Updated: Aug 16, 2020
Person 1: I saw your name on the list and I was like, Oh! I wonder who she is and now I know it’s you!.....You know…..FITZGERALD…. I was expecting a foreigner”.
Me: I am an Anglo-Indian, which means that’s somewhere up the line I have European descent hence the surname FITZGERALD. I am very much an Indian and not a foreigner.
Person 1: But you’re from…Kolkata… Isn’t that Bengali?
Me: Yes, but I am not a Bengali, I am an Anglo-Indian.
Person 2: She’s a ‘Banglo’- Indian. (laughs)
Person 1: ‘Banglo’- Indian! (laughs) That’s a really good one. (laughs again)
(Person 1 & 2 look at each other and laugh together)
Me: (smiling awkwardly) Me? ‘Banglo-Indian? Haha! (fakes laughter). I have never heard that before.
I remember this conversation as if it took place the previous night. I have not forgotten Person 1 and 2, in fact I still speak to them. I can recollect being seated on the floor with both of them, in one of the rooms, fascinated by the pictures and lights on the wall. I can’t forget how laughter, induced at my expense left a wide smile on their face. I recall how I just sat there…muted. I could hear myself saying ‘no! that’s not right’, ‘no! I am not that’, ‘no! you cannot call me that’, and more over ‘what makes you think you can call me that?’ but someone turned my volume down. I could not be heard amidst their laughter. I was only supposed to laugh and so forced myself to ha-ha, as it was the only thing allowed in that room, at that moment. After much hysteria stirred up due to my apparent foreign sounding surname…..
Person 1: But your name is really awesome…. Sounds so cool!.......
Me: (smiles awkwardly)...(still muted)
As a response to her ‘coolness’, I would like to have asked, ‘why did you not say this, while I was being called a ‘Banglo-Indian’ and ‘if you did think it sounded so cool, why did you laugh?’. I left the room a few minutes after the incident, choosing not stay on with them. After being baptized, with the newly approved identity of ‘Banglo-Indian’, I came back to ‘my space’ where naming was (….and is) not a precursor or reciprocal of social acceptance. I felt a mixture of emotions – anger, loneliness, disgust and surprise as I got into bed. Before sleeping that night, I resolved to not rub shoulders with them. The words ‘Banglo-Indian’ and their rolls of laughter haunted me in my REM cycle. When I woke up next morning, I decided this incident was not going to be lived again. It was the first time away from home and in a new place, that my peers saw me different from them - as someone who needed customization before being accepted. In short, it was the first time I feel odd. Yet oddly enough, I was determined to not affix myself in that position.
As I look back on the incident, it is evident that my determination gave me the courage to channel my negativity into motivation, and then use that energy to sustain being positive. Being in a new location with a peer group, most of whom belonged to dominant cultural groups was daunting. However, once I gathered courage to overcome that hesitancy, I learnt to navigate the volume system controls to ensure that I too could be heard. I am aware of the time lag between their reaction and my response. I feel the delay is largely due to the fact that I did not know how to unmute myself. Presently, as I introspect the incident, I have the same reaction as then – laughter. However, this time, it is not counterfeit but a conscious informed response evoked by their own laughter. In other words my laughter today, is a response to the naivety of their laughter which could not foresee it's ability to provoke me to make space to exist, survive and thrive. Persons 1 and 2 are aware of this 'self-discovery' and since then have refrained from calling me a 'Banglo-Indian'.
I find it strange that initially my identity as an Anglo-Indian (a minority cultural group), was accepted only after being associated with the dominant cultural group noted through the 'B' in the word 'Banglo-Indian'. It's like answering a MCQ question, with only one right answer - Kolkata : Bengali :: _____________? : Anglo-Indian . It seemed as though I was not allowed to be Anglo-Indian and belong to Kolkata simultaneously. But, I am of and from both and I exist despite the boundaries. As a Geographer, I cannot discount or overlook this experiences as one of the many forms of microaggressions countered in everyday spaces. As knowing as I am of it, I am humbly requesting if it can be, as knowing of me, if not more ?
P.S.: My ‘HaHa’ in the title is a satirical gesture to Persons 1 and 2 who unknowingly through their own laughter, provoked me to make space for sharing experiences of growing up with a cross-cultural identity. It is through their limited understanding of me that I harness limitless potential to make space for stories of many more identities born out of jokes, teasing and banter.
You could let me know of your thoughts and similar experiences at email@example.com.