If you know me, the last thing you’ll mistake me for is being a picky eater.

Be it American food, Italian food, Chinese food or anything in between, I’ve probably tried it. Heck, I’ve even eaten fried silk worms in Thailand — trust me, they’re actually pretty good. But for whatever reason, the one food I never liked growing up was sadly, my own. Even though my parents, sister and grandparents in the states always loved Sri Lankan food, I personally never found it appealing.

Some of that I can pinpoint back to my seventh birthday party, on my first of six trips to Sri Lanka. Like any birthday party, it had cake, gifts and lots of people I barely knew showering me with hugs and kisses and pinching my cheeks until I was sore. When it got to dinner though, I expected all the food I liked, because it was my party.

Instead of trays of pizza, mac and cheese, and BBQ, however, I was greeted by chicken curry, parippu (a Sri Lankan version of dhal) and many other vegetables that didn’t seem the least bit appealing to a first grader dropped in a foreign country for the first time.

Naturally, I complained to my dad that I couldn’t eat anything at my own birthday party. That sounds reasonable enough, right? Well, he certainly didn’t think so, telling me to “never ask that again” and that I would enjoy Sri Lankan food for the rest of our trip. It might sound sort of shallow, but when you’re a kid, you don’t always want to do what your parents say. So I made it a point for the rest of my trip to eat as little curry, as little anything Sri Lankan, as possible.

And each time I came back to Sri Lanka, there was always some kind of dread in the back of my mind. Sure, I loved seeing my family who lived there, and I thoroughly enjoyed going to the tea plantations, beaches and temples around the country, but as petty it was, there was at least three moments every day I didn’t feel right.

What I didn’t realize then, and until recently, is appreciating your culture doesn’t mean liking everything about it. In the United States, there are so many things wrong with our society, but at the end of the day, being an American means accepting people for who they are, no matter what you don’t like about them.

That wasn’t a conclusion that was easy for me to reach until after the 2016 election, which created an environment, from my point of view, that made it easy for people to hate what was different with others rather than trying to appreciate those gaps.  

But it gave me a new outlook on my time in Sri Lanka. Though I wasn’t necessarily a fan of the food, I came back this summer with a new mindset. To truly accept my culture didn’t mean I had to love every single part of it, but it does mean I have to try my best to see the positives in every single part of it.

For the first time in ages, I miss Sri Lankan food. While I sit here writing this, enjoying a slice of New York Pizza Depot, something small inside me misses those vegetables.

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