This week, ComRes’ survey for the Asian Network revealed that British Asians are more socially conservative or tradition than the rest of the UK. In the same survey, it was found that 54% of British Asians from a pool of 2,026 ‘toned down’ their Asian identity to ‘fit in’. When asked about changing their behaviour to fit in, about 12% said they frequently “toned down” their Asian identity – 23% said occasionally and 18% rarely. Some 79% said at least some of their cultural traditions were dying out.
Can you relate?
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— BBC Asian Network (@bbcasiannetwork) August 14, 2018
The fascinating thing about this survey is that while some believe that Asian communities are conservative compared to the ‘white’ community, there is still recognition of these traditions dying out. Of course, this could be put down to the generational gap between what parents what and how young British Asians today are shaping their identities. Going too far into your Asian roots means facing fears of being ‘too fresh’, while the opposite results in comments about being ‘too Western’.
Even still, it is perhaps less about rejecting culture to assimilate than actually highlighting different aspects of your identity with different audiences. Many young British Asians, despite modernity, anglicised names or ‘western’ attitudes, still enjoy partaking in their culture, whether that’s festivals, food, or even family occasions. This duality is perhaps because we are able to pick and choose and formulate our British Asian identity; we can use anecdotes, stories and aesthetics to pick how we want to present ourselves. We can keep the annoying, traditional elements hidden away behind firmly locked doors.
However, diversity itself means amalgamating different cultures and races in one organisation. So why can’t there be this self-same fusion in an individual as a representative from two or more cultures? Growing up in a multicultural environment, we can actually see Asian culture becoming a part of the mainstream.
Rapper MIST brands himself as a ‘Sickmade Karla’ (Black man) in his Twitter bio, paying homage to his Birmingham Punjabi and Pakistani friends. He also uses Punjabi throughout his songs, such as in ‘Karlas Back’ (by Punjabi producer Sevaqk and music producer Steel Banglez). His opening lyrics “‘old tight all my apnas, karlas, gouras all of that yeah?” (punjabi man, black man, white man) demonstrates from the outset the growing multiculturalism of UK communities and the mainstream.
So, why can’t we be both? Do we have to reject an element of ourselves for acceptance? Or is there a better conversation to be had about ‘British Asianness’ bringing two cultures and all their diverse traditions together?
We don’t have to classify and accept the stereotype of ‘typical desi’ or ‘typical coconut’. We can embrace the uncertainty of our identity and the dual nature of what it means to be British Asian without being split or rejecting either one of our cultures. It might actually mean that we can look at the world through two different lenses, using both to inform our understanding of the world. The ultimate question is, do we have to see being Brit Asian as a loss of one identity?
By Riya Rana