“Up until 11th grade, I was the only brown girl in my school. Not “only Indian girl,” but legitimately the only brown girl. And because of that, the only woman I saw embracing my culture was my mom. And yes, like go mom, moms are amazing, always the unsung hero. But, as a teenager, obviously whatever my mom said was cool was perceived as completely not cool. So, instead, I just mimicked what all my white friends did, since that’s what I believed was cool, or beautiful, or bold, or whatever other positive adjectives 14 year-olds want to be associated with. My Indian and American friends were kept in separate worlds, Indian food was eaten only at home, and Indian clothes were reserved solely for Indian occasions.
Then, in 11th grade, a new student from Maharashtra moved to our school. Now, I’m from a very small, very closed-minded town. This girl had everything going for her to be labeled as a “fob.” She had a thick accent, she wore a kurta and chudidhar to school, did all these things I always thought was a big no no. But, instead of receiving adverse reactions, this girl was adored. She looked amazing, she was brilliant, and so incredibly down to earth.
At this same time, two-piece prom dresses (read as “westernized lehengas”) were becoming a big hit. Between the empowerment from this new girl, as well as this idea that my culture was finally beautiful because non-brown people approved of it, I basically did a 180. By December of my junior year, I was wearing kurtas and jeans to school, and taking roti sabji for lunch. I not only embraced my culture, but I felt very proud and comfortable with it.
In college, I have found people that have allowed me to further embrace my culture, as well as appreciate it themselves. That said, I do still struggle to engage with my culture in a way that I believe is meaningful. Although it’s fun to pregame to Bollywood music and hit the Madras lunch buffet, being Indian-American is this experience that has no concrete definition, and because of that, has so much potential. I am so excited to have taken part in the Daughters of Color project, and I can’t wait to see what other experiences await.”