If you’re Indo-Fijian, chances are you may relate to this experience of navigating an identity crisis in our community.
Growing up, I always felt out of place in the South Asian community as an Indian Fijian individual and often had to force myself to like certain things, act a certain way, and talk a certain way in order to fit in with the rest of the brown kids around me.
There are very few Indo Fijians in Surrey, and the search for belonging continues to grow amongst younger generations.
But for me, navigating identity got even harder when I chose not to engage in certain Indo-Fijian traditions and instead preferred to do other things outside of my community’s beliefs. This led to me being labelled as “not Fijian enough.”’
While in elementary school there was no issue of making connections and friendships with people who were like me, high school was a different story. The struggle to fit in increased dramatically as I would search for people who were also Indo-Fijian for a sense of comfort and connection because we were from the same culture and community.
The identity crisis many of us face is traced back to the long intergenerational trauma faced by our ancestors once the British created an alternative system of slavery, after it was banned in 1833 through the indenture system in 1834. This newly created system was erased from the public and history, but for 37 years, nearly 60,500 labourers from various regions of India were shipped to Fiji in promise of a better life; or that Fiji was either a part of or near India.
Instead, they were deceived with lies and torture, when they realized upon arriving to the island that they were forced to work on plantations under a 5 year contract, also called Gurmit (“agreement”). Many realized that their freedoms were long gone in search of a better life and education —nobody could escape the intense abuse and violence of British colonialism.
After their contract was over, they were forced to stay for another 5 years in order to return back to India. Not too long after, many decided to begin their life in Fiji and began to do farm work, work in factories and raise families. The indenture system was just the beginning of being outcasted, caste-shamed by families in India to not bring shame back to their village, exclusion from politics and human rights, and tension between themselves and the Indigenous peoples of Fiji.
In the 1970s, the lingering tension between Indigenous peoples and Indo-Fijians worsened when an Indigenous politician tried to pass a motion through Parliament to send back all Indo-Fijians back to India. This motion was inspired by Uganda’s president at the time, who successfully sent all Indians migrants back to their homeland after they were brought in as workers to build the Uganda Railway, but was later accused by the president of ‘milking Uganda’s money’.
This motion of displacement led to many years of struggles on the island for equality, and rights.
In modern day, Indo-Fijians are amongst the largest category of landless people in Fiji— creating a sense of political marginalization with no resources for help.
There has always been a struggle in our identity when it came to identifying ourselves as Fijian, Indian, or both.
Some recognize themselves as a part of the South Asian diaspora because they feel it is right to connect with their Indian ancestral roots, while others want to be recognized as Pacific Islanders due to Fiji being their birth land. Some want to identify as both, while others don’t identify as either of the two. In New Zealand, the identity crisis among many Indo-Fijians continues to limit them to having access to education, jobs, and resources due to being marginalized, disadvantaged and vulnerable.
In a post by @feministvibezonly on Instagram, the founder went on to break down the South Asian diaspora and the struggles of finding identity from one’s community—especially for those who were born in a different country than the rest of their family and ancestors.
With both our Indo-Fijian families having immigrated to Canada, things like filling out Census forms—specifically which ethnic background we came from—were and continue to be a struggle with what kind of “brown” we are.
The struggle to be seen as Indian or Fijian is one strongly rooted in colonization of Indo-Fijians, and the institution of colonialism has left us feeling disconnected from our own culture and heritage.
For myself and many others in the community, navigating society has been beyond a struggle when we feel we aren’t South Asian enough for the South Asian community and not Fijian enough for the Fijian community—often having to make ourselves feel smaller than the rest of the South Asian diaspora.
Language also influences identity, and Fiji Hindi continues to be seen as “broken” Hindi, which many don’t understand was also impacted by British colonialism.
Like @feministvibezonly, I also don’t know what I should identify as—what proper language I should be speaking, what caste I’m from (not that this should matter), what part of India my ancestors were from, and if I truly fit in with being brown.
I often feel judged for not adhering to cultural values, not liking certain foods, wearing certain clothing, or speaking a certain way. Not having a cultural identity or feeling out of touch with your culture is confusing and creates unintentional anxiety.
All I know is that I love both my Indian and Fijian roots, be it the music, the food, the language, or the people.
While the identity crisis continues to be an issue, and many are fighting in different countries to have changes made in the political atmosphere, we should not jump to conclusions and label someone as an outsider for not having a “brown” skin tone, for not being able to speak their “proper” language, and for not always confirming to their cultural values and norms.
There is no right or wrong way to feel when you’re navigating an identity crisis, with many others in the same boat struggling as well. There is no right way to be “brown”, especially when it comes to conversation about caste and religion.
We all have the right to form our own identity, and deserve to take, make and create space for others who are struggling with an identity crisis too.
Navigating identity is a difficult journey, but it should only be up to you for what you decide to identify as, or not.
Here are some accounts you should follow if you’re interested about learning more about Girmitiyas and Indo-Fijian culture:
About the author
Shivani DevikaMore by Shivani Devika
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