahul admits, his German-influenced appearance in India can be difficult to deal with on occasion, “My sister is pretty lucky, because she has nice brown skin and dark hair so she doesn’t have to deal with the downside of having lighter skin and hair. Everyone in Goa thinks I’m Russian or Israeli, and they don’t believe my Indian background until I deliver a decent amount of gaalis. In terms of my personal identity, I don’t really relate to German culture all that much. I feel like my grandmother completely immersed herself in India.” Rahul muses about how interesting and bizarre it must have been for his German grandmother to come into a hardcore Gujarati family, where the customs and massive cultural differences would be challenging, to say the least.
“My Grandma makes some amazing potato pancakes, schnitzel, bacon and noodle cake, and boiled green beans,” he shares about how his family retained some of the German cultural influences, along with Christmas—a huge deal for his family, followed in true German style.

X. Raoul Sainanee | Italian-Indian.

Where the unconventional union began

Raoul’s mother was born in Rome, but originally hailed from the region of Basilicata in the south of Italy. His father’s family fled the Singh Province during the Partition of India and found themselves in Delhi, where Raoul’s father was born. As fate would have it, both of them happened to be in Paris working in the 1970s, and they met in the city of love. Soon they were married, and Raoul was born in Paris. “I have lived most of my life in Europe, and recently moved to Delhi for my job. I’m taking this opportunity to learn more about my Indian background,” he shares, as he begins the process of getting in touch with his roots on the subcontinent.

“Being from a mixed blood background makes you feel like a citizen of the world!”

The melting pot of cultural influences

With the intermingling of Italian and Indian cultures, Raoul finds himself identifying with both, and at times, with neither. “Depending on the environments, cultures, and countries I’ve been travelling to, my identity is rarely consistent. I have been exposed to Indian culture lately, where belonging to a category is even more essential, so there can be a gap sometimes,” he muses. Nonetheless, Raoul believes that his mixed ethnicity helps him understand the Indian culture he is now experiencing.

“India’s culture is rich and fascinating. It will take more than a year to grab most of it, but discovering the diverse traditions, music, history, languages, and more, makes me feel more confident about my identity,” he shares. Since India and Italy are both known for their delicious but starkly different cuisines, Raoul enjoys both, and even creates a fusion. “I like to prepare ‘Tagliatelle al Tikka Masala’ and say it’s my very own specialty,” he adds.

XI. Shayne Hyrapiet | Anglo Indian-Armenian-Indian.

Where the unconventional union began 

As Shayne describes the complex ethnic diversity that he stands for, he tells us, “My father’s grandparents from his father’s side were both Armenian. He doesn’t recollect how and where they met, since there was a lot of migration at the time.” Making this a melting pot of ethnicities, Shayne’s paternal grandmother was from an Anglo-Indian family from Allahabad, the McGowans.

“Being from a mixed blood background, you get to enjoy the best of both worlds.”

A melting pot of cultural influences
The coming together of different cultural identities makes for its fair share of challenges. Communication, speaking, reading and writing native Indian languages (Hindi and Bengali) and getting jobs, Shayne estimates, would have been the biggest obstacles for his paternal grandparents. As for him, along with his sister, he took language classes growing up.
Along with challenges, the mingling of so many bloodlines breeds an amazing array of various foods and festivities. As Shayne testifies, “All our lives, we’ve eaten and prepared all types of food at home, except Armenian, since no one knows the correct recipes. Be it Anglo food, Bengali, Punjabi, or Muslim—we’ve prepared it all our lives.” He defines his lifestyle as that of a simple Christian family, one which celebrates all festivals like most Indians do. “Of course, Christmas and Easter are the primary ones, and now Diwali since I married a Punjabi girl,” he adds.

XII. Sonja Natascha Rashmi Linder | Indian-German.

Where the unconventional union began 
Seventy-eight years ago, Sonja’s late grandfather, Rash Behari Dey from Kolkata, fell in love and eventually married Fritzi Gruber, a German from Nürnberg in 1973. Forty years before that, in 1933, Dey journeyed to Nürnberg in pursuit of his education in engineering, and met Gruber. In 1973, he went back to Kolkata to work with Siemens Ltd, shortly after which Sonja’s grandmother followed him there. They were married that year, and started a life together in Kolkata. But while Indira Dey, Sonja’s mother, was born half-German in 1944, Sonja gets her German blood from another source as well.
After studying, Indira began working at Goethe Institut Max Mueller Bhavan in Kolkata, where she met Michael Linder, a German from Hamburg, at a cultural event for Indo-German and European Cooperation. Michael was an expat sent to Kolkata, who fell in love with Indira Dey and they married in Hamburg. The couple then moved to Bangkok, where Sonja and her brother were born. With her fingers in the honey jars of so many different countries and ethnic traditions, Sonja is pulled in many directions, and finds herself a citizen of the world.

“Being from a mixed blood background is sharing one love and multiple cultural traditions and values! A rich mixed ‘travel bag’ filled with interesting history, experiences, challenges, greater understanding and open-mindedness.”

A melting pot of cultural influences
While German blood made its way to Sonja in two ways, this coincidence is not without its hardships. “I think somehow life in general is an identity challenge for everyone. We all, in our own ways, are always searching for that true essence,” she shares, “But the greatest challenges I faced when I was living in India was the gender inequalities and its social causes, along with a lack of safety, especially after sundown.” Sonja’s limited freedom thanks to having to adjust to the safety concerns of women in India was a big adjustment for her.
Having grown up in Germany with a Western education, her lifestyle draws inspiration from that world, although she still has pinches of Indian ethnic traditions in terms of food and values. “I love to cook Indian cuisine and wear Indian attire like saris. Durga Puja and Holi have a special meaning to me, along with Hindu gods and goddesses,” Sonja tells us. She considers herself an adapter, easily fitting in anywhere in the world. “I love to dive into a culture, assimilate, integrate and be an active part of society,” she elaborates.

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