Who Am I?: Being Indian-American in India

Authored by:
Shyamala G.

Shyamala G.

Now that I am less than a week away from leaving Hyderabad and traveling back to the US, I want to tackle a very important topic surrounding my journey of self-discovery in India. My experience as an Indian-American studying abroad in India has been very unique in more ways than one. We live in a global society that thrives on a system that puts immense pressure on the concept of identity. Are you a woman or a man? Are you white or a person of color? Are you gay or straight? Are you American or Indian? We have separated ourselves into these binaries and we live and die by them. A feeling of if you are not with us then you are against us. But this kind of closed off thinking and gatekeeping within communities is exactly what pulls us apart and holds us back from overcoming our differences and progressing as a society.

When the British colonized India, these Western invaders were unable to comprehend India's ability to embrace the gray area and its rejection of the binary way of thinking. India embraced its diversity and fluidity of gender, sexuality, religion, language, culture, and so much more. There is no pan-Indian identity that is all-encompassing. If you go one state over, their defintion of what it means to be Indian will be completely different from the other. This is one of my favorite things about this country: its understanding of what it means to truly progress. Progress is only possible if diversity is present because it allows us to destory these binaries and create space for ideas that are different from our own and be creative with our culture and issues that we face as a collective. It turns us versus them into we

I am immensely proud to be Indian. My culture, ancestory, and history is from this beautiful nation. I understand that the aversion some Indians feel towards Western society comes as a reaction to existing in a society that reveres the west as "developed," as a result of colonization. I don't take it personally when someone someone says I'm not Indian because even though I look Indian, they hear me speak and then laugh as I stumble through my broken Telugu- a skill of mine that is basically nonexistent. I don't take it personally because I understand the difference in perception. I understand that they would have no idea that my mother made a conscious decision not to teach her children Telugu, not because she didn't want us to learn it, but because she was fearful we wouldn't have perfect English. She didn't want her children to be othered more than they already would be. She'd be raising her children in an American society which says it is accepting of different people and cultures, but ultimately is not always. She knew she would be raising her kids in a country that loved yoga and henna, but also stereotyped South Asians as terrorists at the airport. This person would have no idea that growing up in America, I had dreamed of visiting India my entire life but simply was financially unable to. They just wouldn't know.

That being said, it has been a challenge for me to block out the things people say to me and not take it personally. I had to learn to become comfortable in my own ability to feel secure in who I am and these identities that have been forced onto me. I didn't choose to be an Indian born in America. But to be completely honest, I feel blessed for it. I don't have to listen to people who tell me that I am a foreigner in America or those who tell me I am a foreigner in India as well. I don't have to believe that I am half Indian and half American: a concept constructed to make me feel as though I truly belong no where. I am 100% Indian. I am 100% American. I don't owe anyone an explanation or prove myself. I belong in both places and can find a home in both countries. I don't have to speak perfect Telugu or know every little ritual in Hinduism to be Telugu or Hindu. There are no rules or guidelines to these things, and anyone who says there are, has only fallen victim to the system that wants you to think so. I came to India asking myself, "Who am I? Where do I belong?" and I have found my answer. I am whoever I choose to be.

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