I never really think of our daughter as mixed-race. To me, she’s just our little girl and most of my focus as a parent is on the day-to day stuff like trying to get her to eat her dinner and trying to get her to wipe her own bottom. For her too, the day is filled with playing, eating, sleeping, more playing (oh if only life were that simple!) but thoughts about her identity or heritage couldn’t be further from her little world. Of course all too soon this will change as she grows up and tries to make sense of who she is.
Even as young as she is, as parents we work hard to make sure she gets as much cultural input from each of us. She has grown up eating Indian food (some of you will remember my post about her love for rice and dhal!) and we bought her her first shalwar khameez just last week which she adored. She has danced to bhangra and uses all the appropriate suffixes for relatives like ‘masi’ or ‘dhatha’ (don’t forget in the Asian culture, everyone is an aunty or uncle or older sister! We have a wide circle of friends and relations, hence the mix of languages there). Likewise we involve my husband’s cultural traditions, language, food, music and so on in her daily life.
I wonder if she will grow up to identify more with one side of her heritage than the other? I wonder if she will feel that she doesn’t fully belong to either of them? Or will she reject them both and embrace her British-ness instead?
Funnily enough, there will be a growing number of parents in Britain today asking themselves these same sorts of questions. The UK 2011 Census revealed that the mixed-race population has gone above a million for the first time, equating to 1.2% of the population. What is more, the mixed-race population is among the fastest growing in Britain and is already the largest ethnic group among under-16s.
Isn’t that incredible? When I was growing in 80’s Britain, to be anything other than English was unusual. We were the only Asian family on our street, and I the only Asian face in my class. I think there was one mixed race child in my school, but this was an even bigger taboo back then than not being English, because it meant that – shock horror- you had one white parent and one who was’t. Today this has changed: the Census reports that there are 2 million British households, where at least two people live, with partners of different ethnic groups.
It’s clear that attitudes towards mixed race couples and their children are changing. In light of the Census figures, one commentator went so far as to say that British Olympian Jessica Ennis was not only the poster girl for last year’s Olympics, but also for 21st century Britain. The likes of Lewis Hamilton and Leona Lewis are also being hailed as representative of modern Britain.
As someone who was raised by two Asian parents and identifies fully with the Asian culture, I am keen to pass onto my daughter as much of her Asian heritage as I can. I hope with all my heart she can embrace this aspect of who she is and enjoy the richness of all it has to offer. But I know I can’t make that choice for, and she is free to make up her own mind on matters of her own identity.
“Are our children “mixed race”? ….we had to tick census boxes for them too. Maybe I should have left the space blank. I feel that I should wait, and ask Zarina and Jay, Sonny and Indira, all under seven right now, what they think, when they are fifteen years old, before I pronounce on their identity or ethnicity for them. Their family history enables them to stake their claim to be mixed race. They have one Indian and one white English grandfather, though they can also call on two Irish grandmothers, one on each side of the family. I want to respect the choices they decide to make.”
In some realm, even if only for the Census, we are simply a label, a tix box, whether that’s British, Indian, Irish, whatever. In terms of identity and how we see ourselves, well yes I agree that is something we decide for ourselves; in much the same way that I choose to see myself as British Asian rather than of my country of origin.
Perhaps my daughter will be smart enough to reject all the labels and start from the point that she comes from two different heritages but in simply being herself she starts a new set of traditions. And anyway, if ‘mixed’ is the next generation of this country as the figures seem to suggest, well surely that’s the start of something entirely new altogether.