[Opinion] I am Mauritian, not Indian

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I had this conjecture with a friend yesterday about me being African but Mauritian after all. He disagreed that I would call myself African first.




Pawena Kaniah

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The thing is that once you go global and that people label you as Indian automatically, and you tire off from explaining where Mauritius is found and how it's in the middle of the Indian ocean, off the eastern coast of another massive island, Madagascar, the simplest thing to say is 'African.'

The number of times we went to Little India and stared blank-faced when we ask for some information in English and get a very indistinguishable reply in Singaporean Tamil. The number of times our bosses ask us if we are going back to India for our holidays. The number of times, some local Hindus in Singapore look at us from top to bottom when we wear shorts and strapless as though we are violating their culture.

Don't get me wrong, I'm utterly proud of my Indian origins. I am documented on Indian history and news, at times even more than my Indian counterparts in college. I'm an ardent fan of Indian Mythology. I doubt that there is an article on the Mahabharata that I have not tried to get hold of to read. I'm a die-hard Bollywood fan. And I love Indian food.

Still, for that matter I am not Indian. My past 6 ancestral generations are all Mauritians for goodness sake. Besides, to quote Mika, "You call 'Americans', 'Americans'. You don't call them 'Red Indians', 'Spaniards' and whatever other nationalities that colonised the land.

But now that I think about it, we do have a 'different' class of Americans as per modern history: Black Americans. But see, again? They are 'Americans', not 'Senegalese' or 'Ethiopian'.

For that matter, I do not mind being called 'Indo-Mauritian'. But that still doesn't make me Indian until I claim my right of double nationality as a descendant of the indentured labourers brought to Mauritius from India.

I watched this interview of Deepika Padukone recently, one she gave after her Xander Cage Returns' promotions with Vin Diesel. She was aghast by how journalists back in the U.S. would think she's Priyanka Chopra, currently and most definitely since the start of recorded media history, the most popular female Indian face in the states. She stated how the fact that all Indian-looking people would be alike was so racist and that the pain was not taken to be educated otherwise.

Now, let's admit this as Mauritians. We are all racists. At times more so towards the Sino-Mauritian community. All over the world, we think that all Chinese people look alike.

But let's be honest, people are classified into races because of how some prominent physical characteristics are shared with other people who are hence regrouped as one. And what's wrong with that? You have a penis, you are male. You have a vagina, you are female. But being male or female doesn't determine whether you are masculine or feminine. The same way, having brown skin, healthy luscious black hair can make me belong to the Aryan race, but I'm not Indian.

Pawena Kaniah