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Who I Am Has Nothing To Do With Where My Parents Were Born

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born and raised

My cultural identity isn't defined by where my parents were born.

My father was born in Pakistan, his siblings and parents were born in Goa, India, and all of his great-grandparents were born in Portugal. What does that make him?

My mother was born in the Philippines, and my sister and I were born in Toronto. What does that make us?

Asian? Yes. Mixed? Obviously. Canadian? Absolutely. Does it matter? Not in the least.

family selfie
Our first family selfie during our first family flight, we were exhausted, but we had to capture the moment in 2008.

Growing up mixed in a multicultural country means I'm often asked what my background is and whether or not I identify more with one culture over the other. I don't mind being asked these questions because, if positions were reversed, I'd probably ask them too.

But what people don't realize when they ask me which culture I really belong to is the internal struggle I have with that question.

Why do I have to choose?

I don't believe the places where my parents were born define me. And I don't think they define them either.

They're just labels, words we use to help us form connections, but also words that separate us.

When you speak with children of immigrants you'll notice many have similar stories about growing up and feeling embarrassed about things that seem too ethnic; or the fact that they weren't allowed to go to sleepovers; or how they felt their parents were overly hard on them, maybe even distant.

Each ethnicity may think they are the only ones who experienced these struggles but in reality, whether you're Persian, Polish or Polynesian you've probably felt the same way.

I believe identity is formed through experiences.

Growing up, two of my best friends were Irish and Guyanese -- two cultures which seem so different from each other. Throw in a mixed kid and now you've got a group of misfits. While it would have been easy for the two of them to hang out with kids of the same background, I didn't have that option. And I'm glad I didn't because the reality is that even though the places our parents came from were different our childhoods were very similar.

We all had to do our homework before watching TV, we all watched the same TV shows, took the same lessons after school, and we all ditched the embarrassing lunches our parents packed for us once (or twice) a week to walk over to the pizza shop across the street.

The details in all of our stories may be different, but the themes are the same, because at the end of the day, aren't we are all the same?

We all start with blank slates, it's our experiences that set connect us and shape who we are, not the location where we were born, or in the case of children of immigrants, where our parents were born.

I believe identity is formed through experiences.

Though my father was born in Pakistan he was raised in a mostly English-speaking Indian home. A home he left at a young age to move to Dubai, where he met my mother. Together, they moved to Canada. The time they spent in their home countries now amount to less than a quarter of their lives. If they don't identify as fully Indian nor Filipino, why would I?

joy parents
My parents on their wedding day in Dubai in 1978.

While I might not know much about India first hand, I grew up surrounded by Indian relatives who have included me in their traditions and taught me a thing or two about making traditional dishes like chapati and sorpotel. These experiences may not make me Indian, but they have definitely contributed to my appreciation of Indian culture.

On the flip side, I've been to the Philippines six or seven times. During most of those trips I drank Sarsi (Filipino Coke) in a plastic bag with a straw and had miryenda (a snack) at Jollibee in the mall like the locals. My mom's entire family still lives in there and she calls them every week speaking tag-lish (a cross between Tagalog and English) for the full 30-40 minutes until her phone card runs out.

family photo
At my grandparents 50th wedding anniversary and vow renewal with my mom.

Between those two experiences, it is clear that I have a better understanding of Filipino culture, but that doesn't make me a Filipina. If it did, I could easily argue that I'm more Spanish than anything else.

I have a fascination with all things Spanish. I took and actually finished Spanish lessons (something I failed to do for both Tagalog and Konkani), I've read books about Spanish history, I watch Spanish TV shows, listen to Spanish music, enjoy Spanish food and yes, of course, have travelled to Spain multiple times.

But I wasn't born in Spain, I didn't grow up there and my parents and grandparents have never stepped foot in the country, so I'm not allowed to say I identify with Spanish culture.

And it's true, I am not in the least bit Spanish, nor am I Indian, Pakistani, Portuguese, Filipino. I am Canadian but more than that I'm just a person who appreciates all these cultures and many more. And I think that's what Canadian culture is, it's the opportunity to learn about, appreciate and love the cultures around you, and the ability to incorporate what you love about all those other cultures into yourself.

Born And Raised is an ongoing series by The Huffington Post Canada that shares the experiences of second-generation Canadians. Part reflection, part storytelling, this series on the children of immigrants explores what it means to be born and raised in Canada. We want to hear your stories -- join the conversation on Twitter at #BornandRaised or send us an email at

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