WOW | Coffee Break
BEST OF ALL WORLDS
In this edition of coffee break, WOW’s Pabita Dahal interviews six mixed race personalities to know what are its advantages and disadvantages, and how has it shaped their individuality.
HOW DO YOU EXPRESS YOURSELF AS A MIXED RACE INDIVIDUAL?
Maya: My mother has made Kathmandu her home for the past 30 years. My father is from Baghbazar’s Muslim community. When it comes to me, I have never been much of a nationalist; I would say I am fully from Kathmandu and fully from Milan as opposed to being half Nepali and half Italian.
Pranisha: My father is Nepali from the Newari community and my mother is Russian. Being raised in Nepal, I have a stronger Nepalese influence than European. My mother is one of the few foreigners who has adjusted very well to our culture.
Vijay: Chettri. I am more active in promoting my ethnicity/nationality rather than race or caste. As a born Nepali living in London, I have always stated that I am “Born in Nepal to Nepali ethnicity, with British and American nationality.” Although I am aware of my caste and its role in society, I do not concern myself with it.
Anish: Caste sounds discriminating, if you want to know my family ancestry, my father is a Buddhist Shakya Newar from Kathmandu. My mother is from Ukraine, it’s a Slavic ex-Soviet Socialist Republic in Eastern Europe, and she is an Orthodox Christian. I express myself as a Nepali who understands and occasionally speaks fluent Russian to everybody’s surprise!
Tenzing: My father is a Sherpa from the Khumbu region and my mother is Belgian. When it comes to ethnicity and bloodline I don’t like to describe myself as half of either but rather fully Sherpa-Nepali as well as fully Belgian. I went to an international school with children from all over the world and grew up in Kathmandu, a melting pot of all sorts of cultures. Thus, I feel like I am unique yet I can belong anywhere.
Rene Vijay: My mother is Nepali from the Newari community and my father is German. I don’t consider myself to be of any particular caste or race. The society has now become more multicultural. I think gaining different cultural perspectives about life is very enriching and develops us, as human beings. Therefore, I feel privileged and blessed growing up with two cultures, understanding two different mentalities. I take the best of both cultures. I am a full Nepali and full German.
HAVE YOU BEEN THROUGH OCCASIONS WHEN YOU HAVE HAD TO PICK A SIDE?
Maya: I was raised in Kathmandu, with periodic visits to Milan. Both my parents value the profundity of our cultures and have never tried diminishing them by making me choose or by imposing a set rule.
Vijay: No. My father is Catholic but does not actively practice his religion and my mother has always done her best to teach me about Nepali culture without being forceful. To her, it was more important that I embrace my Nepali heritage.
Anish: I believe one has to adapt to the situation. Having lived all my life in Nepal, I try to assimilate to the local culture but when abroad or dealing with people from my mother’s side I have no problems to act acceptably to them.
Tenzing: I have never been in a situation where I have been forced to “pick a side” to the detriment of the other. However, I have taken the privilege of conveniently leaning to one side more than the other whenever it suits me, For example when Belgium gets to the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup or when a Sherpa sets another world record on Everest.
Rene Vijay: No, I do not pick sides. I respect and live both cultures. For example, recently my wife and I got married following both German traditions and Nepali rituals.
WHAT IS YOUR EXPERIENCE OF BEING INBETWEEN CULTURES?
Pranisha: In between culture is a fine balance that I have to maintain.
Vijay: I do not feel actively consumed by being in-between cultures. I find it to be a healthy split between the life I live in the UK, which is one of hard work and growing with friends. I enjoy Nepal especially around festival season as I get to be with family, whom I do not get to see often enough.
Anish: There is no in-between! One has to be a global citizen and have the mindset to be tolerant of others. We already have many people from different cultures in Nepal. You just have to understand everyone’s perception and be open to their point of view, while protecting your own values of course! People will have problems when they are conservative and steadfast in their beliefs.
Tenzing: It has always been a positive experience for me. I have been fortunate to be able to participate in all parts of my culture on both sides without ever feeling the pressures of people expecting things from me.
Rene Vijay: I never feel that I am stuck in between cultures. I rather see myself evolving as a human being because of my multicultural background.
HOW DO YOU MAKE THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS?
Maya: Having been taught the beauty of Italian and Nepali ways of thought, I now follow an eclectic set of traditions and rituals, which is the best thing of being a biracial child.
Pranisha: I simply embrace both.
Vijay: I have almost made the most about my dual nationalities and as a result have been lucky to have a global network of friends across Nepal, Europe, and the US. I would say the only difficult part has been to allocate holidays to visit them all, which prevents me from being able to travel elsewhere.
Anish: I learned a lot and it has helped me in opening my perceptions to other possibilities in life. There is always something you can learn from associating yourself with new people especially someone from a different culture. Pick the good, leave out the bad and see how it can make your life better even if it’s in a small way.
Tenzin: That has always been the easy part. I choose the things I like and I indulge. There isn’t much I don’t like but whatever there is I choose to improve them rather than ignore them.
Rene Vijay: I make the best of both worlds because I choose only the best of the both.
HAVE YOU EVER BEEN JUDGED ON YOUR COLOUR OR APPEARANCE?
Maya: I have been told that don’t look particularly Nepali at first sight, so the default way most people relate to me is as though I were a tourist.
Pranisha: I always found myself to look Nepali than foreign but I have been admired for my appearance so that’s a bonus for me. Biracial children are beautiful is what I have been always told by people.
Vijay: No. It does often happen that I introduce myself to someone from South Asia, and when I tell them my name is “Vijay”, you can see their expression change, to which I tell a short summary of my background. That happens about a dozen times a year.
Anish: Foreigners are far much more accepting of my appearance and values than fellow Nepalese. My own people are confused and cannot find a mould into which I could be cast in but again that’s only their lack of openness and limited beliefs.
Tenzing: It is not difficult to see that there is something different about me when people look at me. I am too tall for a typical Nepali and too tanned for a typical Belgian. I guess I could say I got the best of both worlds when it comes to appearances as well. I have always embraced this and quite enjoy the ‘ice-breaker’ when people ask me about it.
Rene Vijay: Till date, I have never come across this.
DID YOU EVER FACE AN IDENTITY CRISIS WHILE GROWING UP?
Maya: Kathmandu has always been my home and my favourite place to be, but I can’t deny that living here can get frustrating at times. Being denied access in certain temples or having to argue for not paying the tourist fees in museums and city squares gets tiring when it becomes part of your daily life, but these are minor things I get over quickly.
Pranisha: It’s sometimes difficult in a judgmental society like ours. The sense of belongingness diminishes when you are treated like an outsider at times. Always having to face comments like khacchad (half-breed) or badar (monkey) can make you feel like an outcast.
Vijay: No, although more recently I think I have come to terms with some of my thresholds which are a positive reflection of my Nepali identity. The main example is Britain’s culture of binge drinking and misbehaving when in big groups, which is something I have always been embarrassed with and have never partaken in.
Anish: Of course there comes a time of an identity crisis in the life of any child. Often the values that I learned at home and even school did not please the Nepali society. I have to keep learning different tricks of the trade to adjust in society. I have no issues with who I am or what is expected of me, of course, learning never stops. I take it as an opportunity to be a better person each day.
Tenzing: There have been times while growing up that I had to work through what exactly my identity is and where I belong. However, I quickly realised that this is not unique to me or to ‘mixed-race’ children – every teenager goes through this. In this day and age, most Nepali children are exposed to Western cultures and influences (as much as I have been). I have many friends who try to balance out the importance of their cultural backgrounds with living in the modern world so it relates to all of us.
Rene Vijay: Not really, I grew up in a surrounding which was already multicultural.
WHAT ARE THE ADVANTAGES OR DISADVANTAGES OF BEING A BIRACIAL CHILD?
Maya: As a writer, the most valuable aspect of my duality is the incredible richness of the Italian and Nepali languages. Although I write in English, I recognise the sound and spirit of my mother tongues behind my words.
Pranisha: The main advantage of being biracial is that you have a broader perspective and exposure. It has taught me that at the end of the day, it’s not about caste, country or religion, it’s about being a good human being. However, the frequent travel to my family in Russia is, of course, a big advantage (laughs). As for the disadvantages, we are outcasted as per people’s convenience.
Vijay: Having an American father has undoubtedly provided me with opportunities for work and travel due to my American passport. Thus, I am always conscious of the difficulties that my friends and family in Nepal have had when applying for visas. This reduces any thoughts I have regarding “White Privilege”. I also remember when I was in my private school in the UK, I used to think I had a really complicated background, however, it was only when I graduated, went to university, and the working world where I realised I would meet many people of different mixed backgrounds.
Tenzing: Biggest advantage is definitely being multilingual. I speak five languages but not because I am good at languages but because I grew up with them. My advice: speak to your children in your own language(s).
There aren’t many disadvantages when you choose to embrace all the positives but if I had to pick out something funny it would be how astonished some Nepalese get when I speak Nepali – “kasto ramro bolda rahecha tapai Nepali” to which I reply “Thank you. Tapai ko pani nikkai ramro rahecha ta!”
DO YOU THINK NEPALIS HAVE A NARROW VIEW OF WHAT IT MEANS TO BE MIXED RACE?
Maya: What actually makes it difficult to imagine a sustainable future here are the discriminatory laws towards Nepali children who hold foreign passports and their non-Nepali parent, for example, we are not allowed to have land in our own name. Then there is the dreaded yearly visit to the immigration office. I find it disdainful that we have to pay for a visa to live in our own country, depending on a Nepali relation to be granted it, and above that have a fat stamp reading “employment prohibited” on it. As long as we are not legally allowed to work or have a home of our own here, I cannot say that I have experienced the government as particularly welcoming for children of Nepali nationals who hold a foreign passport.
Vijay: I can only speak from my own experience on this. I remember when I was between 13-21 years old, people used to always ask me why I was in Nepal, to which I always had to remind them that I was born in Nepal and Nepal is what I consider “home”. I think people would subconsciously treat me like a tourist, and so I felt like a tourist, despite this being far from the truth. But over the years, with a greater number of foreign individuals working in Kathmandu. I think this stigma is reducing. I credit my Mother for being one of the first to marry outside of race/caste. For anyone who knows my Mother, they would not be surprised. From a young age, my mother was capable of her own agency, and thus, able to make her own conscious choices.
Tenzing: I think it would be very unfair to generalise Nepal as a whole. I am sure there are still many people who take a narrow view on marrying outside of your own caste/race and, although I do not agree with it when it is forced, I understand where this comes from. It comes from pride in our own culture, a sense of familiarity and (to certain extents) preservation of our traditions. However, I have seen intercaste/interracial relationships yield beautiful results as well where new traditions are created and people become more accepting of each other. Speaking from a personal point of view, the struggle to be accepted is usually fought out by mixed caste/race couples long before they have (mixed-race) children.