Words || Harpreet Kaur Dhillon
[CW: experience of family violence.]
Growing up, I never felt I was enough.
Used my imagination to dream of paradise, an escape mechanism as I struggled a lot with who and where I was.
Floating between three distinctively and culturally different worlds.
The ‘me’ that I was at home: a child of immigrants who sacrificed almost everything for the welfare of my brothers and I. Consequently, I grew up faster, carrying their hopes and dreams of success for generations to come in addition to always reaching for the words: I’m proud of you… I love you…
Words of which in many traditional families/parents they themselves didn’t receive. They are hard to come by.
Nevertheless, I continued to strive to meet their expectations whilst also adapting to fit into the world outside of me, where culture and academics played a less of a critical role. The me at home was one who respected traditional patriarchal values, strict restrictions on clothing to not bring shame upon the family.
Violence: a necessary tool to strengthen and prepare me for the outside world.
The ‘me’ that I was outside of home met with racism and adaptation. Driven to fit into many different moulds and expectations in order to be ‘accepted’. The area I grew up in, there were only few in my school who came from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Many people in general not knowing what Punjabi or Sikh is- needing to always explain my culture and who I was.
It is bonkers to that during early times of self-discovery- primary school days, my parents changed my name to Harriet so that there would be less chance that I would be differentiated from the other kids and bullied. Nevertheless (thankfully) I was outwardly a brown girl whose mum used baby oil on hair and put in a braid. (true Indian thing)
Regardless, because of my cultural difference, difficulty adopting English and contradictory name Harriet- I was still bullied. Monkey… Cockroach… Horrible Harriet… and called fat numerous times by my Punjabi language teacher… I had low self-esteem, no confidence in my myself and a lack of awareness to mental health. Low self esteem followed me in early high school- developing anorexia, anxiety and depression.
And then I found the me I got to be when I was free to be true to my inner self.
With compassion for other people’s wellbeing, values such as ਸੇਵਾ – seva – selfless service, passion and interest in many extracurricular activities – grew the confident me that I carry with me still today after as well leaving home independently two years ago.
A part of my identity was grown through experiences and journeys of volunteering work; local, national and international advocacy involvement; and leadership positions with NGOS, campaigns and government with the main action orientated goals for gender and racial justice particularly the eradication of gender-based violence and discrimination. From struggling with my mental health, belonging, acceptance, family, drug and alcohol abuse, secondary homelessness, domestic and family violence, my sexual orientation, religion and culture- (knowing to be the whitest Indian people have ever met).
Through time, the struggles became strength, and rather than being ashamed of who I was, saw an opportunity to help build a better world and protect those like me hence balancing all the volunteering and advocacy work, studying law at university at the same time studying youth work at TAFE.
Writing this piece, truthfully, I felt numb mainly as I’ve always been in the mode of surviving, hustling and breathing – so intertwined in the three that I often forget, numb or downplay the journey it took to get me where I am today. Perseverance through trauma- trauma I witness, trauma I experience, trauma that runs through my blood. In my shoes- contentment is something I struggle with- from my past never feeling enough to now feeling never doing enough.
With the journey it took me to get to where I am today – so much of which my story and experiences to my identity not yet included as I still working out – uncovering lost memories and continually at a process of self-discovery where in my past has always been to please, adapt and be accepted by other people. I’m today still learning to please, accept and adapt to myself and my limits/abilities.
I am a girl who for so long never knew or felt what emotional love was. For so long the only love I was given was material love.
Since living alone, I found myself to be a way better and healthier place. Since finding myself I learnt I never needed to adapt in order to be accepted by others. Instead, everyone truly loved and accepted the person I was when I was fully and authentically myself – of course, with barriers and boundaries in order to protect myself so that the past can never be repeated.
I am a survivor, I am a fighter, I am a woman of colour, I am a Punjabi born Australian, I am queer, I am an activist…
I am truthfully and unapologetically me.