Too desi to be American, too American to be desi. That in short, is the story of my life.
I’m at the airport, but never really sure what to say when someone asks me where I’m from. Do I say my birth country, where I was brought up? Or the country which I proudly say I belong to and where I’ve lived for the past 8 years?
I’m American by birth, but prefer to be known as an Indian.
It annoys me, when people question me on why I would have this opinion. People in India are digging for the chance to be able to get out of this country, visa lines outside the embassy being proof enough of the fact. And then there’s my family, who willingly came back, without any work obligations or familial pressure. Just so that my brother & I could be more connected to our roots & experience both sides of the world. For that decision, I’m eternally grateful to my parents.
Yes, I hated it when I first came here. I’d been homeschooled for 3 years prior, and then suddenly, in the middle of the year being thrown into a class of kids who already had made their own groups and didn’t want the “new kid with the accent we don’t understand” to join them, was all disheartening. Even outside school, nearly everything was a culture shock.
The way people dressed, spoke, ate, interacted. They’d been doing that all their lives, but I had to learn all over again.
Then came the language differences. Yup we all spoke English. But like my mom keeps reminding me, I speak American, not English. In school, I was put into a remedial Hindi class. It was slightly embarrassing at first, but by the end of the year I was proud that I had learnt 5 years worth of Hindi in a year and was even better than some of my peers at it. As time passed, I started socialising. Found friends coming from the same background as mine and we bonded over everyday struggles, spelling simple words like colour and arguing over pronunciations.
Slowly, I started to fall in love.
Fall in love with my heritage, my culture, the festivals and everything that went along with them. It’s funny how you start to appreciate it all when you’ve been away from it. My friends, barely had any idea of the significance or history of the festivals they would celebrate. Seemed ironic that I was the one explaining it to them.
As the years passed by, I’ve lost count of the number of times people with shocked expressions would ask me possibly why I would want to come India, wouldn’t I be much happier in the US, didn’t I miss it all. Yes, obviously I did. But I missed the time I had spent there, the memories with friends and family. I missed the little things like Sunday morning breakfast picnics at the park, and cycling around the outlet malls, more than the country as a whole. I’ve had debates with people who never having lived there were arguing in favour of it. It annoyed me when people believed what was portrayed about the country in popular culture and media. It was imagined to all be such a rosy picture. No one really knew about the struggles of everyday life, the racism that actually existed, such vast cultural differences. You’d have to clean your own bathrooms, walking to a supermarket wouldn’t be possible, you’d have to take out your car for everything and shoveling snow out of your driveway didn’t nearly look as fun as it did in the movies. But once you got used to the lifestyle, used to working for yourself, it was a humbling experience and made you appreciate what you had at home in India.
Saying that I’m confused about my origins would be an understatement. Yes, I’m proud to be Indian, but I’m ashamed of those Indians who embarrass our country and portray an incorrect and stereotypical image of all Indians. My country is so much more than people who get excited at escalators, can’t pronounce ‘Americanised’ words and constantly need spicy food.
Having grown up in that country, I have retained a bit of my “Americanness”. I’ll still smile at & greet strangers, I roll my r’s, speak too fast and really can’t speak quietly on the phone. I still wish I was there sometimes, especially when I see pictures of my friends at Prom, movies with (yes, unrealistic) college scenes, and huge American portions of unhealthy but delicious food. But visiting the US every other year is fine by me and I know I’ll ultimately land up there to study. I can still order my clothes online, because unfortunately India has yet to catch up on correct sizing charts. And for the better part I’m loving my life in India. The life I’ve had here, I know would be impossible in any other part of the world. Looking at it economically, in a developing country, you tend to save so much more & so get to live more luxuriously and go on more vacations. I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy that sort of lifestyle?
I’m proud and happy to say I’ve spent nearly half of my life in both countries, which have helped mould me into a more culturally aware individual, with a broader and more open perspective of the going-ons of the world. And I know that I will forever have to explain my happiness with my lifestyle to other oblivious beings. But I’m always all too glad to give explanations.