Book 38 Mixed up world heritage: [Perwina]

Where do I belong and what is my heritage?  We all need to know who we are and where we come from, not least because we are asked to identify our ethnic background on forms for all kinds of things.  How important is this and do we change every time we find out something new about our family history?
I was born in London and have lived all my life in England but I am never confident that I truly belong here. Over the years I have been asked if I come from countries in Europe, Asia, Africa and South America.   I remember as a child being asked to do family history research as a junior school project.   I was so disappointed to find I could go no further back than my own parents –why?    It has taken much research by lots of people to get any further.
My father is an Indian & came to this country in the early 1950s. Unlike many he never brought any other members of his family with him and did not connect with fellow immigrants from his home area. He had limited contact with his family in India & refused to answer any of my questions when I was a child. Even now it is hard to get him to talk about his own family background & any information has to be prised out of him. I now understand that he was a Moslem Indian during the partition of India a very difficult position to be in.
On the other hand my mother has done extensive research in to her ancestry.  As a child she knew nothing & was adopted long before there was any right to information for adopted children about their birth parents.  So she did not discover her true heritage until she was in her forties and I was in my teens.  She found out that she was the child of a society debutante and a West Indian musician from Grenada – a famous singer in the 30s who mixed with royalty and travelled the world and had numerous affairs and many children.  Unfortunately she never met him as he died only a year or two before she discovered who he was.  Since then she has uncovered an ever increasing number of relatives.  I have met some of them but it is strange suddenly to be introduced to aunts, uncles and cousins who are related to me through my grandfather but we really have no shared experiences or memories.
My father knew all about his family history but has chosen not to pass it on and my mother knew nothing and has worked continually to uncover more details so these can be passed on.  This mixed up melting pot ancestry gives means I never really fit in and am always a bit different whether I like it or not!


About Katy Duke

Human Books organiser & project manager
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