Updated: Jul 25
South Asian Heritage Month (SAHM) has only been recognised in the UK since 2020 and it runs from 18 July to 17 August – the month incorporates many significant dates, including the partition of Indian and Pakistan which took place on 14th and 15th August 1947. SAHM seeks to commemorate, mark and celebrate South Asian cultures, histories, and communities and understand the diverse heritage that continues to link the UK with South Asia. This year’s theme is ‘Stories to tell’ and I’d like to share a story from my childhood that still holds value to me today.
Growing up, my parents ensured that I knew about my Indian heritage and everything that came with it – the cultural customs, the religious events, the rich food, the traditional clothes, the language (Gujarati) and of course, watching Bollywood movies!
Even with all this cultural exposure from a young age, I remember getting confused with my identity. Being one of a handful of South Asian children in my year, I felt like I had to hide my Indian side to fit in, to the point where I became fussy with eating traditional food and refusing to speak Gujarati at home. I often felt like I was living a double-life and balancing both parts was a challenge.
My parents enrolled me and my siblings in Gujarati school when I was 8 year old so whilst all my school friends were excited for the weekend on Fridays, I knew I had to go home, have a quick dinner (finish last’s week homework!) and go to Gujarati school for two hours before I could even think about my weekend.
Eventually, I achieved a GCSE in the subject (a solid B that was 100x tougher to achieve than my A’s in Spanish and English!) and I’m proud to say that I can still read, write and speak Gujarati. I look back at those times and I’m so glad my parents made this decision as it allowed me to have conversations with my Nana and Nani (maternal grandparents) and learn more about them and their lives when we used to visit them in India.
As I reflect on SAHM, I have never been prouder of my heritage – all of it. Being able to cook and enjoy delicious traditional food, wear glamorous sarees when attending big fat Indian weddings, understand the symbolic meanings behind cultural customs and more importantly, acknowledge Indian history especially during and after British rule and how it shaped my family’s lives.
Growing up in the UK at a time when South Asian representation didn’t really exist on any mainstream mediums – TV, books, films - impacted the way I perceived myself and my future. Recognising South Asian Heritage Month is a great way to celebrate our rich culture and history. Although SAHM wasn’t acknowledged during my childhood, I’m so pleased that children now, can grow up and see their culture celebrated and more importantly, be proud of who they are.
Jenika is a British-born Indian who works at a global financial consultancy firm, where she is the Marketing Lead for the Middle East and India. She is an active member of her workplace Internal Race and Equality Affinity Network and is passionate about sharing diverse stories and experiences from different perspectives.