My Concept of Self: Growing up in a Multiracial Family


Julia Shiva
Focus on Adoption magazine

Having grown up in a multiracial family, multiculturalism has always been a part of my life— and I couldn’t imagine it any other way. My parents have always encouraged us to develop individual identities and to stand tall and proud of who we are. It is true that every member of my family has a different self-identity; however, that is something that contributes to our family interactions and understandings. My family deeply loves one another and our differences have made us more accepting and liberal people.

My mother is of French and Irish decent and my father is from the south of India. I have two older brothers, my parents birth children. My parents love children and wanted to expand their family through adoption. I was adopted when I was five months old. I am of Guyanese and Indian heritage. Two years following my arrival, my sister was adopted from Korea.

Having a family composition such as this, we inevitably look different from one another. This diversity was cause for both celebration and confusion during my formative years. Though I’ve encountered racism and prejudice throughout my life, it was only as I matured that I began to understand how insidious they are. I was unaware of how they would impact me and contribute to my sense of self.

My family has certainly given me numerous opportunities to connect with my Indian heritage; however, I have resisted each attempt. Recently, I have reflected as to why I contest connecting with a part of my heritage. I am going to share with you some of my insights.

I grew up in Abbotsford with a visible Indian population. In some ways, I think this made it harder for me to identify with my Indian heritage. Initially, I shied away from the Indian population because I was so proud of being from a multicultural family. I wanted people to know that I had a white mother and an Indian father— and a Korean sister to boot! I wanted people to know that my family was not like their family. And, I wanted people to know that there was more to me than my brown skin. As I got older, I was afraid that people would think I had "traditional Indian values" simply because I "looked" Indian. remember being confronted with sentiments such as this and responding, "I’m whiter than you can ever hope to be!" When I began dating, I made the conscious decision to avoid men of Indian heritage, fearing they would expect me to be gentle, complaisant, and mindful "Indian girl." I convinced myself that I had nothing in common with "those" people and, instead, situated myself in the broader white culture.

As a young adult, I was racially blind. That is, I honestly believed that the colour of one’s skin did not impact one’s life opportunities and circumstances. Both my parents came from meagre beginnings and fared well in life. It was a difficult battle at times, but they persevered and succeeded in elevating their social statuses. In all my childish naivete, I believed that those who failed to succeed did so because of lack of effort. In my world, at that time, power and white privilege were unknown concepts.

My earliest memory of my family’s difference came when I was in kindergarten. A friend’s mother had a my composition odd— I was only concerned with my own public appearance. It didn’t matter that my dad was Indian or that my brothers were part Indian— it only mattered that people didn’t think I was. There was nothing wrong with others associating themselves with the Indian culture, but I didn’t want to be seen as Indian. I wanted to be seen as white.

When I was 19, I began the search for my birth family. After an arduous search, my birth father was located. I recall speaking to him on the phone and asking him "what we are." He told me that we are Guyanese. Our family has been in Guyana for the past 7 or 8 generations but, yes, prior to going to Guyana as indentured servants, we came from India. Hearing that my birth family had lived in Guyana for so long justified my dissociation from Indian culture. Even my birth family is not in touch with their Indian heritage. They identify themselves as Guyanese and celebrate that heritage. It is only recently that I have started to acknowledge and celebrate that part of myself. Last year, I hosted a Guyanese dinner for my family to introduce them to food from my culture. My family and friends support me in my search for identity and belonging. I believe they sense and understand this continues to be a difficult journey for me.

Today, I believe people stare at me first and foremost because of my facial piercings. My skin colour is secondary to the shock value of the facial jewellery. Family, friends, and co-workers have asked me when, or if, I will remove the piercings. I have contemplated it, but I harbour some fear. I am afraid that people will go back to only seeing a "brown girl." Culture is an internally contested area in my life. I do not identify with any culture at this point in my life, but am more comfortable identifying with my subculture. Embracing punk philosophies and ideologies has been very cathartic for me; punk has been my place of refuge. It is a place where I can safely examine my belief system and begin to deconstruct my internalized racism. It is a place where I can accept the individual I am and the individual I am still going to become.

Never have I felt ashamed to be part of my family, or of its composition. I am proud to have two thoughtful, handsome, accomplished brothers and a caring, beautiful, resourceful sister. I am proud to have such understanding and patient parents. It has taken me 26 years to comprehend their generosity and love and I wouldn’t trade them in for anything.

*Names have been changed.