The Early Years and Firsthand Experiences
My parents came from India to the U.S. in the 1960s. As a first generation Indian American, I had a lot of challenges trying to “fit in” with American culture while continuing to hold onto my heritage.
First and foremost, I was raised vegetarian. You can only imagine as a kid going to elementary school in Ohio in the 70s how that concept was foreign to many. Nonetheless, I was proud to be vegetarian and learned to take pride in my Indian culture as well. That is where the light turned on for me. You can have the best of both worlds: You can adapt to the culture you live in and still honor the heritage that you come from.
I grew up in Middletown, Ohio, which was a small steel factory town. Growing up in a high school that was predominantly white and Black students, I was the only Indian (until senior year when another Indian joined our class). I learned to appreciate hip hop and rap music because that is what I was surrounded by. Of course, since it was the 80s, we also grew up listening to a lot of Madonna, Prince, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Duran Duran, Hall and Oats, Culture Club, and so many more. Who was your favorite artist as a kid? What cultures were you influenced by, and what shaped you growing up?
Yet, it wasn’t always smooth sailing. It was often challenging when I wanted to assimilate with American culture and my parents were trying to hold onto our Indian roots. Have you ever seen the movie, “My Big Fat Greek Wedding”? I could relate to many aspects of that movie, especially when the main character wanted to eat with the cool popular blonde girls and wished she had a Wonderbread sandwich at lunch, but instead found herself sitting alone, with her curly hair and thick glasses, eating her traditional Greek meals. My parents didn’t allow me to shave or wax despite me feeling so self-conscious of my body hair. I also was not allowed to date boys, or even go to the prom. According to my parents, those things were unnecessary because they would find me a suitable partner for marriage when the time was right.
Yet, despite these cultural challenges that I had to navigate growing up, I had a fantastic childhood. I am grateful to have had the best of both cultures, and I appreciate my parents for taking a leap of faith in moving from India to the U.S. in search of greater opportunity for our family.
Be true to yourself. Remember your heritage. Embrace the culture you live in.