“But you don’t look Sikh…”
Let me start by saying happy new year! If you’re new here, welcome… and if you’re not, welcome back!
In case you don’t already know, my name is Tanya, and I’m the founder of the henna boutique. Henna brings me joy in so many ways. It’s an outlet for my creativity. It allows me to show gratitude for my mixed cultural backgrounds. Most of all, it moves me when I see smiles emerge on my guest’s faces as I create my designs.
Several times over the last year – in fact, over the last decade – I have been told that I don’t look Asian, Indian or Sikh. Another common comment I receive is, “You look different”. Usually, I overlook words like this; I don’t worry myself with what others think of me. But since this was said thrice in one weekend recently, it led me to think: “Why does it matter?”.
I do know where this behaviour stems from. In my experience of the Indian culture that I’ve grown up in, people like to know where you’re from. By this, I mean your exact location in India, including map coordinates if you can give them! The thought process that usually follows is: “In that case, how were you brought up? What liberties should you have had, or shouldn’t you have had, or didn’t you have as a girl? Do I agree with this, and if not, why not?”.
It is quite complex even to me, but it’s “normal” in this culture. And that’s what I’m trying to address. It’s been so long since I surrounded myself with company who cares about where you’re from, that when that same old statement – “You don’t look Sikh – appeared three times in one weekend, I was taken aback.
If it’s a cultural thing, and a thing I don’t typically care about, then why am I bothered and talking about it now? The answer: because this statement came from people I really didn’t expect it to, and more than once in a short space of time. That’s what threw me.
A little bit more about me: I am Kenyan, living in the UK, and have ancestry that stems from Asia. I think it’s Pakistan, but it could also be India; I’m not entirely sure. Yes, I do have an Asian ethnicity, but this is heavily mixed with my Kenyan roots and my beautiful English life.
I like to think I show this in the way I dress, and in my personality. I love to wear Kenyan fabrics and mix these into Indian outfits – this helps me express my passion for prints and colours. (If anyone close knows me, they know that I don’t wear black!)
But what has this got to do with henna? Well, for starters, this is the foundation of “me”, and I am the foundation of my business. Naturally, you will see my heritage flow through the henna boutique when you engage with us – in my ideas, the way I am and my dress sense.
More importantly, these comments have revved me up to strengthen my campaign, “henna has no borders”, even further. I now plan to take this a notch higher; I don’t see why society needs to put people in boxes anymore. Comments like those I’ve received are so last century.
And times have moved on – not only by people travelling, meaning that more of us have a multitude of cultures and experiences, but also by genders becoming more fluid. I have fallen in love with the strength and courage it takes for people to come out as LGBTQ, even though this is still surrounded by stigma and backlash. People are fighting against gender norms, barriers and boundaries, which I think is fantastic. On a personal level, I have a son, and why should he only be able to play with “boys’ toys”? He totally loves wearing my tops as dresses.
From this stems my conversation on being boxed in. Why should we be placed into categories? Yes, I am Indian by ethnicity, but that doesn’t own me. I am more than my ancestry.
So, I’m making a conscious effort to bring you more henna from the heart, and to reach out and have conversations with people who don’t fit into a box. Because it’s 2020… and so what if I don’t “look Sikh”!
Some of those who have inspired me in this move and post, among a long list, are:
Shiva Raichandani for being their fun bollywood self, fighting for what they love and most excitingly, their Queer Parivaar movie coming to life soon!
Alok V Menon for being the person they want to be unapologetically. Truly my inspiration! Their poem "Bible Belt" hit me really hard and I love it!
Seetal Savla for speaking up on her experiences with IVF. So much love for her and her courage.
Nova Reid for her drive and commitment to call in anti racism. Even the microaggressions...
Mandeep Dhadialla for being there at every turn.
Amreet Notta for being there at every turn (look there's no difference between you two, ok? Don't make me choose!)
Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post.