What is your cultural protective barrier against racism?

When my daughter was five, she came home one day from school crying because some white kid at her school told her to go back to where she came from. Where do children that age gets such belief from if it wasn't normalised in their homes by their parents? This incident brought home the reality that racism is not a concept or an idea but a weapon that gets used by adults to undermine others who are not like them and make them feel they do not belong.

For my daughter, this rude awakening was a harsh introduction to the life ahead of her that constantly defines her as not fitting in or belonging. In the undefined world of being born to one white and one Asian parent growing up in a western country, she is reminded at every turn that she is ‘the other’. In her ballet classes full of blond and blue-eyed girls, she was reminded in blunt ways that she is different. When she won competitions, everyone wanted to know where she came from. She constantly asked me why she couldn't be normal like the other children.

If this is something that sounds familiar to you, you would know that the onus is always on you to be like them, to fit in, to be culturally ghosted, and to live your life in cultural denial. Despite trying their best, many young people from diverse cultural backgrounds cannot find a sense of belonging. Many get stuck in unhealthy situations and feel the pressure to minimise their cultural differences. Too many pay a hefty price with their mental health, feeling that there isn't a way out and be accepted like everyone else, whatever that may be.

I am a lifelong proponent of culturally connected and centered well-being. If you are disconnected or estranged from your extended family or community, then it is time to start the work on restoring that connection. Yasmin, a third-generation Australian born to Lebanese and Indian parents grew up dealing with racism and coping by denying her cultural identity. Her parents did not make it a priority to teach her their languages because it was far more important for her to speak English and do well in her studies. They were too busy to make time to share stories of their grandparents, their lives in their ‘old’ countries and their journey to survive in a foreign land.

One day she found an old suitcase in the garage full of old photos of her parents as children with their grandparents growing up in Lebanon and India. It ignited a deep thirst to find out more about who she is. She started on a journey that became her obsession and the more she found, the stronger she felt within herself. It seems she has found the secret source of her power: reconnecting with her cultural identity. Today she lives a more authentic life that is not defined by the racism that surrounds her. She is now the mother of a four-year-old boy who is learning to speak Arabic with his grandfather and Punjabi with his grandmother.

It is a journey that is never too late to embark on even if you have to reach out across countries and continents to make your cultural connections. After all isn't that why we are compelled to travel to far-flung countries, to experience cultures foreign to us? It is the icing on the cake to travel to connect and ground yourself in your cultural connection so what are you waiting for?

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