Whenever a relative from India can’t understand my broken Gujarati and says to just speak English, the thought comes up. Whenever I go to mandir to pray and don’t know what to say or think, the thought comes up. Whenever an international student from the Motherland makes an offhand comment about how I’m not really Indian, the thought comes up.
I think that I’m not Indian. I think that I’m a first generation college student who can never know his culture as well as his parents. I can’t ever be a real Hindu. I can’t maintain the traditions my family tried to preserve and instill in me. I’m not Indian.
Reconciling an Indian cultural background with an American upbringing is a moment-to-moment struggle. When I introduce myself to someone, I stutter. Should I say my name the way I’ve said it my whole life? Or should I say it the way my family and any Indian person says it? Either way feels wrong. I don’t even try to speak Hindi, and when I try to make small talk in Gujarati with family, they just end up switching to English anyway to accomodate my bumbling demeanor. Even though my identity on most documents is Indian American, the second identifier feels more prevalent than the first.
Despite the vast cultural divide I feel among relatives, there is a response to this notion of Indian-ness. Not only is there no explicit rulebook dictating what it means to be Indian, but it’s not necessary either to try and group yourself into these one size fits all monoliths. Being Indian should not come at the expense of my own sense of self. I can care about Indian culture without beating myself up over not abiding by arbitrary nonexistent guidelines. What’s more useful to focus on is my own personal identity. I don’t have to say I’m Indian or American or any particular binary label for identity. What I can use to identify myself is my appreciation for Indian culture, whether that is the food, the celebrations, or my family. I can consider my American upbringing without feeling guilty too. Being in this country has cultivated within me a sense of individualism, an appreciation for different cultures, and a pursuit of knowledge that make me thankful and proud to have grown up here. I am an Indian-American, and I don’t have to keep on questioning what it means to be one. I’m already doing what is right.