Confessions of an unrepentant multi-ethnic Lankan

LAVANYA, Bremen: Multi-Ethnic and Happy.

There’s this awesome feeling I get when people I meet for the first time instantly guess that I am from Sri Lanka. Happens rarely – but when it does, it feels epic.

I’m not entirely sure as to why that is the case though. What is it that makes me happy in not being mistaken for an Indian or any other South Asian?

Evidently, it’s a feeling that ultimately comes down to identity and pride. I was born and raised in a small town in Southern Germany to a Sinhala mother and a Tamil father – so the question of identity hasn’t always been as crystal clear as it is to me now at the age of 21.
Apart from your individual personality, a part of your identity is your cultural heritage. Growing up, my parents have always made sure of giving my brother and I a thorough understanding of both Tamil Hindu and Sinhala Buddhist customs and traditions. We have celebrated Deepavali and Vesak, we have been taken to Kovils and Buddhist temples, and the food we ate ranged from thosai and idli to hoppers and kiribath.

Language-wise, our lingua franca at home has always been English since, initially, my mother didn’t speak my father’s mother tongue and vice versa. I actually wouldn’t have wished it to be any different because, eventually, I managed to learn both Sinhala and Tamil (to varying degrees :P) in addition to English and German, so I count myself quite fortunate in the language department.

Sometimes people ask me if I feel more Sinhalese or Tamil, which is a legitimate and simple question I guess, but to me it’s also a rather complex one.

I know quite a few other mixed Lankan kids and I know that all of them would respond quite differently to that question. However, I really wonder if there are any mixed Lankans out there who feel like their feeling of “Sinhala- and Tamilness” is in a perfect equilibrium. The fact that I speak much better Sinhala and my firm conviction of Buddhism somehow make it impossible for me to say that I feel equally Sinhalese and Tamil – but then again I see absolutely nothing wrong with that. Cultural belonging is something that is constructed and conditioned by one’s immediate environment.

The bottom line still isn’t whether you identify with or sense a cultural belonging to the Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Burgher or *insert random ethnicity* culture, but the affection, respect and feeling of brotherliness that you harbour for your fellow countrymen and your mother country.

Honestly, if I had the choice, I would want to be reborn with the exact same ethnic roots in my next life. They have given me so much to learn from, so many insights, so many experiences and advantages, and just so much to be proud of.

So it doesn’t matter if you call me Sinhala or Tamil. Call me mixed or interracial. Call me a hybrid or a remix. In the end I have 100% Sri Lankan blood flowing through my veins. Blood that makes me roll my eyes at you in frustration when you call me Indian or anything else 😉

 

Jaya wewa Sri Lanka ♥

 

Comments

  1. Quite an interesting account of the racial mix of an individual and the national and/or cultural identity of the same. It’s an immensely complex and beautiful picture that you paint, one that makes the reader experience a happiness that can only be chalked up to a sense of belonging, knowing that they have a place in this world and that they should celebrate it, revel in it and accept it’s beauty and complexity as one’s own.

  2. You say that, “Growing up, my parents have always made sure of giving my brother and I a thorough understanding of both Tamil Hindu and Sinhala Buddhist customs and traditions.” Didn’t they teach you also about Muslim and Christian customs?
    Could you define what it means to be a Sri Lankan?
    You might have affection, respect and feeling of brotherliness towards the Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim and Burgher communities living in Sri Lanka…but do you believe that the majority Sinhala Buddhists living in SL and abroad have the same brotherly feelings towards the Tamils, Muslims, Christians and Burghers?

    • Did my parents not teach me about Muslim and Christian customs? No. Why would they? I was surrounded by Christians and Muslims all my life. And what’s there for them to teach me that I wouldn’t have learned in 13 years of religion/ ethics lessons in school?

      I’m sorry but it’s quite silly to assume that there is a definition to being a Sri Lankan. It’s up to you, you and only you to know whether you’re a Sri Lankan or not; I cannot help anyone overcome that sort of an identity crisis. But I can tell you that sometimes people ask me how in the world I can say that I am Sri Lankan when I was born and raised in Germany… all I ask them in return is whether they consider a cow that was born in a hog pen to be a cow or a pig 😉 I think the question of what it means to be a Sri Lankan is quite self-explanatory. The real question is whether you WANT to be a Sri Lankan or whether you’re proud to be one.

      Do I believe that the majority of Sinhala Buddhists in SL and abroad have the same brotherly feelings towards the Tamils, Muslims, Christians and Burghers that I do? YES. Yes, I do. Very much so. I think they extend those feelings to anyone that calls Sri Lanka his or her mother country and means well for mother Lanka 🙂

  3. interesting point, this question about the majority’s feelings towards the minorities. IMHO the only reason the minority issue’s come this far is because the minority of people who lack these “brotherly feelings” have convinced the rest that to be tolerant is to be anti-Sinhalese or anti-Buddhist.

  4. Lovely article! Thanks for sharing it with everyone. I have met a few people of mixed Tamil-Sinhala heritage and they certainly seem to be some of the more well balanced and rounded individuals! 🙂

  5. Hallo Lavi,

    Wie gehts? I think we have met 🙂 . Found this webpage by accident. Anyway, that’s interesting, you have an identity crisis or something close to that. Well I knew that. Nice pic, btw.

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