Young Mixed Race Indians Share Stories That Celebrate Cultural Diversity [Vol. V]

Layal Ayoub (L) and  Wing Choy Chen (R)
Layal Ayoub (L) and Wing Choy Chen (R)

Different accent, different appearance, different food and different lifestyle. The word “different” is a common thread that runs across all people’s lives, who come from a mixed race background. However, difference also means diversity — more dishes to choose from for dinner, multiple tongues to learn, more bedtime stories about adventurous ancestors to help your imagination run wild, and most of all, different cultures to absorb, imbibe and celebrate.

An Australian-Scottish Indian and his love for vegemite, a 27-year-old who celebrates her arabic lineage one lebanese dish at a time, an Indian-Chinese who has learnt to embrace humour and overlook spite, a young girl whose mixed race background comes is a result of monarchies joining hands decades ago and a Dutch-Indian who is exhausted of haggling with rickshawalasHomegrown spoke with five young mixed race Indians to hear their side of the story and celebrate their cultural diversity.

I. Prabhat Klotz | Australian-Scottish Indian

“Being from a mixed blood background is an existential rollercoaster.”

Prabhat Klotz’s Malyali mother and father, who is of Australian and Scottish descent, met in the US some time in the early 1990s through a spiritual organisation called Sahaj Marg. “Sahaj Marg as well as other spiritual movements in the west tend to attract followers from a diverse race of backgrounds, often resulting in a lot of mixed race children coming into the mix. I’m not too aware of the details of my parent’s past romance, but I guess they would say that it was “facilitated by a higher power”,” says Klotz.

Klotz, who moved to India talks about the struggles of being a mixed age kid in a new country. Following his parents divorce, Klotz moved to India at a young age and was mocked as a result of not being well versed with the local language. “My mom never spoke to me in anything other than english, so it was just normal for me (before I moved) to not speak other languages. But (after moving) it was odd that I couldn’t speak Hindi or Tamil despite looking Indian in appearance,” recalls Klotz. Klotz’s response to this strange setting and new environment was to resort to being introverted and developing and internalised dislike towards India. “I didn’t care much for cricket and I wasn’t patriotic about India. I never felt passionate about being a part of any collective social structure,” he adds.

Today, despite living in India for most of his life, Klotz identifies more with his Australian lineage. While taking about how Australia has influenced his lifestyle, Klotz says “I’m very white washed. I wouldn’t say that any of my Scottish family traditions have influenced my life but Australian ones sure have. I grew up eating all sorts of bland, boring and weird food. Ever heard of vegemite? Yeah well I loved that stuff. Australians are also a bunch of hippies. It was definitely great growing up learning about how to compost food scraps and plant a garden.”

II. Layal Ayoub | Egyptian-Indian

“Being from a mixed blood background makes me unique.”

Layal Ayoub’s parents had a quintessential college romance. Her father, who is Egyptian and her Himachali mother met while they were studying at the state university of Himachal Pradesh, India. This romance eventually culminated into marriage, and the couple moved to Kuwait. However, following their parents separation, Ayoub and her sister moved to India and have lived most of their lives here. Ayoub identifies herself as being an Indian. The time Ayoub spent adjusting to this new country would initially trigger bitter memories, but now, she has embraces this integral part of her identity beautifully, and believes that her mixed race background helps distinguish her from the crowd. “Thankfully I don’t look too arabic so I do pass off as an Indian. But my name, you know, it has always been hard for people to pronounce and then when I tell them the origin of it and what it means it tends to make me think of their failed marriage and our weird childhood. As children, my sister and I couldn’t speak any hindi, and now I don’t remember a word of arabic. But in some way, I do feel good that I somehow maybe stand out from the crowd a little bit,” says Ayoub.

Despite moving out of Kuwait a considerable time ago, Ayoub’s strongest tie to he Arabic roots is the cuisine. Ayoub loves Lebanese and Arabic food and tells us about how this aspect of her mixed race background has remained ingrained through the course of her life in India.

III. Wing Choy Chen | Indian-Chinese

“Being from a mixed blood background, I never thought I’d have so much to say about it.”

Wing Choy Chen’s Indian-Chinese lineage has presented its share of problems, but at the same time it has helped him encounter incidents that have made him more receptive to “new people, cultures, ideas and thoughts”. 22-year-old Chen has lived in Mumbai with his mother for 10 years now, but talks fondly of his time in Dubai, where he spent majority of his childhood. “I love food, like gluttony levels of love. Growing up, I was lucky to have a mother and father who were according to me Michelin Star level chefs. My dad’s secret recipes for making mouth watering smoked garlic sauces, made my mother and I fall in love with spicy food,” fondly recalls Chen, who credits his nurturing upbringing for his present-day open mindedness.

With mouth-watering garlic sauces came a generous helping of problems that Chen had to face owing to his mixed race lineage. “All the staring made me really anxious. But if we negate the staring bit, my appearance led to me having conversations with all sorts of people, which wouldn’t have happened otherwise. This has allowed me to be get acquainted with different beliefs, cultures, ideologies and different sorts of humour of course,” said Chen. Chen chooses to not address and overlook the occasional spite that accompanies the jokes friends or acquaintances crack based on Chen’s appearance and mixed race background. Chen uses his distinctive identity to explore and understand the human mind better. “Growing up to see so many shades of life and people, it astonishes me how unique everybody can be mentally, physically and spiritually,” signs off Chen.

IV. Akshita M. Bhanj Deo | Nepalese-Indian

“Being from a mixed blood background gives you a kaleidoscopic lens to view the world.”

Years ago Deo’s great grandmother from India married Deo’s Nepalese great grandfather kickstarting a trend that has been followed by the family till date. This marriage and some others that followed soon after were to facilitate political alliances between the Hindu monarchies that were India and Nepal. This interesting family history has resulted in Deo being a Pandora’s box stuffed with interesting tidbits. “While looking at prospective grooms looking for a Nepali girl, a mother in law, who was also from nepal, would top the priority list to ensure that food and language were not barriers,” says Deo while narrating one such amusing piece of information.

Deo’s two quarters Nepali, one quarter Rajput and one quarter Odia lineage has shaped her and her siblings’ cultural rollercoaster of a life. “My siblings and I speak a secret language that mixes all the languages we heard growing up, our food palate is the most experimental and our love travelling to the most offbeat destinations is a result of the genetic wanderlust we have inherited from both sides of our family,” says Deo. Deo also credits her distinctive style of dressing and vast knowledge of South Asian socio-political happenings to her mixed race familial heritage.

V. Iva | Dutch-Indian

“Being from a mixed blood background means that people will always question my identity, wonder whether I’m Indian, Dutch, Mexican or Moroccan.”

Iva firmly believes that the term race is a social construct and prefers being referred to as belonging to different nationalities. “They met at a research institute in India, I suppose that toiling over soil and fertilizers brings people together!” says Iva of her Tamilian mother and Dutch father’s romantic encounter.

Being considered different has been an integral aspect of Iva’s life. Unnecessary bargaining while commuting to unwarranted attention, Iva has experienced all this and more. “In India, people give a lot of importance to appearance and skin colour, and easily discriminate (positively or negatively) based on this.Being half Tamil and half Dutch, I have relatively fair skin by Indian standards, and people always wonder where I’m from. Stares are encountered on a daily basis. Auto rickshaw drivers often demand twice the local price, and when I bargain back in Tamil, they are usually very surprised, and wonder whether I’m “north Indian or “Punjabi”, or simply “foreign”, and then go on to tell me that my Tamil is very good (well, I’m Tamilian after all, and it’s actually really not great at all). I’m also taller and bigger than your average Tamilian, which means I often stick out like a sore thumb. The attention can get exhausting. However, it’s great fun to be from different places, learn about different cultures, and also educate people about cultural differences,” says Iva.

The dining table acts as the amalgamating ground for both distinctive aspects of Iva’s culturally varied heritage. “My mother is a staunch vegetarian, and always fed us vegetarian food, but it could be from anywhere. Having lived in The Netherlands for a long time as well, for breakfast we could have bread, idlis or muesli. Dinner could be anything from pongal, spaghetti or potatoes and peas,” explains Iva, who considers lots of variety in food to be one of the biggest perks of being from a multicultural background. “I’m a global citizen, I’ve experienced different cultures and I’ll be glad to be an ambassador for equality and living without borders and strict divisions,” concludes Iva.

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All images have been provided by the contributors.

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