By Roshni Patel
We all experience different types of emotions and encounter different types of personalities. In these encounters, we try and figure out how exactly these new relationships align or often don’t align with how we choose to see ourselves as individuals. Along this road of life or whatever you want to call it nowadays, the events we face ultimately shape who exactly we become the next day and the next day and the next…until we are much older and realize many next days have passed with little reflection of yesterday. However, there are moments that mustn’t be overlooked. Upon reflection, these moments of speciously mundane snapshots or memories are far more profound for the self than one may realize. Such a moment, in my life, came unexpectedly in the first grade when my family took the “obligatory” first trip to India. Unknowingly, my experiences there would change my perspective of my identity as not just an American but an American of South Asian descent.
When my father told us we would be going to India to understand our roots, I thought two things: how much work am I going to have to make up for school and who will I be sitting next to on the plane. Thinking back on my thoughts now, I bet all the brown parents would be so proud of my dedication to my studies, but in actuality, I was only calculating how much of the flight I would lose to completing assignments.
Hours later, we arrived in India, and I was dragged to every possible place a tourist could visit and can only recall thinking, “Why are they giving English answers to my Gujarati questions?” Let’s be real, that mildly deep thought only lasted a second until the collected bead of sweat finally burst and dripped down my temple and clouded any thoughts besides those of air conditioning.
The next stop was the first gham, or village, in the tour of the birthplaces of each of my parents and grandparents. Again, you would think another one of my deep thoughts would have overcome me at such sights or what could barely be considered homes amongst all the rubble. It would have been perfect for this narrative, but it is not the truth. Instead, I dismissed their childhood stories, the beads of sweat continued to burst and drip, and the thought cloud grew foggier. We visited gham after gham after gham and none was flashier than the last. I remember thinking this is not the India I saw on Discovery Channel.
Where are all the rainbow dupatta drapings?
Why doesn’t it smell like marigolds?
Why is everyone staring at me?
Don’t I look like them?
I realize now that I, as an American, could not have been more entangled in the westernized view of my own mother nation. I am embarrassed by my prioritization of air conditioning over engaging in the oral history of my existence.
I should mention that I was raised with a strong influence of Indian culture and tradition, but even then, I would never know India like my grandparents or parents.
I became discouraged and almost upset with my inability to empathize. I became confused with my identity as a South Asian American. I felt as though, and sometimes still feel like, I am maybe not “Indian” enough for my country. Ironically, a lot of native Indians I met felt they were too “Indian,” as was evident in their heavily westernized actions.
This cultural dichotomy of being South Asian and being American is confusing I believe to a lot of second generation South Asians. I experienced it in the first grade with the raw and immature thoughts only able to be developed later in my life after living the many next days, but I think some of us might risk losing these realizations. Now, your realizations will not mirror mine exactly, but these childhood thoughts and questions are of the utmost importance in carving one’s identity and character. Believe it or not, kids know the vibes. I know that sounds ridiculous and rather colloquial, but their innocence grants them unfiltered rawness. The power of reflection on this one moment of my childhood gave me more security, pride, and awareness about my identity as a South Asian American, with each of those three words holding the same weight and importance. Practicing the same process of reflection could elucidate an aspect of your identity. In a culture where we have been taught to solely focus on securing the future, I urge anyone reading this to recall a random thought you had as a little brown nugget. There is a chance it could be life changing, but there is also a chance it could be a load of nonsense. Either way, the perhaps rebellious act of reflection comes closer to becoming a cultural norm.
My name is Roshni Patel. I am the daughter of second-generation South Asian Americans and a part of an enormous family all mainly residing in southern California where I was born and raised. Much of my life is dedicated to the pursuit of a degree in law, but in my spare time, I enjoy writing, traveling, hiking, cuisine, and spending time with family, friends, and my dogs. I reckon I am not the most extraordinary person out there; however, my position as a fairly introverted young woman in a loud, bustling, and growing family often leaves me with my own thoughts. And as you will come to know through my narratives, those thoughts seem to never stop.