Perspective: My Two Lives: JEWISH INDIAN AND AMERICAN
Born in rural India, the author became an orphan when her biological mother died just two days after giving birth. A loving white Jewish family adopted her, though that didn’t end the struggle. In fact, it was the start of an extraordinarily challenging—but also fulfilling—journey in America, providing a deeper understanding of her complicated, divided self.
Growing up, I fit in my family but nowhere else. Not in school, not even at my temple, not anywhere. It’s hard to be a Jewish Indian woman in America. Try to imagine for a second that you are Indian and Jewish and living anywhere in the United States. That’s not to say that my adoption by a white Jewish family wasn’t meant to be. “Lined-up stars” has been a theme in my life and I do believe it was destiny to have gotten the exact parents I have. They both found out about me on the same day from two different people. They already had two biological children together and wanted to adopt their last child. And later in life, the stars lined up again for me to find my husband, a coworker of one of my brothers. I am unconditionally loved and accepted by all of them. I do believe that it was destiny for me to end up a part of this specific family, and that all things happen for a reason.
That doesn’t make being a minority in America any easier. It remains a constant struggle for me. I have faced too much racism and discrimination in my life, and yet I still choose to rise above the hate and remember that the people who spew vile words and actions my way are dealing with their own issues, not mine. I believe in karma and treat people the way I wish to be treated. I don’t have a racist bone in my body, and wish people would see me for who I am and not for my religion and the color of my skin.
The first time I returned to India in 2013, I had the wonderful experience of being in a majority for the first time in my life. Wow! What an eye-opener! What a glorious experience! Swimming in a sea of faces that looked like mine. I wasn’t alone and it felt miraculous—and still feels this way when spending time with my close Indian girlfriends. If you have never been a minority, try putting yourself in one’s shoes once. You might learn a lot, and will almost certainly cultivate new depths of compassion for people. Fitting in is something every human being wants; feeling loved, not judged, is what most people strive for. To fully love someone, you have to love them unconditionally, and not be judgmental. Can you count on your hand how many people you can truly be yourself with?
I come from two different worlds and countries that I love with all my being. I love America, and I love India. I consider them both my homes. I was adopted from India, the land of my ancestral ties. America is where I grew up, and it is my country too. People who have two homes, or connections to another country, can relate to their heart being split in different locations, the land from where you come and the one where you grew up. India and America are both my identities. It is possible to love two countries and call both of them home. Still, I hadn’t returned to India until 2013, when I was in my late thirties. I wish I had studied my cultural roots while I was growing up. Anyone who is adopted from another nation should go back and study where they come from, if they can. It truly helped me to find a missing piece to a puzzle that I had been trying to solve my whole life.
I also have a family that supports me in searching out my roots. I am lucky that way. I have friends who are adopted and they are so concerned about their parents’ feelings, and about hurting them, that they will not return to their birthright country or search their roots. Yet it is so important to do that. We are all born in a certain country, and that we had no control over. And this country holds clues, if not the keys, to our heart. By now it’s no secret that I was one of the lucky adoptees. I got a great family. I am close with my parents. I treasure them both.
The adoption identity struggle I know in my bones has nothing to do with them—it always was a struggle to find people who looked like me. Struggling to fit in is common for adopted children.
Along the way, too many people have offered unsolicited comments about “how I was saved by my family” and that “I should be grateful for every opportunity that my family has given me.” Believe me, I am grateful for that. Yet I have also often wondered why I should feel like I owe my life to them when in reality I had no say in being adopted. I love my family and believe I was meant to have them, but did they really save me? When people ask what I am doing to “return the favor,” I often wonder if this same expectation is also placed on biological children?
(Left) The author with a couple of children at the Family Village Farm, an orphanage that was founded in southern India fifty years ago.
My own parents would agree that the best way I can “return the favor” is to shower love on the children in the orphanage where I came from, to love and support these children as I was loved and supported by my parents. Often I do just this by fundraising and offering my other gifts, like photography. I don’t help out of guilt; I do it because I love these people and I want to support them in any way that I can. They fill my heart and soul, and I will help them till the day that I die. They are my Indian family. Trust me when I say, they have taught me more than I will ever teach them. They have filled a huge hole in my heart that no one else can fill. And unless you have been adopted, you may not realize how that feels. So please have a sense of compassion and understanding when you are speaking with someone who has been adopted.
V. Lakshmi, a pseudonym used by Rachel Beck, is an award-winning photographer who ran a photography business in the Midwest for over eight years. This article was excerpted with the permission of Citrine Publishing from Lakshmi’s debut memoir, titled Finding Your Way: When Life Changes Your Plans.
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