The Things You Told Me
In a stern but gentle voice, you told me the world wouldn’t see me like the white children.
Things were changing, you said, but I had to face reality.
And I didn’t believe you.
Until the day I saw my name being torn apart on a school whiteboard. “Mean-akshi,” they wrote, as the grace of my given name, Meenakshi, seemed nonexistent.
It was my fourth grade teacher who laughed along with them.
You looked at me with saddened eyes, and told me to shorten my name to “Meena.” It was easier to pronounce and seemed more Western.
You came to support me in my extracurriculars, dressed in your traditional Indian salwars, but my friends pointed it out. “They look like clown pants!” exclaimed a girl I knew. I told you to stop coming and I could see the disappointment in your face. You didn’t understand why I refused to embrace you in front of my friends.
You cooked me different meals every day; sambars and dals, delicacies of my culture, but I threw them away. You knew because I couldn’t tell you what you packed for me. And so you began making me “American” food. You wanted me to fit in, even though I was pushing you away.
You used to talk to me in our mother tongue, Tamil. I felt like such an alien, speaking a language that seemed so guttural and hideous. Why couldn’t we speak an elegant language? Like French or Spanish? So you stopped, and I slowly forgot the language. I saw the look in your eyes every time I didn’t understand what you were saying.
My peers began to accept me the more I pushed you away, so like the naive teen I was, I did just that.
But now I know you were right.
I will never be like the other children. The world will always see me as Indian, but that’s not a bad thing at all.
My name is beautiful, you and dad named me after my grandmother.
Your salwars make you look radiant and fierce, and your food is filled with flavor and love.
Tamil is an ancient language with history and vibrance, something I shouldn’t be ashamed of.
Mom, you were right.
Thank you for supporting me in all my extra-curricular activities. Thank you for cooking me various different types of food to keep me healthy and strong. Thank you for teaching me the lessons your own parents taught you about our history.
Mom, I’ll never get those years back. But I want our culture to be a part of our future.