Words by Inam Hasan, Associate, Construction and Engineering.
I find it really embarrassing to say that I previously felt ashamed of my heritage, and it’s sad to think that there may be other people (not just South Asians) that have felt, or still feel, the same.
I used to feel quite uneasy talking about my culture and upbringing. My father came to the UK over 30 years ago from a small village in the Pakistani administered region of Kashmir. Up until a few years ago (retired due to ill health) he worked part-time serving as an Imam for a mosque in Dewsbury.
Like many South Asian parents, my parents made enormous sacrifices to provide the best life for their children, in a country that was completely alien to them. That might sound cliché, but they really did exhaust all their time and put in a colossal amount of effort to support me and my siblings. My parents are the humblest people I have ever met; they still rarely spend a penny on themselves and wear garments that they have had from decades ago (seriously)! I am infinitely grateful for their sacrifices and will remain forever in their debt. To this day, their focus in life is to provide for others and their happiness is vicarious through their children and grandchildren.
Despite being brought up in a ‘strict’ Muslim household, l was always given the freedom and autonomy to “forge my own path”. My parents instilled principles of respect and virtue, and only ever ‘pushed’ us when it came to education. This is because they believed that a good education was important to living a successful life in the UK. All but one of our “gang of 8” have graduated with a degree from a UK University (don’t worry about the one that didn’t as she lives a life the rest of us envy!)
To some, my upbringing may be considered a tragic one: first generation immigrant in a low-income household with one part-time working parent and 7 other children, all living in a “deprived” small town in West Yorkshire…
But there’s no need to get out a tiny violin! All the hardship was borne by my selfless parents. I am extremely appreciative for everything I had and only look back on my childhood with fond memories. I have faced greater adversity in more recent years, and whilst I’ve tried to deal with issues myself, my family have always been there for me.
I am immensely proud of myself and my family for our accomplishments. So why then have I been so reticent to speak about anything linked to my heritage?
Well, it’s a complicated question but I think I can list a few reasons. Firstly, an obvious one: I’ve been too bothered about other people’s perceptions. This is something that has probably affected all of us at some point. Unfortunately, there have been times where I’ve personally felt unfairly prejudiced, and I subsequently became reluctant to discuss anything pertaining to my background.
Another reason is simply because of how difficult it can be to talk about something to people that you know will not be able to relate. On a side note, I am really pleased to see the increase in diversity, particularly in the legal profession. This will naturally reduce the stigma attached to learning about different cultures and beliefs. I now realise that differences should be celebrated but I previously had a sense of wanting to find ways to “fit in”, to make sure I didn’t stand out!
Also, my own lifestyle has not always been in complete alignment with the values of my culture and/or the faith I was brought up with. Has this created somewhat of an identity crisis? Possibly. Have I suffered with imposter syndrome as a result? Yes, and probably still do!
There are plenty of things I still need to figure out and work through, but I at least feel relieved that my culture and heritage is something I am now proud of and can celebrate.
In recognition of South Asian Heritage Month I want to highlight the gratitude I have for my parents and also mention how proud I am to be a British Pakistani.
South Asian Heritage Month runs every year from 18 July to 17 August, and provides an opportunity for South Asian history to be explored and voices to be heard.