by Tara Ashraf
What’s an in-between? An in-between struggles to define herself because others always want to do it for her. It’s someone whose parents tell him he acts nothing like the people back home. Or it’s a person who can’t identify their gender, adding even more confusion to their question of where they fit.
My experience became an in-between without me. I'm from the US, and my parents are from Pakistan. Ever since I can remember, I’ve always been asked where I’m from, what my background is, why if I’m soooo American I don’t look like it, what my culture is, or where I was born.
Here are a few other things that only happen to in-betweens:
1. Wearing all-black backpacks can sometimes be a questionable choice if you're an in-between, making people jump to conclusions, leaving you to open a can of worms internally. Sometimes, I get funny looks on the metro if I have to go through the said backpack. At those times I wish I could just wear a sign saying, “Don’t worry - it’s just lip gloss!”
2. People stare on airplanes. Sometimes, you'll have a guard agent who suffers through trying to say your last name correctly, whatever that means, and they’ll whisper they're "ok with people like you in their country," and you’ll have to try not to look horrified and embarrassed. Other times, they'll immediately pull you off for secondary screening (even legendary Bollywood stars like Shahrukh Khan are not immune).
3. It's okay if you don't look like the people around you. In fact, this can teach you how to command a room or story. Recently, I've been binging on iiSuperwomanii by Lilly Singh. She makes videos which definitely have her experience as an Indian American woven in, but she also does something clever. She doesn't let the Indian heritage, or the Canadian upbringing be the focus of all videos, and instead, shows us how an in-between experience really is relateable (which most in-betweens know, but it’s good for others to learn).
4. Calling people out doesn't mean a person is combative. My skin color marks me as looking like my parents! So, I don't mind if you notice it, or the fact that my eyes look different than yours, or that my parents have an accent when they speak. In fact, I’d prefer you acknowledge those things. Because when you don't, that’s where things become much more complicated and harmful. By not acknowledging, you're really saying that you don't see me, and you don't see a problem with what's happening to people who look like me.
5. It's fun to teach others something about your first culture. It's even more fun to teach about your fifth. As an American with parents from Pakistan, I grew up watching Bollywood movies (which is more fifth than first since it's not even from either of those countries). When we started seeing each other, I shared my favorite Bollywood movies with my hubby (not South Asian – in fact, he’s a mix of Swedish, American, Irish, German, and Canadian). For our wedding, he and his siblings surprised us all with a bhangra performance. See their moves for yourself.
Being an in-between wasn't always easy. I hated how in school, teachers wouldn’t even attempt to pronounce my first or last name correctly. Or how, when I travel without my husband, things are more difficult at the airport. And now, with a President who calls countries abominable names and makes our allies into enemies, race relations are becoming more and more tense every day and affect every in-between I know. But by sharing my experiences and you sharing yours, I hope we'll make the in-between experience an amazing one.