All my life there have been an insane amount of expectations put on how I am supposed to act and what I am supposed to believe just because I was born in India and was raised by Indian parents. But the fact is, is that I was raised in America, so obviously my experience with my culture is different than most Indians. Being a first-generation American has been a part of my identity that I have had trouble coming to terms with. For most of my life (and even in present-day), I had never felt like I belonged among other Americans simply because I wasn’t white, but I also found it difficult to identify with other Indians because I still cannot speak the language and I only know the very limited things my parents have told me about my culture.
The area I grew up in was not very diverse. I could probably name all of the Indian families in my hometown on one hand. I like my hometown though, looking back on my childhood there isn’t much I would want to change about it. I made amazing friends and I have a lot of great memories that would be completely different if I had not grown up in the area I lived in. When I was surrounded by people I cared about who also cared for me, I was perfectly happy.
The doubt and insecurities would only sink in when I was around people who I was supposed to identify with. Whenever I went to Indian birthday parties or weddings, there was always some aunty or uncle judging me or making fun of me because we weren’t “Indian” enough in their eyes. When I was younger I could speak Hindi, but when we moved to America there was a higher priority for me to learn English. I learned enough English in time for when school started, but at the same time, I forgot how to speak Hindi. Whenever I would try to speak Hindi or relearn it, people would laugh at my terrible pronunciation. To save me from the embarrassment, I stopped trying. That, however, is the one thing I wish I could change about my childhood. I wish I had not let those peoples’ judgment get to me, and I wish I had made it a point to re-learn my native language.
Unfortunately, the judgment was not limited to certain Indian events. This judgment follows me every time I go back and visit my family in India. It follows me when I walk the streets with a different gait, wearing different clothes, speaking American English rather than formal English. I know that it is impossible to know for certain if they are judging me, but that doesn’t stop the toxic thoughts from seeping in. When I was in middle school and high school I really let that judgment get to me. I constantly thought about how everyone over there saw me and probably thought that even though I looked just like them, I did not act like them, and therefore I was not good enough.
The same could be said for my own hometown though. Growing up as one of the only POC in my school gave me a lot of attention I did not necessarily want. I was a pretty shy kid in school, but it was impossible to disappear when I was about 10 shades darker than the other kids. If Indians thought I looked like them but could never act like them, then surely the white people in my town thought I looked nothing like them, but I acted like them (to some extent). I would like to think that all of these ideas were just in my head and no one actually thought this, though I am sure it has crossed a few people’s minds. Regardless, I created this whole conundrum in my head where I could not resonate with Indians because I did not act like one, but I also could not resonate with white people because I did not look like them. I felt out of place everywhere I went, whether I was in my hometown or in my home country. In my head, I could not find a sense of belonging anywhere.
Now that I am more secure with my identity, I don’t allow such toxic thoughts to manifest in my head (as much, I’ll admit that I still have some bad days). I’m ashamed to say that I was every effected by such ridiculous notions, but I think it was because of those insecurities that I feel so confident now. Once I entered college I was better able to figure out who I wanted to be and what I wanted to identify as. All of these labels have started to mean less and less to me. My fear was that if I let those toxic thoughts develop any further, I would soon become those judgmental people. The most likely explanation for whatever judgment they may have had about me is that they are likely insecure with their own identities, and thus had to make me feel bad about being culturally disconnected with “my people”.
I’m happy to say that I do not associate with those people anymore. I’m polite when I see them, but I will never give them the satisfaction of letting them know they made me feel insecure about my identity. These kinds of toxic people and thoughts have no room in my life anymore, I have filled it with more positive energy and with people who support me and care for my well being.