Growing up South Asian, specifically to South Indian parents, meant that my upbringing looked a lot different than your typical Australian household. Unlike most other young folk my age, the home was a place of discipline, not a free-for-all.
I constantly struggled with the ‘cultural education’ that I had to go through as an Indian yet have a completed ‘Westernised’ education outside of home. Yet it was one that was centred around the idea of family, which I learned to appreciate the most.
Not all butterflies and dandelions
However, life was not all butterflies and dandelions. Starting at school was like living a double-life: there was the side of me that was expected to be a sports-loving, adventure-chasing, movie buff (despite the fact that at home, my siblings and I never really played sports, weren’t supposed to be adventurous in anything other than education, and didn’t watch Western movies; or any movies, for that matter).
Lunch times were like show and tell: it was always home-cooked curry and rice, except for the time when we tried cooking our own lunch, which didn’t really work too well. I recall one time where we brought some Indian food to school, but due to the other kids disparaging remarks, we went without lunch that day. Even in high school, things seemed to get tougher.
It wasn’t till my first few years in university that I finally was able to understand that I didn’t have to choose between my cultural heritage or my Australian citizenship; nor was I expected to – I could be South Asian and Australian, and still be the same person. I realised that the sea of faces that I saw in every lecture hall, or in the corridors, or on the quad on campus were not just Caucasian, but were of every nationality, background and heritage that I could imagine. Being different could actually have its perks. Or so I thought.
Challenges of being a third culture kid
The idea of being a third culture kid; or, in other words, bringing together the two halves of myself, as both a South Asian and also as an Australian, were not mutually exclusive, but surely seemed to be the case. Every so often, when I was in class or meeting someone for the first time at a student gathering, the familiar question of: “So, where are you from?” inevitably came up. At which point, I would desperately try to come up with an intellectually satisfying answer, to no avail.
There are often two typical responses I can give, but neither satisfy anyone’s curiosity. Claiming to be Australian often is countered by raised eyebrows, and saying that I am Indian doesn’t help my Australian accent in any way at all. It seems there is no win-win situation.
Unfortunately, this continues to be the case when I find myself in similar situations in the present day. The only place, however, where I am not forced to cough up an answer to this particular question is, of course, the South Asian community. Having a bicultural binary can be something that is difficult to deal with, but not impossible to live with. Finally understanding this dilemma is more of an opportunity to spark interesting conversations rather than shying away from a diverse reality—has been a helpful realisation to have.
Perks and challenges
It is the South Asian diaspora that has contributed to this deliberation, nevertheless, of being a South Asian Australian, and the realities that I am often forced to face on a daily basis. Elements of everyday life as simple as going to the shops or attending an out-of-office lunch still turns heads and invites puzzled expressions.
Being different yet being able to exist in such a multicultural community does come with its perks, but also its challenges. The former, in regards to feeling part of a cultural enclave that is slowly coming to be recognised as a significant community within the country we now call home; the latter, the constant struggle to be recognised.
However, that is the journey we call life. God willing, the reality of being a South Asian Australian will look different as time goes on. But for now, I look forward to finding the joy in being part of something culturally different, but also, crucially significant.
Joseph Kolapudi is a writer born in Australia to Indian parents, and returned from California where he was studying theology at Fuller; currently, he is working with a missions agency, continuing his love of writing by contributing to PSI.
Joseph Kolapudi's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/joseph-kolapudi.html