Youth: Indian + American = Paradox?
Though “Indian” and “American” have been woven together to create a new identity, says PAYAL FADNIS, the two cultures continue to exist—somehow—on different planes.
Every time I go to India, I experience a feeling of isolation and exclusion. Wearing a colorful and flowing salwar, I resemble the many Indians around me. Or so I think. As soon as I open my mouth to speak, all eyes fall disdainfully on me. Their penetrating and accusing stares peel back my flimsy disguise to reveal the truth underneath.
I’ve been discovered. I am not one of them. I am an Indian-American.
We stick out, as naïve and innocent as newborn children, not fully understanding the importance of tradition and religion. I am an outsider sent to infiltrate the carefully crafted structure of Indian society. RB, a young Indian-American, recalls an occasion when she was accused of being a “terrorist” from America, come to destroy the Indian way of life. Others have revealed that their opinions on Indian politics and lifestyles have been cast aside with the claims that Americans simply cannot understand how things are run in India.
In the United States, we are ridiculed and judged for the color of our skin and a culture others do not understand. For every considerate individual, there are plenty of racist and ignorant masses that make being an Indian-American difficult.
Our abilities and passions are governed by unwritten presumptions. With stereotypes dictating other’s impressions of us, we are forced to conform to the mold. We are expected to be doctors and engineers. We are expected to eat only curry. We are expected to fail athletically. We are expected to join the IT profession. Even within our own society of Indian-Americans, we constantly struggle with whether to take the safe route and follow the examples set by others—or take the risk of losing respect by making our own paths.
Despite the many things that make Indian-Americans feel like outcasts, there are just as many reasons to enjoy the mixing of cultures. We have the strong support of our families, amazing food, and the rich heritage of India, along with many opportunities in the U.S. and the freedom to choose our paths. Our roots allow us to cultivate and contribute to the American melting pot, molding and shaping it into a celebration of heritage and backgrounds. We have been able to mesh together two cultures that are very different from one another to construct a culture of our own.
Being an Indian-American is a paradox. There are different levels of cultural mixing in the lives of so many Indian-Americans. Some grow up learning everything about the rich heritage their parents left behind, immersing themselves in the clothing, food, and religion. Others are cut off from their background by parents who wish their children to fit in with Western society. Although Indian-Americans will never truly belong to either world, they have certain advantages from each culture.
I am conflicted, yet comfortable. Attacked, yet safe. While being judged, I am also accepted. I am amazed by the amount of culture that I am exposed to, yet extremely uncomfortable with the scrutiny from both sides. Although at times it is difficult to be an Indian-American, I fully embrace my cultural status. The mixing between Indian and American culture has given me my identity as a person. That identity affects me, whether the effect is positive or negative. I am the bridge that stretches across land and sea to bring together two very different worlds.
Payal Fadnis is a junior at Northview High School, Fulton County, Georgia.
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