Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I'm WHAT??

I didn't know I was 'East Indian' until I was in high school. However, it was obvious to the 'ignorant' kids in my neighborhood who called me ridiculous names like 'Paki', a slang/short form for Pakistani, or told me I 'smelled and should go back to Pakiland where (I) came from'.

How ignorant they were! I wasn't from Pakistan. I was born in Trinidad (but spoke perfect white Canadian). Pakistan and Trinidad are a whole 2 oceans and a continent apart. And I did not smell. Well, to be honest, my parents would say, 'You smell like outside.' after I'd been playing outside all day. We lived in Hamilton, a steel town, around the lake from Toronto, so I chalked it up to residual steel mill smells, not the body odor I knew those ignorant children were getting at. My parents would just tell me to ignore them. They are ignorant.

We weren't East Indian. Those were the people my family watched dancing and singing on TV Saturday mornings. Or the one family in our neighborhood that wore those 'costumes' every day. Not us. We may have mimicked the dancers and singers, but that was about as East Indian as it got for us. We were West Indian. Christopher Columbus and his crew found Trinidad in 1498. Columbus was that confused sailor that sailed West to get East. So, I guess that must be why Trinidad is located in the West Indies and why Trinidadians refer to people in India as East Indian. I've since learned the correct term is South Asian. Who knew? Well, certainly not me. Seems there is much I didn't know.

The kids who called me 'nigger' growing up usually received a beating if they weren't too far away for me to have caught up with them. Well, typically, if I missed them that day, I got them the next or the following week when they had forgotten and were unsuspecting. Naturally, I didn't like to be called a 'nigger'. For the most part, we were called 'colored' back then - the '70's. Colored suited us perfectly. We weren't white. We weren't black. Just kind of middle of the road mocha, really. As kids, we knew we were mixed with Spanish, Chinese, British, African, and Caribbean Indian (like a Native American but in the Caribbean), so colored we were. After my dad read about the origins of our last name, he said we were also German. So I studied it for a few years in high school.

I was in grade 12 when I forgot my purse at home. I called home and was so relieved when my dad answered. He was to leave my purse in the school office. After class, I retrieved my purse and was shocked to find it filled to the brim with tampons! I called my dad at work to find out why madness. I could hear him shrug as he said, "Well, you said you needed your purse. I thought it was that time." In perfect, ungrateful, '80's teenager speak, I hissed, "No, Dad, I'm not on my period!! Oh my gawd. I like, needed my like, lunch money!"

At basketball practice, Sonia, a black girl (during the '80's, we were called 'black'), told me she saw my dad. I asked how she knew it was my dad. I'll never forget her words, "I saw a tall, good looking Indian dude walking into the school office and hoped he was my substitute teacher. But then I saw he was carrying a purse, so I figured he must be your dad."

Huh? My dad looked Indian? What a joke! I told my mom who chuckled. That was it. Just a chuckle. When I told my dad, he got all tense and angry and said he wasn't a 'cooley'. A cooley is what people in Trinidad called East Indians. Maybe by now you are figuring out why I didn't know the correct term was South Asian.

Why was my dad so angry at being referred to as East Indian? Soon, I recalled a funny little story my dad told us a few times. It was about how when he came to Canada in the early '70's, a potential employer asked my dad if he was a 'Paki', because he could not hire my dad if that was the case, and laughed. My dad laughed as well, said he wasn't, and accepted the job offer. It really was a great company, other than the whole racist interview comment and all.

Turns out, my paternal grandfather, whom I've neither seen a photo of, nor met, was VERY East Indian. Essentially, that employer in Toronto caused a portion of my racial heritage to be smudged. And like a smudge, it's still there, but sometimes, you just can't really tell unless you are looking for it.

1 comment:

Shan said...

I've never understood the assumptions that people make based on how a person looks. It's just ridiculous.