My Dad was born on the rooftops of Karachi, Pakistan (literally) and my Mum in the U.K countryside.
I have a mixed ethnicity, dark features, green eyes and olive skin. I get mistaken for various nationalities, especially when travelling. People speak to me in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, Moroccan, Arabic. I enjoy the intrigue around my mixed heritage; it makes me unique and creates a conversation starter.
I’m proud of my background, it’s an intrinsic part of who I am.
Having travelled around Europe, Asia, America, Africa and Australia, I’ve received all different types of reactions and questions. Most positive, some negative. What I find most interesting when travelling is that no one automatically thinks I have an Asian heritage or that I derive from a strict Muslim family, just a girl with a good tan, right? But with the surname ‘Chaudhri’ there’s only so far any sense of false identity can take me.
Your surname’s Chaudhri, you’re not coming in.
A Muslim background, surname Chaudhri, father born in Pakistan, trying to enter the USA. In today’s current climate it’s an incredibly sensitive issue, but not one I’d want to deter me from exploring The States. Back in the day, age 14 travelling with my school, I didn’t even think twice about the politics of Muslims entering the USA. This was probably naïve of me, as 5 years post September 11, the USA was still very much on lock down.
But as a disconnected 14 year old, my only concern was how my new ski suit would look on the Utah slopes. As we entered immigration my friends breezed through, but unfortunately my arrival wasn’t such smooth sailing. First off, immigration asked to take electronic scans of all my finger prints. I remember finding this odd as none of my friends were asked to do this, but of course I obliged. Next came the in-depth questions about why I was entering the county, why my Dad moved to England, what he did for work … Why the hell does he care about my Dad I remember thinking? He’s not even here. After the 10 minute interrogation followed by a disappearance with my passport for a further 10 minutes, I was finally given the approval stamp and embarrassingly joined my 45 fellow peers waiting on the other side. It took me a while to understand what the commotion was all about but this marked the beginning of my few not so pleasant travel experiences.
Make way – VIP’s coming through
Four years on, I flew back to the USA, New York with my brother to celebrate my 18th birthday. More aware, but still not letting my surname get between me and Fifth Avenue we entered JFK airport to be greeted by an airport staff member who told us we were ‘VIP’s’. Initially I thought this was some odd birthday surprise, but as we were ushered through the airport and my brother was taken in for questioning and strip searched, I realised the only surprise was the obvious discrimination we encountered. Either way we dusted off the frosty reception and had an incredible week shopping, basket balling, and eating our way around Manhattan. I’ve since been to NYC, LA, Vegas and San Francisco – Ain’t nothing stopping this girl from jet setting to The States!
Wow you’ve got a great tan, how long have you been out here for?
I’ve received this comment countless times, and it’s also a line my Dad gets whenever he spends a few days in the sun. We both have strong British accents and as mentioned don’t look particularly Asian, so it’s completely natural for people to assume we’re just hard-core sun worshippers. My Dad finds this particularly amusing and often goes along with it, ‘2 weeks, been smothering on the oil, you should see my tan lines’. Whereas I tend to say ‘I’ve had a bit of a head start’. To which I generally hear, ‘Oh wow I would have never guessed, how interesting’, ‘you have a beautiful colour’. The ability to catch dem rays is one of the many reasons I love my mixed ethnicity!
There weren’t any Asians on your trip were there?
Nope, just me … I said to my best friend’s boyfriend when I got to their apartment in Sydney, Australia. I’d just finished a group trip in Bali and was filling them in on the past 2 weeks. He was completely taken back by my reply and gave me an awkward laugh, ‘Wait, what, you’re not Asian are you….?’. ‘Asian’ is a term that’s definition tends to vary around the world, in the UK ‘Asian’ most defiantly covers Pakistani people, however in Australia it doesn’t seem to be so commonly associated. My friend’s boyfriend’s casual racism was mildly offensive but I wasn’t going to let his uncultured comment get me down. I made a joke about his intelligence levels and moved on – let’s just say he hasn’t made any Asian comments since.
She doesn’t even go here
Sultan Ahmed Mosque Istanbul, aka The Blue Mosque, one of the most beautiful mosques in the world which I was fortunate enough to visit a few years ago. I’m not a practicing Muslim, but of course dressed respectfully when I visited the towering Islamic architectural monument. On arrival my Dad spoke to the Iman (leader of the mosque) in Urdu, who subsequently ushered my Dad and Brother to the male praying area, and my mum and I to the female praying area.
We stood there awkwardly, not knowing the Muslim prayer rituals – a situation I’ve found myself in many times before, either at family weddings/funerals, or when paying my respects around the world. I often get met with confused eyes, unwelcoming expressions or blank faces which read ‘What’s she doing here?’ or in Mean Girls terms, ‘She doesn’t even go here’.
No, maybe I don’t, but I still like to follow religion in my own way, and if this means being looked at like I don’t belong, then so be it.
Yes, it hasn’t always been particularly pleasant, but I wouldn’t change a thing and would never let these interactions get in the way of pursing my travel wanderlust.
I’m half Pakistani, half British, and nothing’s going to stop me travelling as a mixed heritage 25 year old woman.