Posted: Monday, February 4, 2013 12:38:04 AM
“So, like, you’re like, Indian? Like, what? For serious?” Her voice goes up at the end of each statement, like she’s asking a question. My eyes flit around, looking for an escape. I try not to label people based on stereotype, but this girl is seriously blonde.
“Yeah,” I reply politely. She squeals.
“Oh my god! Like, I can’t believe that? But you’re so pretty? Like seriously? Like, what? And like, you don’t, like, smell bad? And your hair is like, clean? Like, oh my god? Like I can’t believe you?”
“Oh, hey, look I see my friend. I’ll catch you later, Lindsay,” I told her quickly. I would not be catching her later.
“Okay? Bye Amelia?” she calls.
I roll my eyes. This was the third time she messed up my name.
I’m what people describe as an ABCD: American Born Confused Desi. Except I’m not American born. I’m made in India, but many will argue that that’s the only authentic Indian I have in me. In my opinion, I’ve absorbed and adhered to a lot of traditional Indian culture. Getting straight As, performing big religious ceremonies, wearing saris for such occasions, and abstaining from dating until I’m married; I think I’m doing pretty well for an ABCD. To my fellow Indians back in India however, I’m about as Indian as Kim Kardashian is a good role model for America’s children.
My parents moved here in 2000, when I was two. I obviously don’t remember much; just faint splashes of memory here and there. I’ve grown up here all my life, save the summer trips to the place where I was born.
Every time we visit India, my relatives swarm to our house by the hundreds. Not exaggerating. In India, your mother’s sister’s husband’s uncle’s son’s son-in-law, is somehow related to you. Their excited voices wash over me like ocean waves, and I only catch particular snippets.
“America has made you shameless!” remarks one extremely tactful uncle, eying my shorts.
“Oh, your Marathi has really gotten bad,” states my cousin matter-of-factly. I try not to let it affect me, but it’s just another reminder that I don’t belong. People speak to me differently, very slowly, like I won’t understand my own first language. They correct me relentlessly, when I make slight mistakes. I want say, why don’t you try speaking English, and we’ll see how well you do. Obviously, I don’t, because I have no desire to be beat with a rolling pin.
And when I come back here, I’m still different. No matter how hard I work, it’s not good enough, because people expect it of me. They look at my straight As, not as a result of my hard work, but as a result of my ethnicity. “You got a hundred on your math test? Oh, you’re Indian.”
And then there are the stereotypes. I have to aspire to be an engineer, be extremely hairy, and have B.O. I have to live, breath, eat and drink by the college resume, and above all, I have to like curry. When people find out that I want to be a psychologist, that I struggle with math, or that I do, in fact shower daily, they are shocked.
Being an Indo-American is a gray area, or I guess, brown area. I feel almost as though I’m stuck in limbo, a finger on my Indian side, and a toe on my American side. Sometimes, I wish I could just belong in one place.
But then there are those things that I wouldn’t give up for the world, like the crazy weddings and parties. People say Indians are extreme nerds who like to generate mathematical theorems for fun, they’re only jealous they’ve never been to one of our parties!
The smell of hot rice, and spicy, well, curry is one for my favorite things about coming home. I love the way we eat with our fingers, and the loud family dinners where everyone sits on the floor with tiny tables. How there’s no barrier between us as we sit down to eat. I love the way restaurants hate us, because our huge groups are so loud, without a care as to what other guests think.
And then there are the stories. Indians have fantastic stories. Imagine every super hero lumped into one all-powerful figure. Hinduism technically only has one god, but that god has a LOT of forms. And we naturally have a story for every one of those three million reincarnations.
But then, there’s the American side. I love the way I can wear whatever I want, and not be judged. The way I can play sports, and not be held back because I’m a “delicate” girl. The way I can be myself, and not be constantly valued based on my resume.
I can choose whatever major I want to pursue, not just medicine or engineering. When the time comes, I can choose the person I want to spend my life with, without the help of awkward online matrimony websites. Yeah, Indian people still use those. My uncle’s going through that process, and I’d rather die alone and sad, than go through that.
I’m accepted for who I am, and what I want to do. I can have a good time and not be shunned from society for it. In India, the idea of fun isn’t very developed. The people have spent the past hundreds of years working as slaves, first for the Mughals and then for the British. They shun the very idea of a man who has a good time, let alone a woman. I love that I don’t have to worry about that.
So I guess I’ve come to the conclusion that belonging has nothing to do with race, background, or cultural orientation. Sure I’m a little different, but I’d rather be unique. It gives people something to remember.
You know what Lindsay? I’m Indian. I-N-D-I-A-N. I speak in two other Indian dialects, and you’d be so jealous of my wardrobe. I talk really loudly at the dinner table, and eat with my hands. Scandalous, right? While you were listening to sappy stories about true love and the importance of being beautiful, I was listening to fantastic ones about friendship, loyalty and a man who carried a mountain across the seven seas to save his friend.
And dear uncle, it’s hot outside. I will wear my shorts and go about as I please. Oh cousin, sure my Marathi is a little off, but trust me, my English would crush yours any day. And as a shout out to my lovely orthodox relatives, I’m going to enjoy my “American” life to the fullest, because it’s my life.
Half and half, a little of this, a little of that. It can be wearing on occasion, but that’s just me, a brown area between black and white.