Opinion: Where Am I From? The Cultural Identity Crisis of the 21st Century

For those of you who don’t know me, I am a 33-year-old lawyer practising in Auckland, New Zealand. Most of my days are spent answering people’s questions so you can
10 May 2017 16:53
Opinion: Where Am I From? The Cultural Identity Crisis of the 21st Century

For those of you who don’t know me, I am a 33-year-old lawyer practising in Auckland, New Zealand.

Most of my days are spent answering people’s questions so you can imagine I get pretty good at it and don’t require time to think before answering.

Except for the one question that always makes me think, “Where are you from, Farah?” to which the correct answer I am yet to figure out.

Being less than a year old when my parents migrated from the beautiful Fiji Islands, New Zealand has become my home.

But it doesn’t stop there; my ancestors were of Indian descent leaving me struggling to articulate my identity to others.

What prompts me to share my experiences with you is a meeting I had with a client last week who I had met for the first time.

After the usual pleasantries he proceeded to ask me where I was from.

It is not an uncommon question. In fact, it is probably my most frequently asked question, second only to “can you help me?”

Nonetheless, I hesitate, as always, before explaining to him that I am a Fijian-born, Kiwi-Indian.

His response was a laugh as he proceeded to tell me that I was far too fair skinned to be from Fiji. I smiled and quickly changed the topic not knowing if I had just been complimented or criticised.

The icing on the cake was that this entire conversation was with a Pakistani national and in Urdu (similar to Hindi).

I understand he was probably confused about my cultural identity and most likely just curious but somehow in those few seconds I felt judged.

I felt as though I was supposed to deliver the correct answer but was there a correct answer at all?

Every time I have been asked where I am from, it has left me feeling unsure about myself.

I know who I am and what I am capable of so why do others constantly want to define me?

Can anyone really be defined by where they are from or what they believe in?

Is it fair that once I reveal my identity other people will be quick to judge my abilities based on common stereotypes?

So what exactly is cultural identity?

Cultural identity is the identity or feeling of belonging to a group. It is part of a person’s self-conception and self-perception and is related to nationality, ethnicity, religion, social class, generation, locality or any kind of social group that has its own distinct culture.

Cultural identity is important because it acts as a way to preserve history and provides individuals a place where they feel they belong.

Cultural identity is established when a group of people continually follow the same set of social norms and behaviour as those of earlier generations.

Culture is made up of the values, beliefs, underlying assumptions, attitudes, and behaviours shared by a group of people.

Culture is the behaviour that results when a group arrives at a set of – generally unspoken and unwritten – rules for working together

Culture plays an important role in shaping identities.

Identity is influenced by many factors, with some more obvious than others. The cultural influence a person is surrounded by plays a large role in the development of their identity.

Culture is the combination of values, beliefs, and practices of a particular group

The crisis

There are so many young people growing up today who are struggling to identify with the cultural groups that their parents belong to, they do not quite fit in to any culture.

Many times, young people find that they are part of multiple cultures because of migration, inter-racial marriages and religion.

Often our youths are judged for not adhering to the cultural values held by their particular community and it can leave them feeling confused and lost.

Why is this such a crisis you ask? Well often, not having a strong sense of a cultural identity leads to our young people finding a sense of belonging in things such as drugs, alcohol and even criminal activities.

They can find an identity with groups of people who are involved in activities that are far from desirable as these groups are usually more accepting of others.

The solution

Encouraging a cultural identity in our next generation is of great importance if we wish to see our future generations prosper.

When crossing physical boundaries becomes as easy as a few hours plane ride. We have more inter mingling of races, cultures and religious beliefs and in my opinion, this is beautiful.

It has given us all opportunities to grow and learn from one another and to embrace the best of all the different cultural beliefs to truly create our own unique and individual identity.

My personal belief is that for any community to thrive people must be equipped with information and inspiration which in turn will encourage them to create their own unique identity.

Who am I?

I am Farah. I am a Fijian. I am an Indian.  I am a Kiwi. I am a beautiful fusion of a combination of cultures and beliefs and I do not need to choose one culture over another. Instead I have chosen to see the good in different cultures, religions, beliefs’ and ideas and from this knowledge I have created my own identity. So the next time someone asks you where you are from do not be offended by the question, do not feel there is a wrong or a right answer and do not feel you need to justify your cultural identity to anyone.

You are unique and although you may not fit into a box created by our social norms you have the ability to make your own identity.

Edited by Rusiate Mataika

Feedback:  jyotip@fijisun.com.fj

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