As a second generation Bengali, I identify myself as a British born and bred citizen. Naturally, aspects of my life have been subdued, somewhat inadvertently, with Bengali and wider South Asian culture. Although my father is English, my mother's side dominates our family traditions. We can enjoy our parents' cultures as much as we enjoy being English. However, frustration and confusion often accompany us when we let one culture rule us over another or let it bend our perception of reality, because at the end of the day, we are our own person. No one single culture needs to define who we are if we don't want to be defined it.
I grew up in a reserved, conservative household, where a simple kiss on a TV screen resulted in my brother putting his hands over his eyes, or scurrying out of the room awkwardly before a sex scene. I spent my adolescent nights sneaking out of the kitchen window to see friends because the concept of 'having fun' was foreign, unknown, even forbidden in our house.
The most remarkable of these childhood anecdotes is a taboo that continues into my adulthood: sexualisation. It is what I wilfully 'cherry pick' in my favour from being English because it isn't stigmatised, and people (on the whole), aren't demoralised or made to feel guilty for being comfortably open about the laws of nature. It's this nonchalance of British culture I find unfettering. Though in equal discontentment, I find the drinking culture excessive and actually quite distasteful. How baseless is your life if your social circle won't go beyond the confines of pub culture?
Being entirely detached from the country's authenticities, I would feel disingenuous in calling myself a Bangladeshi. Instead, I've subjected myself to a watered-down version of Bengali culture, where I can culturally appropriate segments to suit me. For instance, it has taught me the art of genuine hospitality; the kind that fills your heart with warmth and humbles you deep within. I love the weddings and wearing silk, embroidered sarees because they make me feel 'exotic'- and adjective which perpetuates western validation and acceptance.
I'm not ashamed to nitpick and extract what I personally perceive to be the best parts of English and Bengali culture. Stubbornly limiting yourself to a single, 'default' culture or way of life, without critiquing or questioning the depths of another won't allow you to become the best version of yourself or to create your own identity.
Financial viability, education and opportunity are determining factors of a person's motivation or willingness to work hard, and that's often the defining point of Asian culture. Struggles such as poverty and lack of educational or job opportunities experienced by first generation immigrants built the determination to give their children a better life. Hedonism becomes an intrinsic way of life where money isn't an object. Yet from the Asian vantage point, a western upbringing is often synonymous with profligacy, counteracting and oftentimes clashing with the prudent, pragmatic, hardworking mentality instilled within a second generation Asian like myself.
As a minority, viewing British societal values as the archetypal way of life may seem self-defeating and self-deprecating, and even present a sense of inverted xenophobia. Yet, preference need not be swayed by any perceived superiority or inferiority associated with one culture over the other; rather by with whatever we're most comfortable. And that could very well be the best of both worlds.
Highlighting these superficial differences in culture may seem counterintuitive, but it's a step closer to achieving greater cohesion, unity and a better way of life. By allowing ourselves to make these cultural distinctions, we can better understand ourselves and our own preferences. We can finally accept that it is okay to be neither Bengali nor English. That it is okay to be both. And that it is also okay to be just you.
Still, an overwhelming sense of limbo pervades my cultural identity. It feels diluted, pretentious, but all the more boundless. At times I feel 'Asian' amongst my English friends and a 'coconut' amongst Asian friends and family; a term brandished with resentment and deep-seated feelings of inferiority. But I've realised pigeonholing myself in one category won't break the barriers to socio-cultural immobility incumbent in communities where ethnic minorities cluster together in the hopes of attaining their 'home comforts.' As minorities, we shouldn't cower behind fear or the unknown, but advocate a unifying platform that encourages openness, cultural pluralism and stepping outside our comfort zones.
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