Identity and Belonging

Submitted by Geetha on December 19, 2013 - 10:44pm
A reflection on being (and not being) 'Canadian' and 'Indian'

Ever since I was a young girl, I have been reflecting on the complex issues around cultural diversity, identity, and living in “multiple worlds.” I attribute this to my diverse childhood experiences. I was born in India and grew up in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island. Being raised by first generation immigrants, I was acutely aware that my family life was quite different from others around me. I struggled, questioned, and learned to balance the additional identities that came with being raised as a girl in a first generation East Indian family in a small -- very small --Canadian community. It was hard at time times to know "exactly" where I belonged. I was never completely "Canadian,” I was never completely "Indian,” I was "me" - a complex hybrid of identities.  Depending on where I was and who I was with at any given time, my identity slightly shifted to adapt to the situation I was in. And I want to say that this wasn’t (always) a negative experience for me, it just became the way I managed my multiple identities. 

Sometimes I even felt like an outsider even within my own family. It was hard at times to relate to what my parents were also experiencing and managing at the same time -- raising their children in a culture that was in stark contrast to the one they grew up in.  And to make things more complex, I was the most sensitive one in the family. I felt experiences through my heart. I experienced life through emotions, my own and others. I was sensitive to, and aware of, others’ experiences and emotions. I felt other's people experiences as they were told to me. I often wondered how I was the only emotional and empathetic one in my family...


Reflecting back on this, however, I think it has strongly shaped my character and who I am today – in a positive way. While my sense of belonging somewhere -- to something -- as a young girl was compromised, I believe it shaped me to think more about my core values and principles. I was able to dig through all those layers of identity and lived experiences and find a balance of what “made me, me.” I lived, or tried to live, more by my core values than by my identity. It’s not that I lost “who I was” or that my identities did not shape who I was – more that I was able to bring different aspects of my identities and draw upon them. I began identifying the strengths of my different identities and the various lenses in which they bestowed upon me. I remember as a young girl having my own little life philosophies and thinking about people, family, culture, and identity. I was able to dive into different situations, try different things, and meet new people because of the array of experiences I had and my endless curiosity to learn more. For that, as an adult, I am truly grateful (as complicated and confusing it was at times...).

This I believe came about because of the multiple worlds and people that influenced my upbringing. I became attuned to the diversity of our life experiences and endlessly curious. I was much more interested in learning about others, listening to others, and helping others. For better (and some may say for worse), I was more focused on other peoples’ lives than my own...

For me, I believe, my sense of belonging comes from other people's sense of belonging and happiness. I could not be happy if I know others did not feel like they belong. As I raise my two young children, I am focused on showing them the importance of thinking of others before themselves. While I know not everyone would agree with this approach, it is my hope that they will grow up not thinking how independent humans should be, but knowing how interdependent and connected we are...

balancing multiple identities

Thank you for sharing your story Geetha.  Your struggle with multiple identities really resonates with what I am hearing often from youth these days.  People talk about wearing multiple hats.  Each hat is a different identity.  Obvioulsy these identities do not go as deep as the two that you mentioned but I do beleive people go through life trying to balance these many hats and struggle to figure out what is their true or deep identity peices of which are expressed with each hat.

This particularly pronounced with youth both because they are part of so many different groups (they wear so many different hats) and because they are at a point where they are really searching for their identity.

I am really curious with how you have noticed your sense of identity shift from when you were a kid, you talked about it shifting from being "indian" or "Canadian" to one more focused on values.  Has this made it clearer for you or do you still find it confusing at times?  Where do you get your values from?  Do your kids have a different experience around forming their idenity as 2nd generation canadian vs yours as a first generation?


Thanks for sharing some fo journey with us, Geetha!

Looking forward to hearing more from you :)