Maria shares her journey with loneliness and how it made her distance herself from her culture.
Loneliness is a physical emotion.
This may be strange to visualise but it’s just like anger.
The emotions we feel inside sometimes show on the outside and start governing our lives.
Take being a person of colour (POC) for example, throughout our school lives we feel like we’re indifferent to the rest of our classmates. Perhaps even experiencing bullying at times too.
Being the eldest first-generation immigrant daughter wasn’t an easy job.
Growing up, I always noticed how challenging life was for my immigrant mother. She was so full of vibrance and had an endless library of vocabulary in Urdu in her brain. But despite this, it saddens me to reminisce about the isolation she must've felt when she struggled to communicate with others due to the communication barrier.
In my mind, I think of it as being trapped in a glass soundproof room, where you can see everything and so can the outside world but despite the visuals, there is no audio.
I experienced this myself throughout my whole school life. In one of my old schools, I was the only Asian girl in my class.
There was this one activity I remember very vividly. The class had to search up what Scottish tartans and clans were associated with their last names. I remember asking the teacher as I don't have a Scottish last name what should I do, and she told me to just pair up with another girl in the class.
I felt useless and was in fact embarrassed by having to tag along with someone else, despite none of this being my fault. I do remember from that same year changing myself and hiding my culture to try and fit in with everyone else, because I thought it was the only way to be accepted by my peers. I hid very important things that define me today, like my religion and ethnicity. Two things today that I can’t imagine being deprived of today.
Reflecting back on everything, I realised I was in a spectrum of loneliness where you’re hidden behind layers upon layers. One layer was being isolated from everyone else and their expectations of me. But the thickest and hardest layer to cut through, is being untruthful with yourself and hiding behind this blurred perception of yourself. On a positive note, only this year, I found out my last name actually means 'magnificent' or 'the greatest'. Something I know the younger me would've loved hearing.
I never knew that contents of a lunchbox could be so significant until it made me ashamed to eat my ethnic food in front of others.
I remember hiding my food and sitting at the end of the table so no one could see my ‘different’ food. I can still feel my cheeks flushing out of embarrassment and the knot in my stomach due to the anxious arrival of the question, "why does your food smell like that?"
Funnily enough, those factors caused the younger me to push away my cultural foods and try and dissociate with them. But strangely enough, I still craved those same foods at the same time. I think it was my body’s refusal to depart with the same foods that replenished my body from childhood and were something that connected every single person from my culture.
I began to explore my feeling of loneliness and experiment with food, on my own terms. I found a new passion, and I think whilst trying to climb over the wall of loneliness I used it as a reflection space rather than something that would tear me down. By exploring on my own terms, I realised that culture is our own space of unity, that we explore ourselves.
Breaking down the layers of loneliness
It is not important when we realise our position on the loneliness spectrum but is important to not shy away from the idea of trying to find a way out.
I know many POC connect to their roots through their food and cultural clothing.
I remember on my road to recovery homemade dishes that had been carried down through generations, brought me a strange warmth inside. It felt like I was breaking down one of the layers of loneliness. I remember the time I dressed up in my cultural clothes and stood in front of my mirror, looking back at me was someone who was adorned in the fabric of their homeland and proud.
I know every person has a different strategy in trying to embrace themselves but in my experience, if you find even one thing that connects you to your roots, then I believe you’ll start to find small connections in everything gradually.
As someone who’s going through the process, it sure is satisfying to look back at your journey.
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