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British Asians with ancestry in countries such as India and Pakistan are both changing UK culture and being changed by it. Writer Amar Mistry explains how he straddles two worlds.
Text by: Amar Mistry
Country: United Kingdom

orn in Europe with a father from Africa and a mother from Asia, “Eurafricasian” could be used to describe me. Other words include Indian, Asian, British, British Asian, British Indian, and my personal favourite, Brown.

Both of my parents are of Indian descent and moved to the UK in the ’60s and ’70s from Kenya and India, respectively . My brother and I, however , are among over 3 million other British Asians in the UK. Sons of migrants , we grew up in a Eurafricasian household.

Identity is distinctly individual, and British Asians are forging their own . In addition, there are different levels of integration among the population. Some Browns shun Western culture and stick with what they know. Having grown up in Brown areas, they continue to seek British Asian friends, go to solely Asian club nights and even speak in their ‘mother tongue ’ with other friends. On the flipside , there is the rebellious Asian: fighting against the stereotype and purposely being non-Asian and sometimes being called ‘coconut ’ in the process. I am proud of both my Indian and British heritage and I endeavour to embrace both.

Growing up, for six out of seven days we ate Indian food: a range of predominantly vegetable curries accompanied by rice and chapattis . The seventh day, my mother would put a pie, fish fingers , chips, chicken nuggets, or pizza into the oven and say we were having ‘English dinner’. We spoke Gujarati, a language from the northwest of India, at home until teachers at my brother’s primary school informed my parents that his English was suffering because of it. The switch to English came when I was quite young, and when we were younger, my Gujarati was never at the level of my brother’s. To ensure the language did not die before us , my brother and I were sent to Gujarati school on Mondays and Tuesdays.

British with a distinctive Asian flavour could very well describe our culture. With so many offspring from the influx of southern Asian migrants who arrived almost 50 years ago now, the population is making waves in Britain. At the London Olympic Games in 2012, we played a significant role in the closing ceremony, a nod to the impact Indians have had on British society. Brown politicians, managers, sportsmen , broadcasters , and teachers are becoming all the more common, and yet, there are some areas of the world where people are confused to hear me proclaim my British citizenship.

“Where are you from?” they ask.

“England,” I respond.

“England? Then why you not look like an Englishman?” they say.

The upside of being Brown

Being Brown has its pros and cons.

Take the food, for example: as much as I love English food, I do not know many people who do not like Indian Food. Many Indian restaurants in the UK do not cater to the Brown Brit and very little comes close to my family’s cooking. Growing up with a different vegetable curry every day, I only realised how spoiled I was when I moved to University and realised how hard it was to cook.

When it comes to festivals, I can’t speak for other ‘Brownies’ (there is also a large British Pakistani, Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan population), but Indian festivals tend to be great fun. Loosely connected with a religious tale, the festivals tend to be full of laughter, colour and activity.

Take Holi, for example: There is an ancient myth about a boy whose faith and devotion to God kept him from being burned to death. The festival involves walking around a bonfire to ‘give your sins and bad habits to the fire’ followed by a huge paint fight. Coloured powder is brought along to the event and smeared onto people’s faces. Now there are Holi-style events being combined with western practices. Holi Raves, music events with powder being thrown, and Holi 5K or 10K runs, with volunteers pelting runners with colour, are just two such examples.

‘The cherry on top of Indian festivals is that we still get Christmas’, says Shafinderjeet Choudhry from Coventry. ‘The tree is decorated, presents are wrapped underneath, and, as a child, I still awoke in the early hours to unwrap my gifts. Christmas remains the biggest family event on the calendar with a different family hosting festivities each year. There is a traditional Christmas walk (or snooze) and more recently, we have introduced Secret Santa’.

Another positive is that most of us inherit a language for free! Growing up in a bilingual household has its challenges, and as a child I remember pronouncing ‘Peugeot’ as ‘Pee-jot’, much to the amusement of my white friends. As mentioned, my brother’s English suffered at an early age, and without a commitment by my parents to speak English at home, it may never have recovered. He is now aclinical pharmacist.

Exposure to both languages from a young age is important,’ says Zindagee Singh of Southall. ‘Punjabi spoken around me by family, English on the TV, cartoons, and then school played a big part. I made plenty of mistakes at school, and maybe even now; but I graduated in a few years with a degree in English and am now working in the UK civil service, so I mustn’t be too bad!’

The downside of being Brown

It isn’t all fun and games though; there are the obvious cons, such as racism and stereotyping, as well as other, more internal issues too.

For example, Bollywood may be worth more than Hollywood and have a huge market enjoyed by hundreds of millions across the world, but growing up we were forced to watch it. Sunday afternoons we were plunked in front of the TV, tortured by bad editing, big musical numbers and unbelievable fight scenes. Most were filmed in Hindi (a language shared by the whole of India and vaguely similar to Gujarati) and made worse when there were no subtitles; cue constant badgering of parents for translations.

‘Bollywood films are either very jolly or very depressing. I associate Bollywood with lots of colour, singing and dancing. More musicals than films’, says Victoria Armstrong of London.

Food has disadvantages, too. Religiously, many Hindus do not eat beef, and many Muslims do not eat pork; whichever way you look at it, there is a huge population missing out on one of the two best meats around. Hindus traditionally see the cow as a sacred animal, and Muslims see the pig as a dirty one. Whilst this view is changing in both camps, it is still uncommon to find a British Asian who would be content with a bacon sandwich for breakfast and a steak for lunch.

Whilst drinking is generally encouraged in family circles, going out clubbing with friends is not. My parents never understood the concept of staying out late and getting blind drunk to dance before stumbling home in the morning. Thankfully, my older brother paved the way for me; late-night arguments and many a locked door eventually softened my father to the idea of us coming back late. University is often seen as a chance for complete freedom, and it is celebrated as such. There is an ongoing trend with ‘Asian nights’ and ‘Bhangra nights’ being marketed to the emerging British Asian youth. These nights promise Brown DJs, Bhangra music and attract British Asians from all across the country. South Asian culture is much more conservative than Western culture, and as a result, clubbing is not encouraged by elders.

Vinesh Mistry says parents ‘just don’t get it’.

‘It took me years to get to the level of freedom I have now’, says Mistry of Loughborough. ‘I felt oppressed, and it wasn’t until I went to University that I felt freedom to make my own decisions – albeit some of them were wrong! My white friends were given free rein by their parents from an earlier age, even encouraged to go out and drink. It seemed very different to what I experienced growing up’.

Info Box:
Number of British Asians in the UK: 3,039,470 (4.9%)

Typical Religions: Hinduism, Islam, Sikhism

Communities with high British Asian population: Birmingham, Bradford, Leicester, Luton, Slough

Notable British Asians: Amir Khan, Anish Kapoor, Zayn Malik





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Being Brown

I was born in Europe from an African father and an Asian mother, so you could call me “Eurafricasian”, but there are many words that you can use to describe me such as Indian, Asian, British, British Asian, British Indian or even Brown.
baklava, souvlaki, and meze, Peruvian restaurants with alpaca meat, and many more. Today you can also find a whole range of fusion restaurants.

Both of my parents are of Indian descent and moved to the UK in the ’60s and ’70s. At home we ate Indian food 6 days a week and originally spoke only Gujarati, a language from the northwest of India. When I was very young my parents decided to switch to English at home so that our English would not suffer. However, we were sent to a Gujarati school on Mondays and Tuesdays so that we would not forget our mother tongue.
Many Brown people in the UK choose to keep themselves separate from the Western culture. They have only British Asian friends, go to Asian nightclubs and even speak their mother tongue with their friends. Others can be quite rebellious and are purposely non-Asian to fight the stereotypes. I am proud of both my Indian and British heritage and choose to embrace both cultures.

The advantages of being Brown include the fabulous food we grow up with and the fun and exotic festivals we celebrate. Aside from all the Indian traditions, we also get to celebrate Christmas and enjoy unwrapping presents. Some of the obvious disadvantages include racism and stereotyping, but there also more internal issues. For example, Hindis do not eat beef and Muslims do not eat pork so it is not always easy to eat out at a restaurant or at friends’ homes. Asian parents also tend to be more conservative and stricter than Western parents, so it is harder for a Brown person to go out and party with his friends.

With the younger generations things are slowly changing among the Indian culture in the UK. The older generations are paving the way for the younger ones.

 

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Being Brown in England

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Being Brown

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