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The Cultural Grey Zone of My Indian-Americanness

If you were to ask my Mumbai cousins how they would describe me, they would say, “She’s American.” If you ask my cousins in LA, they would say, “She’s Indian.”

I’m Desi AND American.

I am both yet none.

For children of immigrants, we can feel like we don’t belong to any culture because we aren’t entirely of one culture. I grew up in Oklahoma City, a place where India sounds like it is on another planet. In order to fit in, we ate at McDonald’s and followed Sooners football. I watched MTV and flipped through teen magazines. On the weekends though, endless socializing with other Indian families, where the parents spoke Marathi, noshed on sabudana kichdi and traded tips on assimilating in America. This is where my parents learned about the importance of piano lessons and the SATs. On the weekends, my parents recreated their Indian lives with their friend-based family. By Monday, we were back to being another way, wearing Keds and eating peanut butter sandwiches.

Straddling those two cultures puts me and my next generation peers into a cultural grey zone. Not dark enough. Too dark. Not Desi enough. Too American. Too much or not enough of X, depending what group I rolling with.  This is my identity. The in-between-cultures identity.

So which box do I check when I am asked to do so? More importantly, what does the box-checking do and who does it serve?

The current vibe of the world and the #blm movement are teaching me to reexamine what I am doing and why I am thinking what I do. Part of it includes this whole ’not enoughness’ we impose on our own brothers and sisters and those of all races. Enough of the #fairandlovely brainwashing and #logkyakahenge mentality. 

I listen to hip hop in my car and sleep to Bhimsen Joshi bhajans. My kids eat sushi for lunch and varan bhaat for dinner. We celebrate Halloween and Diwali often around the same time. 

We can be whatever we want. It is time to embrace all parts of who we are. 

We don’t belong in boxes, neither do our bindis. Be proud of all parts of you. Now is the time.

Is it time for us Desis to be a part of the change – not just for ourselves but for other races? What parts of our culture need an overhaul.

Share your thoughts below.

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