What’s your full name?
Amy Philippa Gastman.
How old are you?
Where were you born/brought up?
Born and bred North London!
What do you do for a living?
About a year ago I left my job as a journalist at Waitrose Food magazine to embark on an MA in Anthropology of Food. I’m still finishing that off, currently writing my dissertation on the role of food in navigating mixed race identity, but apparently I like being SUPER busy (aka overworked). So I also have my own vegan meal prep business (@eatbyamy) AND I work on a freelance basis doing restaurant PR.
What’s your ethnicity?
My mum is from the Punjab in North India and my father is a white British Jew - so I guess I’m an amalgamation of the two! But when I get asked the ever persistent “...so where are you actually from?” I think they’re generally just interested in the “my mum’s from India” part.
How did your mum and dad meet?
They met through work. My mum was a fashion designer and my dad used to sell trimmings wholesale.
How old were you when you became conscious that people saw you differently? What impact did that have on you?
I’m forever thankful that I grew up in diverse London because, even though I went to a small, Catholic, girls’ school where 90% of the students were white, I’ve never felt truly different. This is probably partially to do with the fact that I’m sort of white-passing – the only comments I used to get were about my bushy eyebrows (back when the fashion was the thinner the better). Moving to Reading for uni was the first time I really acknowledged myself as “different”. Everyone around me was very white, I can count on one hand the amount of black/ethnic minority people I crossed paths with over the three years. It was a weird time for me because I’d gone from having little to no sense of ethnic identity to becoming overtly aware of my ethnically-based differences. I missed daal and sabzi, not roast dinners.
Describe your most memorable moments when you were made aware of being mixed race.
It’s more like an accumulation of moments where I’ve been unable to wholly empathize with or assimilate into groups of single race people – most notably family gatherings. When I’m around my mum’s side of the family it’s clear to me that I am not one of them, and yet being around my white peers or in a predominantly white workplace there is still something quite obviously missing. Positive memorable moments tend to only occur in conversation with other mixed race people, where similar feelings of displacement are validated/confirmed.
Do you feel your parents prepared you for life as a mixed race person?
Absolutely not. Race has never been a topic of conversation in my household, and to this day my mum won’t openly share her experiences of racism growing up as one of the first brown kids in East London. Her experiences of race are obviously very different to mine and I think because of that she’s not known how to broach the subject or whether it is even an issue worth mentioning to me. And then there’s my dad, who hasn’t prepared me whatsoever because he doesn’t actually think I’m mixed race. The one time I tried having a conversation with him about identity he responded by telling me I’m not mixed race and that because I have been brought up British there shouldn’t be any issues. We don’t have a great relationship so I didn’t waste my breath trying to argue, but it does sadden me knowing I’ll never be able to fully identify with either of my parents.
What ignorant comments have you heard about being mixed-race that really rile you?
“You’re only mixed race if you’re black and white.” Does that make me fraudulent for calling myself mixed race?
What do you wish people who aren’t mixed-race understood?
It doesn’t hurt to be a bit more open to experiences that are different to your own. I think being mixed race has unintentionally made me very accepting because I know what it’s like to feel uncomfortable or out of place. Difference isn’t necessarily something to be feared.
Do you think mixed race people/families are well represented in the media?
You only need to watch a few sofa ads to find the standard black/white, mum/dad combos with the “cute mixed-race kids”. It would be nice to see something completely different like a Chinese mum with an Indian dad or whatever. People move around a lot these day, there is so much more diversity than what’s shown in the media.
Back in the late 19th century/early 20th century being mixed race held a stigma, as it was clear proof of interracial relations which was seen as an affront to society’s morals. Do you think it’s easier nowadays to be mixed race or is it more that racism has become subtler?
TBH I’ve never found it difficult being mixed race but what I can say is that interracial relations are definitely easier these days. My mum’s family completely cut her off when she married my dad. Nowadays the whole family is marrying outside the culture and no one bats an eyelid!
Is being mixed race a burden or a blessing for you?
100% a blessing. I really like that I can travel half way across the world and get confused for a local. Peru, Portugal, Morocco, Israel who knows where I’m from!
Have you felt a struggle with your identity? If so, how did you deal with it and if you are now at peace with who you are, how did you come to a place of self-acceptance?
I’m still trying to figure out who I am in relation to my heritage. I think because I’m never initially perceived as Indian, I overcompensate for that part of me. I want people to know that that’s where I’m from, I’m proud of it and I’m proud of my mum, so when that part of me often goes unseen it feels like it’s being denied. As I’ve gotten older I’ve gone out of my way to be more Indian and embrace what I can of the culture. I can cook all the food, eat like an Indian and occasionally visit the Gurdwara (Sikh temple).
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Have faith; you are wiser and stronger than you think.