This past winter, I got to visit my extended family in Calcutta, West Bengal in India for the first time in three years.
I have always struggled with understanding my identity as an Indian American, and how to process the merging of my two cultures.
This trip was another stark reminder of my struggle to find my place as not an Indian or an American, but as an Indian American, an identity on its own.
When I was younger, I remember hearing kids talking about visiting their grandparents over the weekend, or how their annoying cousins wouldn’t stop pestering them.
I was always jealous that I didn’t know what that felt like.
I barely knew my extended family, and I’d always think about what I would be like as a person if I had them as a part of my life.
How would they have influenced my upbringing? Would I have navigated life differently with them by my side?
As a young brown kid in America, my cultural identity didn’t feel at home with the kids around me, but I also didn’t have family that could help me explore and learn more about my Indian identity.
My visit to India was a chance for me to get closer to my extended family and to further explore a part of myself that I never had the chance to explore.
This past winter, when I visited India, there are some ways in which I found myself settling into this other place I got to call home, but I noticed there were other instances in which I felt like a clueless American.
Obviously one of the best parts about visiting my parents’ homes was getting to spend time with my family and learning more about my parents before they immigrated to America.
Everybody in my family did so much to make us feel at home, and there were so many new things to try.
Every day that I spent time in India, the more I learned about the history of my culture, which felt like I was getting closer to understanding my Indian identity.
While I spoke with my family back home, I learned about the different ways they perceive America.
When talking to my cousin, it wasn’t surprising, yet it was fascinating to find that they see America as a somewhat perfect society where anything is possible.
This was especially interesting given the current state of our country.
For example, there are flaws found within the American history we learn at school, and the different ways that I, as a young citizen, feel the American government lacks in the way it treats its citizens.
I noticed that they idolized America and spoke about it as if it was another more superior country.
In some ways, I began to think if my inability to feel that way about America was just privilege and ignorance at work.
There were times when I would get snide remarks and comments about being an “American.”
When I spoke Bengali it wasn’t good enough, and there was something wrong with little things, like the way I ate.
I also discovered that acting “American” meant that people in India perceived me as being clueless and oblivious at times, perhaps because of the privilege I have in living in a first world country, which is something that I have thought about people back at home.
I just never thought that that could be me.
In moments like these, I feel so out of place, as if I’m Indian enough, but also not American enough.
There was an overwhelming amount of emotion involved in my trip to India, most of moments were amazing because I was able to spend time with family (which is rare); and I got to further establish for myself what it means to be Indian American, and how those two cultures that exist within me can and do allow me to thrive and grow.
I am so thankful that I am able to experience these different cultures and I know that the struggle to fit in is just an aspect of searching for my identity.
I love visiting India and knowing that I have not one, but two places to call home.