Whitewashed is a weird thing to be during a generation gap, especially when you’re from a small town. All my life, I’ve struggled with looking Indian but “feeling white” — as if skin colour had a direct correlation to personality. I don’t speak Punjabi, I’m not religious and I’m not all that involved in Indian culture, but my skin isn’t pale. I didn’t fit into any box and I never felt like I truly belonged to either group.
I grew up in Cloverdale, which is a part of Surrey. If you’re not from the Lower Mainland, that may not mean much to you, but Surrey certainly has a reputation. It has a large Indian population and there’s a generally negative stereotype associated with people there.
However, while Cloverdale is technically in Surrey, it was drastically different from the rest of the city when I was growing up — I always referred to it as the Calgary of BC. Case in point, we’re known almost exclusively for our annual rodeo. An actual rodeo. With lassos, spurs and cowboys the whole nine yards.
I was one of very few coloured people growing up in school and extracurricular activities. I was referred to as an Oreo, a coconut, a white person trapped in a brown person’s body — the list goes on. Nobody was attempting to insult me, nor did I ever find it offensive. It was merely an observation and I embraced it because that’s honestly how I felt at the time. Your character is in part a reflection of your environment, so how could I not feel white if that’s all I’d ever been around?
The majority of my friends in high school were white — not because I sought them out because of their skin colour, but because we had a lot of things in common. I had hung out with a group of Indian girls in my school, but whenever I was with them, I didn’t feel any connection. We were simply different.
The idea of someone thinking that I was too brown was terrifying. I’d grown up with people constantly joking about kids from Surrey, disregarding the fact that we were sort of from Surrey.
I also didn’t want to be mislabeled. I thought I knew who I was and I didn’t want other people to think differently because of what they saw when they looked at me. Because of this, I would never introduce myself as being from Surrey in fear of assumptions about who I was. Instead, I would specify that I was from Cloverdale, or fib and say I was from the whiter, neighbouring city of Langley.
I wasn’t the only person who did something like this. I knew a couple of white friends who would always say they were from Surrey because they thought if they told people they were from Cloverdale, they’d be perceived as rednecks. The first time someone had told me that, I felt very relieved. I wasn’t the only person who was ashamed of the box that someone would put me in. And as horrible as it sounds, even white people felt the same. I think people forget that nobody wants their identity to be taken from them, regardless of whether they’re a minority or not.
Coming to UBC was eye-opening. It’s not that I hadn’t been around a diverse crowd before, but it’s a much different experience to be fully immersed in an environment with so many different types of people all at once. If you hadn’t already, you come to realize that nobody really fits into their box. Even though your heritage and your environment are huge influences, they can’t define who you are. We all take pieces from around us and use them to build ourselves, and everybody ends up as a different mismatch of their surroundings. Different people take different things. I’m from an Indian background, but I don’t speak my mother language. I grew up going to a rodeo every year, but I hate country music.
People inherently seem to see things from certain cultures and associate them with any person who confirms their visual bias. But everybody grows up in different circumstances and the outcomes of different people's characters reflect that. I guess what I’m trying to say is that there’s really no such thing as being whitewashed — there are only varied perceptions of what it means to be a person.