A look at the history of Anglo-Indians, where they are from, and how society plays a role in their future.
Who Are They?
By definition, Anglo-Indians or "Eurasians" are mixed with Indian and some other nationality. Back in Colonial India, during the British rule, vast groups of missionaries and soldiers from Europe, the Americas, and other parts of Asia made their homes in India and interrmarried with the locals, particularly from the 1700's through the mid-half of 20th century. It was not uncommon for the non-Indian males to fall in love with the exotic Indian women, or vice-versa, and thus their children were of mixed descent. In most cases, these children were raised anglican and as Christians, though there were also those who were raised in the Hindu traditions or Muslim ways. As more Indians migrated to other countries (such as Britain), they intermarried with caucasians or other nationalities and produced another sort of Anglo-Indian generation, where other traditions were merged.
In the past several decades, however, there has been another group coined Anglo-Indians, not to be confused with who this article is about. They are people who were born in India to Anglican parents who were not of Indian ancestory. Some were then raised in India, while others were merely born there but schooled in Europe and other countries.
Because of the Anglican communities and Anglo-Indian communities by birth being in the minority in India, the Anglo-Indians there banded together, socializing and intermarrying within their circles, resulting in Anglo-Indians with more than two heritages. The British (and other European groups) depended on their "half-white" counterparts to help teach Anglican customs to the natives; thus Anglo-Indians were favored by the Brits, Persians, Portuguese, French, Chinese, and other nations and held good jobs, yet were despised by many Indians because they did not quite fit in. Accordingly, life for Anglo-Indians who did not choose to emigrate to other nations was challenging at times, because jobs became harder to find for those who were unwilling to give up their Anglican ways.
The Great Migration
During the early part of the 1900's, Anglo-Indians who could prove their ancestory were able to leave India and forge new lives in other lands. But during the 1950's, once India gained its independence, passage out of India began to be a challenge. If families had other relatives who were already abroad, they could leave India without much of a problem. If Anglo-Indians who were born during the British rule could prove where their ancestors were born (i.e. by obtaining birth records) they were also allowed to leave the country at-will. Many chose to go to the US, Canada, Australia, various nations in Europe, other parts of Asia, and Africa. The rest, however, who either were not successful in producing those records, or who didn't have the finances to leave (or didn't have relatives living abroad who could sponsor them), remained stuck in India. What made it worse was the large numbers of Indians who were granted access to other nations for education or work purposes, and continue to do so.
Customs and Celebrations
Many Anglo-Indians are Catholic, Protestant, or a multitude of other Christian faiths. English is usually their mother-tongue, though many also grew up with one of the 27 Indian dialects within the home, or else Portuguese, Chinese, or even French or Spanish. They might have Indian-sounding first names, but Anglican surnames; or else have Christian first-names and Indian last names, or two Indian or two Christian names. In today's society, it can be hard to differentiate between Indians and Anglo-Indians. While most Anglos choose not to wear Indian clothing, in favor of western fashions, there are many who choose to wear traditional Indian clothing in order to "fit in" among Indians. Their tastes in music are the same as people from other countries, with a love of sports - particularly field hockey or soccer/football and cricket - unless they are in the US and choose to enjoy American football or even baseball!
Christian holidays and birthdays are also great fun among the Anglo-Indian communities. They love parties and dances, and enjoy showering their friends and family with good food and gifts. Foods range from traditional Indian cuisine to a combination of Indian foods that are infused with flavors and techniques from their other ancestors. In particular, they are fond of Indo-Chinese food, Madras curries, spicy Goan vindaloos, samosas, and European dainties like rose cookies and cakes, cheese straws, and savory mini-meat pies as what they call "puffs". Most Anglo-Indians are not vegetarian, but they have learned to adapt their cooking to whatever is on-hand, so that they eat everything from meats to lentils and a wide-range of main dishes featuring fruits or vegetables, along with noodles, rice dishes, or flat breads.
Today, Anglo-Indians meet yearly in places like Sydney, Toronto, and California for get-togethers, to relive the olden days and catch-up with many whom they once attended school with in India. It is becoming less and less common for Anglos to marry within their communities anymore, being for the very fact that they are all so spread out around the globe. They instead have married people of other nationalities, producing children whose own children contain other nationalities entirely.
Mixed and Multi-Racial
Since our world continues to change, with each nation having residents of all races, there is a new label that seems to have emerged to tie together the dwindling Anglo-Indians with other mixed ethnicities: multi-racial. This is in a way both good and bad, because people are losing sight of where they came from, and what shaped the lives of their ancestors, yet they are more tolerant of various races and practices than ever before. While multi-racial may have once been used to describe people who were mixed with caucasian and African, it is now being accepted as a term to describe any mix of nationalities combined. It also seems to fit the new sub-culture of Indians having children with people of other races, rather than Anglo-Indians whose history is imbedded in Colonial Indian times.
A way to promote awareness of Anglo-Indians is to simply promote their holiday of Anglo-Indian Day on August 2nd (since 2002) along with the other worldwide accepted events for other cultures, such as Cinco De Mayo, Black History Month, and Chinese New Year. And with the other celebrations, Anglo-Indian Day can be a time of more of an awareness for the people, their contributions to society, and what they have in common with everyone else.
Famous Anglo-Indians Include:
- Ben Kingsley (actor)
- Boris Karloff (actor)
- Merle Oberon (actress)
- Russell Peters (comedian)
- Sir Henry Gidney (Anglo-Indian community leader in India)
- Frank Anthony (Anglo-Indian community leader in India)
There are also many other celebrities who all fall under the category of not being Anglo-Indians by birth, or who have Indian ancestory (but not Anglo-Indian ancestory) stemming from after India's independence, such as writer Rudyard Kipling, and actress Vivian Leigh who were both born to British parents in India; and singer Nora Jones, and actress Gabrielle Anwar who have Indian fathers.
NOTE: In case you are wondering, both sides of my family are Anglo-Indian, my husband is American, and I consider our child more "caucasian" because of the multi-European ancestory that overrides very minimal Indian heritage.