Updated: Nov 14
"As people, we are more alike than we are different but our differences are beautiful too"
It's been a crazy week but one thing I know is that focusing on people and being curious broadens the heart and mind. In that spirit, we continue the Being blog series that explores the lives of people who identify as multicultural. All this week the focus will be on South Asian aka Indian culture in honor of the celebration of Diwali which lasts November 12th through the November 17th. This post features my good friend Sheila Sharma, whom I met in a dog park in Brooklyn nearly fourteen years ago. Sheila and her sisters are products of a biracial marriage between her Indian father and Irish Mother and have always seemed to have such an interesting perspective on the world. Curious about how she experienced both cultures, I asked her about her favorite traditions and am so glad she answered. Here is what she had to say:
What is your name & location? Sheila Sharma, Brooklyn, NY
Where are you and your parents from? I was born in NYC and my Mother (that's her in the picture) was born and raised in Waterford, Ireland while my Father was born and raised in Punjab, India. They met and married in Kent, England in 1972 and then emigrated to NYC in 1973 for my dad's medical residency; My sister was born in England and naturalized when my parents became citizens.
What’s your earliest memory of an Indian tradition? Irish tradition? (explain how you celebrated that tradition)
Not sure if it's the earliest but most of our Indian family friends were also doctors , many of whom were also mixed marriages to English or Americans, because in the 1970s the US had a massive doctor shortage and brought in a lot of foreign doctors. One prominent childhood memory was attending a wedding of the brother of a family we were friends with at their home and it was the first time I had been to a full fledged no holds barred Indian event/ceremony. The smells and colors are mainly what lingers in my memory. Also lots of gold- and they had an indoor swimming pool- which had nothing to do with being Indian but was pretty fantastic!
Being Irish is not something I recall NOT being having primarily been raised by my mom but I do vividly remember my grandfather sending us pins with the Irish flag and Shamrocks that we had to wear to school each St Patrick's day when I very young!
What are your favorite South Asian traditions now? Irish tradition?
I'm not a very traditional kind of gal or keeper of traditions and not too many were instilled; introduced maybe but I don't think my parents were big practitioners either. I will say the food brings me close to both ---I have to have Indian food at least once a week (take out, sorry!) and now that I'm a vegetarian even more so. Irish food, as generic as some of it is, is also my comfort food--Irish oatmeal, boiled eggs, potatoes, soda bread, Irish crisps and chips (missing my days of battered sausages and fish and chips).
Do you find you identify more with one parent's culture over the other?
Irish for sure just by nature of having been raised by my mom, having spent so much more time in Ireland and with that side of my family and of course, Irish culture is not that different from American and deeply ingrained in a lot of American identities / assimilation... But I also look more Indian (not that most recognize me as such), more like my paternal side and have always been very interested in Indian culture. I've been a big fan of Indian authors and poets since college.
It seems that each culture has family expectations and specific ways of being with family: How do South Asians feel about holidays and family in general? How do South East Asians feel about holidays and family in general?
To be honest, beyond the expectation of an education (no question we'd all go to graduate school!), nothing else was set or culturally expected of us. My parents were pretty progressive in many respects--noted by being the first in their families to marry outside of their ethnicity/religion...and also the first to divorce!
What do you want the world to know about your heritage and what are you most proud of?
Both sides have a long history of oppression (at the hands of the English mostly!) but those centuries created an amazing artistic (literary, musical) tradition in both cultures that I love and feel very connected to
Thank you for reading this installment that gives a glimpse into the life of another person. At Culture x Co we believe that empathy helps to build strong bonds that counter the negativity of racism. If you would like to be featured or know somebody who would, please email us firstname.lastname@example.org!