Guest Column – Aashna Mihariya
Combining My Cultures: Growing up as a First Generation Indian American
Growing up as a first-generation Indian American can be very tough. From the day that you are born, there are two completely different cultures being hurled at you from every angle. At a very young age, you must understand that most of the children that surround you every day, including your closest friends, do not have the same cultural experiences as you do. As a kid, seeing different people who accentuate different parts of your upbringing at different times can be very confusing and hard to comprehend. Figuring out where you fit in between the two seemingly opposite worlds can feel like an impossible challenge. Growing up with this underlying pressure to find where you fit results in many Indian American kids to feel alienated and alone.
When I was younger, around ages seven to nine years old, I struggled a lot with feeling very out of place, and like I didn’t belong where I was. A lot of these feelings can be credited to the unequal balance of kids of different backgrounds at my public school. Being the only brown kid in a class of twenty children was not, and still isn’t, an uncommon scenario for me. Whenever there was another kid who looked like me, I noticed myself feeling more comfortable and less alone. Over several years, I slowly learned that my classmates and I didn’t have as much in common as they seemed to have with each other. It was the little details, like the shock of realizing that the people I talked to daily didn’t eat Indian food for dinner; in fact, many hadn’t even tried it! It was also the bigger things, like wishing someone “Happy Diwali!” and receiving looks of judgment and confusion from my fellow third graders. That situation, in particular, was eye-opening, for I couldn’t wrap my head around why everyone seemed to know when Christmas was, but nobody knew that Diwali, this holiday that was so incredibly important to my family and our culture, even existed!
I have always adored visiting India for so many reasons. I love seeing and spending time with my extended family, eating the amazing food, and expanding my knowledge of this side of my culture with every visit. However, when I was younger, a big factor of my excitement to go was that I thought that I would finally feel like I truly belonged somewhere. If I didn’t feel that way in the U.S., I was bound to feel that way in India, right? But, I realized pretty early in life that that was not the case. In America, it is easy to feel as if the Indian in me sticks out like a sore thumb: noticeable, and unable to be ignored. But when I’m in India, I feel more American than ever before, for it’s very obvious I don’t understand parts of the culture that are supposed to be common knowledge. Experiencing this excitement only to be disappointed time and time again left me badly struggling with feeling as if I was lost and questioning who I was when I was just eight years old. I hated that I was so obviously different for something that I couldn’t control. Although not me personally, these types of feelings can lead to many Indian American kids to begin to despise their cultural background at a young age.
For a long time, trying to understand my background made me feel like a round peg in a square hole. I didn’t feel completely Indian, but I didn’t feel completely American either, so what was I? Why didn’t I feel like I fit perfectly in place in either country? It took years before I truly comprehended that it was perfectly okay to be both Indian and American, and that although I might not be able to see it, everyone around me was a blend of several different cultures as well.
Although growing up as a first-generation Indian American has its struggles, there are so many reasons why I would not choose a different upbringing for the world. Whether first-generation Americans realize it or not, it is such a blessing to have the opportunity to grow up with such a unique blend of cultural experiences, and being able to perceive life from two different perspectives from the minute you open your eyes for the first time. Once I finally did begin to learn where I belonged and how to blend my two cultures, I was so much happier, as I could enjoy the best of both worlds. I do not doubt that with time and age, I will continue to work on finding the perfect balance between my Indian and American sides, and eventually create a perfect harmony. I love my heritage so much and am forever grateful that my parents were able to bring their Indian culture into the country that I call home. Every single one of our differences, whether in race, religion, or other, are to be celebrated, not avoided.
Aashna is a freshman at Winchester High School and loves to read and write, and hopes to become a renowned writer some day.