Sorry about what is going to be the world’s looongest “About Me” post….seriously! I just thought this would be good background for what I want to do with my blog…hope it reads a little bit faster than it looks!
In sociological terms, my sense of belonging in the world falls into one number: 1.5. This one number means that I am neither a first generation immigrant nor a second generation American. I still remember sitting in my sociology class at Oberlin College, and thinking about this new in-between generation that the previous nights reading had focused on. Whereas all my friends could easily characterized themselves as either a first or second generation immigrant, I tried desperately to do the same. I sat there trying to mold my experiences to fit into what they labeled as these two, but the effort proved futile.
Since that day, I have embraced it. What I see through my eyes is so much different than my friends and my relatives, and that has made me the person I am today. And to understand the person I am today, I should jump back to the day I transitioned from being a first generation Indian to being a 1.5 generation immigrant.
I came to this country as a 6 year old, with her hip-length hair freshly cut to the ears. I still remember that day: I insisted on cutting my hair because all the images I had seen of American girls had blond hair and short bobs. My 6-yr old self had decided that thick and long hair simply would not do if I expected to fit in. I also remember coming home to surprise my grandmother with my bold fashionable statement only to bring her to tears (to this day I’m reminded what a sad loss my hair has been…since 22 years of keeping with the latest hair trends has left my hair neither long or thick, but rather short and limpy :P). Ok, enough with the hair. My days of first grade in the outskirts of Boston were marked with countless misunderstandings and awkward encounters with eager kids wanting to know if I lived in a mud hut…to this day they don’t know the answer since my English was mostly limited to “I’m a little teapot”.
Soon, my English improved so much that I could no longer speak Hindi (the language I had been most fluent in when I had arrived). Fast-forward a few years and I was announcing my love for Taylor Hanson and Justin Timberlake with an American accent that rivaled the best of my friends. The real reality of this cultural switch hit me the most on a travel back home to India during my early teens. Aside from the predictable surprises of seeing family after 4 years, the real surprise was how I saw India. I felt overwhelmed by my senses: the poverty, the heat, the language barrier, the food…strangely enough all things that I had grown up on and seemed comfortable with, but those 4 years managed to wipe my slate relatively clean. Even after a second visit to India another 4 years later, my senses were still on overload.
This time around, even the cultural norms felt repressive to my 15-year-old self. I was used to going out with my girl friends to the movies until 10 pm (which I always thought seemed obscene as my friends never seemed to have a curfew) but that seemed like a very unlikely activity during my 2 month stay in Kerala. Here, returning home after sundown (as a female, and alone) would result in neighbors talking and family crying. I was so tense during my whole trip, that I was literally waiting to come back to the US. I felt completely out of my element and unwilling to even give the country another shot. All I could think was this isn’t anything like my life in America, so it must be wrong.
I have changed. India is never an easy trip for someone who goes in with such a closed mind, like I did. Unlike Europe, for example, the beauty, art, architecture isn’t out in the open for you to enjoy and make a quick one-week getaway. First of all, the amount of time you’re on the flight will probably take out half the week 😛 But if you’re going to make the trip, you should have the patience to find the beauty, because not only is it there, it’s present in such abundance. In a way it’s much like a wrapped Christmas gift that evokes a sense of mystery and anticipation, and countless sleepless nights (ok, maybe not that part :P). But the surprise and excitement of discovering the gift underneath all the wrapping makes the moment special and that much more a part of your cherished memories. I know that might sound weird, but work with me here!
Now as an adult, I have had the opportunity to make frequent visits to India, and I have my own new sense of belonging. As I look back on my life here in the US, I realize that I never fully belonged here as well. Even if I saw myself as pretty much Americanized, my fellow counterparts always treated me slightly different. Not to say that I was the only 1.5 immigrant in my school; the difference was where we were coming from…The other kids had come at a young age to the US from Europe, South America and Russia. But something about India seemed so foreign to everyone, that I knew that I would never be considered to be fully “American”. My name always looked like a mass of consonants to them and lasted one too many syllables. I hated my name so much, that I allowed everyone to call me “A”. But to my defense, it lessened the embarrassment I felt every time there was a new teacher taking roll-call. When they would get to my name (and I knew when they had…I had memorized the names of the students that would be read before mine) there would be a long pause, a look of terror, and a look of utter confusion as if my name was written in hieroglyphics. I would immediately raise my hand and say that it was me, then followed the look of pity; the look that said “I’m so sorry you have a name like this, it must really be terrible”. I really hated my name.
I went through high school and college as one of the few south Asians, but instead of feeling a sense of not belonging in the “American” society, I began to tap into my sense of Indian-ness…it was always there, but it just took me time to realize that I didn’t need to pretend to be someone to fit into this country. I started blasting all my favorite Indian songs, and trashed all the English songs that were on my ipod just because that’s what everyone was listening to. At the end of it, in my collection of 2000+ songs, only about 50 were English….strangely enough. I started wearing all the beautiful Indian tops to class, not caring that it didn’t have a label (which was pretty important, considering that to me at that time, a Indian top from India was not as good as an Indian top from Abercrombie and Fitch…with a made in India tag 😛 ). I whooped out my collection of Indian dvd’s and was so excited to show them to anyone who would watch with me. I was so proud.
While I was feeling like the most Indian person in the world since Amitabh Bachchan, my fellow south asian community was not as willing to take me in. To them, you were either one of two sub-groups: FOB or ABCD. For those unaware of these acronyms, let me break it down for you. FOB=Fresh of the Boat, and ABCD=American born confused Desi. And in my college, most of the South Asians actually did fall into one or the other. And me? Once again in Limbo…
For those who were considered “FOB”s, they thought of me as an ABCD, prefacing most conversations with “Oh you probably don’t know this about India, but….” Or “Oh, wait, we’re talking to an American here, what does she know”. Whereas the ABCD’s expected me to speak with a heavy accent and call hip hop “Hip and Hop”.
Don’t feel sorry for me, this in between stage wasn’t so bad…it allowed me to approachable to both groups, and I could share thoughts with either party.
I have a new found liking for this strange new place…It would be easy for me to dwell on the fact that I don’t belong in either “American” or “Indian” groups; but I like to think of it like this: WARNING: Another kinda weird metaphor being used…
Like a child of divorced (and remarried) parents: You’re lucky to have not one, but two sets of parents that love you and dote you…
Therefore, America and India both love me, basically… 😀 hehe!
And by the way, I LOVE my name!!!!