Too Indian for the Caucasian people and too Caucasian for the Indian people
By Saskia Wodarczak
Growing up in and of itself is quite the process, full of new changes and obstacles, judgments and scrutiny. Especially if you’re growing up as a person who could easily be described as someone leading a double life, there is a lot of scrutiny towards not just you, but also your family (which is a real double hit). While that is absolutely fabulous and all, it personally took me more years than I’d care to admit to figure out how confusing and questioned it was, at the time, to be mixed.
I’m German-Fijian and yes, it is true, a lot of people call a combination like that, “exotic.” Trust me; I’ve gotten that a lot, even in university, and it gets really old really quickly. Don’t get me wrong, growing up mixed race is not some great disadvantage. On the contrary, I think I got the best features from both my maternal and paternal side, though granted, I’d have loved to have my Oma’s blue eyes. What really struck me, however, is how lonely you feel, which I never realized throughout school.
For a bit of context, I grew up in a Western Canadian city that is predominantly Caucasian with a large variety of Asian populations, so there was always a major diversity. I was talking to my mum about this, and she told me that when I started both preschool and then elementary school, she would go out of her way to befriend the only other Indian mum that there was so that she wouldn’t feel lonely, which shows that you don’t just have to be mixed race to feel like an outsider in a giant community.
Circling back, mixed kids get to lead a life with two identities, which is not as glorious as that of Superman, but is perhaps one of the loneliest feelings I’ve experienced. Not to be dramatic, but it is a constant battle of fitting in with each side, when you know deep down, in reality, you never can. You will constantly feel like an outsider.
To be blunt, I am too Indian for the Caucasian people and too Caucasian for the Indian people. I simply do not fit in anywhere. It took me so long to realize that I switch my identity depending on who I am with, which leads to identity crises and overthinking. Why do I feel like an outsider? Am I good enough for this side? Could you translate that for me? Do I fit in? Well now, no I don’t, because I don’t know the language. While yes, I am a member of both sides of my family, I am one hundred per cent still separate. For example, I was not taught Hindi or German, and the language barrier was, and still is to this day, a huge one.
Growing up, I honestly thought there was something wrong with me, because I’d ping pong: dinner at my Nani’s meant that I’d have to have more Indian mannerisms and then lunch with Oma and Opa meant that I’d have to pump up the Caucasian mannerisms. It is important to note that I was never forced to or taught by my parents to be more of one than the other, it simply depended on who I was with, or where I was, what I was doing or talking about. Basically, it turned into a cycle. Even today, I’ll use more Indian mannerisms or reactions around my Indian friends, and more German mannerisms around my non-Indian friends.
I’ve noticed it is easy to make friends when you have the aspect of race in common. Especially when I moved here to Toronto, I found that there were so many more people here that I could relate to since there’s a greater South Asian population, which, ironically, is the side I’m closer to because growing up, I interacted with that side of my family more. It’s funny though, people that I’ve met that are German know immediately that I’m at least part German, and most of my Indian friends in Toronto immediately knew that I am at least part Indian.
Now, for my all-time favourite question: have I ever been prejudiced against or looked down upon for being mixed? The short answer: yes, absolutely. While it has always been so subtle, that little bit of prejudice is still there. It is as simple as comments about my skin tone, or that classic, “But you don’t really look Fijian/German, your features don’t really apply to either.” Even double-takes or those pinched looks at the Mandir when I’m introduced as my mother’s daughter. All of that simply screams to me that I don’t belong and that I’m an outsider.
Yes, it has definitely taken me a very long time to understand that I need to buck up and accept that I won’t ever totally be part of one culture. But I have learned that I can use both to my utmost advantage; I’m incredibly cultured through the aspect of food, can so easily accept a wide range of diversity, and, as self-centred as this may seem, it is so rare that I judge someone because I understand how it feels to be on the receiving end. Growing up mixed taught me so much, and although exposed me to a lot at a young age, was one of the factors that really taught me that race is not something to be looked down upon for and that it is essential to practice acceptance, in any form, to make it in the world.
This piece was published in New Wave's Spring 2022 Issue