ABCD: American Born Confident Desi
Although I was born and brought up in the United States of America, I was either sent to India or had my grandparents brought to America quite frequently. Those trips began at the tender four months of age, and continued every summer; so I was effectively spending half my life steeped in Indian culture. I can speak my mother tongue of Telugu fluently, read and write it too–albeit at a snail’s pace, and if given the choice between pizza and a traditional south indian meal, would choose the latter which I lovingly call APKP (Annam Pappu Kura Perugu).
One of my privileges as an Indian American is having the opportunity to shape my own identity. Many believe that people who are born in America to Indian immigrants have one of three routes: be Indian, be American, or if you want to be a Priyanka Chopra about it, be a citizen of the world. But what I have understood in this complex and confusing journey is that I–and all other 2.4 million Indian Americans–don’t have to choose. We can be Indian even though our hindi is broken, and we can be American even though we wear mehendi. The very core of our being is not shaped by superficial and materialistic things, but rather how we think on a day to day basis.
Speaking to my fellow Indian Americans now. We bring a unique perspective to both of our home countries: the spirit of breaking unnecessary societal norms in India and tying true to our moral values in America. We embody the best of the communities that we come from, and like good madras-style coffee, we spread the rich aroma of our ideas when in hot water. But to cultivate and hone these ideas of our Indian American perspective, we ultimately need to accept both parts of our identity. Both countries we come from are undoubtedly flawed, but truly appreciating a country is being brave enough to point those flaws out, and having the intellect to solve them.
The helicopter moms, the cricket-obsessed brown dads, the weekly trips to our religious institutions that force us to wear our uncomfortable ethnic clothing, and the big fat Indian weddings are stereotypes of our community that we spurn and embrace. Our parents live in fear that we will lose parts of our culture and tradition, so they shove us into various cultural activities in hopes of locking in some cultural respect within us. Although we complain when we go to our classes, many of us end up finding passion in them. As for me personally, I am equally as passionate about policy debate as I am about kuchipudi dance. Looking down upon the country in which our parents were born, blocks a fundamental part of our own character; and in that same vein, getting carried away by American exceptionalism is a sure recipe for disaster (as we can see quite evident by the circumstances around us).
As we stay in the safety of our homes this summer, let’s use this time to ruminate and celebrate our identities. With just a month in between, we celebrate the two countries that combine to make our home. Our journey is surely a complex one, but let this be the year where we go from confused desis to American Born Confident Desis.