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Identity, culture and self-acceptance

Valued Contributor
Valued Contributor

Hi all,

The subject of culture and identity has been on my mind a lot lately. It has taken me some time to come to terms with it, and I’m still coming to terms with it. For a long time, and I suspect that this is quite common for people from a CALD background, I used to reject my heritage.

Growing up, it was a regular occurrence for me to hear certain slurs about my culture(s), mostly from classmates at school. I used to wish that I looked less like me, because I knew that my looks reflected my heritage, which was why classmates used to target me.

I would try to hide my lunch, because I knew the rice in my lunchbox would be the subject of ridicule. I refused to speak my native language outside of the family home. If a relative was speaking our first language in public, I would physically move away to try to dissociate with what that language represented...I felt ashamed and deeply embarrassed.

That’s the thing, I think when we are made fun of/discriminated against for something that is completely beyond our control (e.g. our cultural heritage), we internalise that shame and carry it with us. It can take time to untangle that, and it can confuse us about our sense of identity...

It has taken me a long time to start accepting my own eastern cultural heritage, which is that of my parents and extended family. But I also identify with many aspects of western culture too.

Im speaking very generally about east and west here, but of course I’m aware that within eastern and western cultures, there are individual cultures...I’m speaking generally because I don’t necessarily want to give exact details about my cultural heritage for the purpose of anonymity.

Anyway, I suppose what I’m trying to express is I’ve come to realise that I identify with both, and that it’s okay to see myself as both.

I would love to hear about others’ personal experiences in terms of culture(s) and identity 🙂

4 Replies 4

white knight
Community Champion
Community Champion

Hi Pepper, great to hear from you on an interesting topic

I'd like to address in broad terms, the topic of feeling alienated, different, unpopular or odd.

I grew up in Melbourne western suburbs. In the late 1960's I was the only student in my class that was ore than one generation in Australia (5 generations), all of my friends came from Europe, working class families.

So essentially I felt alienated especially when my friends spoke the language of their homeland. But I also suffered very highly over one physical oddity. See, at 7yo I had osteomyelitis in my knee and a new medication had side effects in that my hair went thick and changed colour. This was entering a period when long hair was "cool" so to fit in, I tried straightening it, creaming it and growing it long. In USA I would be "cool" as I'd fit in with the Afro style but not here. The nicknames hurt the most but a close second was 2 teachers also making fun of me in front of my classmates. Had I cut it to a number 1 or 2 I'd be made fun of even worse.

I suffered that humiliation for years until 17yo when joining the defence force where everyone had short hair. Finally I felt like everyone else.

So I'm just pointing out to you that physical differences can affect us to a tragically high level. Kids can be cruel. To this day I'm still sensitive on that topic. In January this year I made effort to fly Melbourne to Perth to visit a school friend I've known for 51 years (he has terminal pancreatic cancer) only for him to mock me about my hair them days. However, I did hit back with a quick comment that I never mocked him for his German heritage etc. It hit home to him. I still felt bad. My teen years, I wish I could erase them.

Anyway, just my small contribution.


Hi TonyWK (and a wave to all),

Thank you so much for sharing 🙂 It must have been a horrible experience for you to have been singled out all those years, by not only your peers but 2 teachers as well. I think it was particularly disappointing that those teachers decided to join in with the mockery...

I think your decision at 17 sounds as though it was a huge turning point for you; you found your place in the defence force. I feel acceptance can be empowering, so I’m happy you found it there.

I’m sorry about your friend’s comments during your visit earlier this year. Being mocked can be very hurtful, and even more so if it’s a particularly sensitive topic. I wish he hadn’t made those remarks...

Thank you kindly again for sharing 🙂

If anyone else has any personal experiences about identity and culture that they would like to share, that would be lovely.

Caring thoughts to all

Blue Voices Member
Blue Voices Member
Dear Pepper,

This is definitely an important and very relevant conversation to have, and I think a lot of people from diverse backgrounds would be able to relate closely with the experiences you have shared here.

I know I have mentioned this to you elsewhere in the past, but just to share it here as well: although my experiences are different especially considering my Anglo Celtic Australian heritage, my partner has experienced very similar situations growing up as you have described here.

When she had her first day at school, 5years old, she decided she would never speak her home language (Spanish) in public again, because she was teased by the other kids at school. This was a huge disadvantage to her in the long run, as she lost her fluent bilinguality.

She would also hide her lunch, same as you did! She told me she would beg her mother to make her sandwiches so she could be like everyone else (although she never took that extra step and asked for Vegemite. Silly girl, she's missing out 😊).

I guess when we're young and trying to find our place in the world around us, trying to fit in and be accepted, rejecting those parts of ourselves that seem " strange" or "other" seems the most straightforward path to acceptance by the majority. Although a different discussion, in this way I can relate very much as well, as I tried to fit in with heteronormative society, hiding my "otherness" as a lesbian, being taught it was a source of deep shame.

I guess maybe as we grow up and grow older, we're able to meld all the different pieces of identity and background that make us who we are. I am very pleased to hear that you are working though this process towards self-acceptance of the wonderful mix that makes you You.

That being said, things that have been said and done in the past can still hurt very much, as Tony described wishing his teenage years could be erased. So much thoughtless damage caused.

Thank you so much for sharing your feelings and thoughts about your ongoing journey with culture, identity and self-rejection/acceptance and I hope that others reading who may be feeling rejected or "on the outer" will feel some comfort knowing that there are others out there who understand, and will feel welcome to join in a discussion here with people who care.


Hi beautiful birdy (and a wave to all),

Thank you so much for contributing here and sharing some your partner’s personal experiences with us 🙂 It means a lot....

My heart breaks for your partner’s loss of language, which is such an important part of culture. It’s not everything of course, but I feel it’s a key element. Perhaps I’m projecting slightly because I realise that “could have been me”, so I feel a certain sense sadness for her.

I don’t know how your partner feels about it, and you/her don’t have to answer, but do you think she wants to maybe start practicing Spanish more and re-learn/re-visit some of it? Just a thought.

Sometimes, sadly children (and even adults) target “otherness” when they see “difference.” It’s sad, but in the case of children, I wonder if some of it could be prevented if cultural acceptance/understanding and mutual respect was taught more both in the home and at school.

I must say that I smiled at your comment about how your lovely partner would try to hide her lunch. I suspect that this is fairly common amongst children from CALD backgrounds. I used to also try to plead for sandwiches in a bid to be “accepted” at school....

I can’t imagine how difficult and painful it must have been for you to have felt like you needed to hide who you were (are), in order to fit in to our heteronormative society. I think it’s really hurtful, sad, and unfair that society tries to tell people, either directly or indirectly, that who they are attracted to (and who they love) is “wrong” or “shameful” or “less than.” This must hurt so many people...

I am very aware that I, as a heterosexual woman, get to take certain privileges for granted. No one is going to debate my “right” to marriage. No one is going to debate my hypothetical “fitness” to parent. Etc, etc. If you ever want to (no pressure or obligation) talk about your personal experiences/struggles that you face as a lesbian, we are listening. We care very much.

On a more personal note, I have for a long time, or as much as someone who isn’t directly part of the LGBTI+ community can anyway, felt a deep sense of compassion for that community. Although I realise it’s not the same, I feel my personal experiences pertaining to “otherness” gives me a certain awareness (even if it’s very limited in many ways) xoxox

If anyone else would like to share their personal experience with culture and identity and what that personally means to you, you are very welcome here 🙂