What is our identity?

What are you? Who are you? Where are you from?

January 19, 2020
These questions of identity are things that all people and especially children of immigrants are always having to answer and question and redefine over and over and over again. How do we fill out those forms? What boxes do we check off? How do we explain ourselves to our white counterparts? Do we go by our nationality? Our parent's nationality? Our grandparent's nationality? Do we go by our religion? Do we go by our race? Are they all the same? Are they all different? Are race and ethnicity and nationality intertwined with each other? Or is race, ethnicity, and nationality completely separate from each other? 
 
So, I was born and raised in America. But my parents were born and raised in India. So am I an American or an Indian? The country of India would like to claim me as an NRI (non resident Indian.) But if I have to go by my parent's nationality, does that mean that my parents have to go by their parent's nationality? In which case, my grandparents were born in Karachi which is now Pakistan and no longer India, so should we call ourselves Pakistani? Oh but wait, my family speaks Sindhi so my race is actually Sindhi. No but wait, I follow the Sikh religion and Sikhs are from Punjab so am I now Punjabi? 
 
Now, I am married and I've moved to Scotland. Oh dear, am I British now? Am I Scottish? (I do love me some potato scones and tunnocks teacakes!) If and when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, can the citizens of the U.K. still call themselves European? And if this causes Scotland to leave the United Kingdom, does that mean that the Scottish can no longer call themselves British? And if Scotland leaves the U.K. and goes back into the E.U. can they be European again? Confused yet!? I sure am! And on top of all of that, if you are a brown person living here, you have an extra layer of confusion to deal with! How can anyone truly identify themselves? 
 
The U.S. Census Bureau tries! It is now 2020 and it's that time. It's time for the U.S. Census Bureau to start counting heads! We need to see how many Sikhs are in America! We need to see how many Sikh Americans there are! After all, American values are Sikh values, right? No! And especially not recently! 
 

I always had trouble with those little boxes. The U.S. Census is required to have 5 different categories for race. I know right. Just 5?! Are you kidding me? Although, I think they are  improving and trying to add more and many forms do actually have more categories. However, the basic five that I was used to are: 
 

  • White or Caucasian (nope) 
  • Black or African American (I've been told that I was black in a prior life, but alas not this life!)
  • American Indian (Oh wait! Is that me?! Oh no. That box is for the Native Americans. Alas, never mind, next box, please.) 
  • Asian (I reluctantly checked off this box. I mean, I get that India is in the continent of Asia but if you go to an asian supermarket you won't find any Indian food there, you will find noodles and soy sauce!)
  • Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander (No, but I wish I was from Hawaii!) 
When I moved to the United Kingdom, I saw the ethnic group options on the forms over here and I was quite surprised. There are 18 different ethnic groups recommended for use by the U.K government. They are: 

White

  • English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British
  • Irish
  • Gypsy or Irish Traveller
  • Any other White background

Mixed / Multiple ethnic groups

  • White and Black Caribbean
  • White and Black African
  • White and Asian
  • Any other Mixed / Multiple ethnic background

Asian / Asian British

  • Indian
  • Pakistani
  • Bangladeshi
  • Chinese
  • Any other Asian background

Black / African / Caribbean / Black British

  • African
  • Caribbean
  • Any other Black / African / Caribbean background

Other ethnic group

  • Arab
  • Any other ethnic group
Impressive! It was very interesting to see more options. Some forms say Asian British. Some say Indian British. I reluctantly check off that box but I am not actually British (even though I've grown to be quite fond of baked beans!) 
 
It's just really hard to define and identify ourselves. Partly because the lines are blurred between ethnicity, race, nationality, and sometimes religion. I've always been very proud to be an American but I honestly can't be too proud of it after seeing and understanding all that goes on in America. It's hard for me to call myself an Indian as well. While yes, my previous generations are from there, I am not from there. And to be honest, as a Sikh, with everything that has gone on India, can any Sikh truly be proud and call themselves an Indian as well? Can any Sikh truly, happily, and proudly fly into the Indira Gandhi International airport in New Dehli? (Thank you airlines who now have international flights going into Amritsar!) 
 
My husband always says that we shouldn't be too attached to any piece of land because in reality it's just a bit of land. But, it is hard not to have an emotional attachment to the land that you were born in and/or the land that you've created so many memories in. It's just kind of human nature in my opinion. And as a Sikh, how can we not be emotionally attached to the land in which our Gurus were born in? The land in which our religion was born in? The land in which our beautiful historic Gurudwaras are in? 
 
The thing about land and countries and territories is this: Since the beginning of time, they are always attacked, invaded, conquered, changed, bordered, re-bordered, redefined, and renamed. If we tie our identity to a piece of land, I think we would forever be confused because we change our location from land to land and even the land itself gets changed!  
 
What doesn't change? Our soul. Our faith. Our Guru. Akal Purakh. They can attack our land. They can either take us off of the land or they can try to change and take the land away from us while we are still standing on it. They can try to erase our history. They can try to change our future. They can try to erase our identify but it will only work if we only identify ourselves with that piece of land. They can never take away our faith or our spirit. As long as our identity is connected to our faith, we will forever be connected and true to ourselves. 
 
We are so much more than just a box to check off. 
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Bhull Chuk Maaf

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