Indian, American or Indian American

By Samyukta Suresh

samyukta-suresh.jpg Each day at Monta Vista High School, it is the norm to hear blasting Bhangra music, to hear speakers from the Hindu Awareness Club, to eat hot samosas and chaat during Club Day, to perform dances and singing solos for “Spotlite”, the highly anticipated show put on by the Indian club each year. I walk into class knowing that there will be a minimum of eleven other brown skinned students to provide a security blanket. My experience growing up as an Indian American is unique… it is not the typical story of being looked down upon as a lone brown skinned foreigner in a sea of Caucasians. Actually it is quite the opposite! In Cupertino, CA not a single American Desi is ashamed of who they are. It was through my close interactions with other Indians, and reflections of successful role models from the Indian community, that I gained pride in my culture My friends and I watch an equal number of Hindi movies as we do English ones, listen to Bollywood songs alongside American music, attend garbas as well as school dances, and get as excited for Indian holidays such as Diwali, Holi, and Navaratri as we do for Christmas and Halloween. I spent my childhood in Fremont, CA- a hub for South Asian immigrants. Fremont is the type of Bay Area city in which it is not uncommon to see a greater number of women clad in saris vs. jeans. It has two Indian stores or restaurants per street, a temple, Indian beauty parlors, and a NAZ Cinema. Needless to say, I was not denied a dose of my culture while growing up. By third grade I was placed eagerly by my parents in both Bharatanatyam and Carnatic South Indian music classes (only one of which I ended up pursuing long term), celebrated festivals and holidays annually without fail, and was introduced and encouraged into the Bollywood craze by 5th grade. I spent my elementary school days in Fremont as one of the twenty six Indian students out of a class of thirty, had only Indian friends, and found it excruciatingly difficult to interact with people of any other race. It was from childhood that this complex was created, and continued to haunt me throughout the following years. My family moved to Cupertino from Fremont when I was about to begin my freshman year of high school. When I began as a freshman in a new area and school, I realized that 35% of my school consisted of other Indian students. This helped my transition, and made it much easier for me to cope in the new environment because it resembled Fremont in many ways. It was through my close interactions with other Indians, and reflections of successful role models from the Indian community, that I gained pride in my culture. Though the demographics made it possible for me to gain a greater understanding and value for my culture and maintain a connection to my Indian peers, I soon began to realize that interacting only within one’s own ethnic group has its downfalls as well as its positive points. I suffer a unique form of peer pressure- one that does not include alcohol or drugs, but instead includes intelligence and performance. As a result of being Indian and Asian-American, I am forced to live up to the stereotypes and expectations placed on me. By doing this, I am unable to display who I truly am to my teachers, my friends, my classmates, and even to myself. Surrounded by brilliant peers who excel in the subject areas of math and science, I feel ashamed of myself when my friends laugh about how Calculus AP is a joke while I struggle in Math Analysis. I feel embarrassed to admit that I do not ace Bio AP exams, that I am not taking a science in senior year, or that I need a tutor for chemistry honors. Stereotypes placed on Indian students as “brilliant” cause me to feel ashamed even of the fact that I have to study in order to succeed, versus being inherently intelligent. The fear of not meeting expectations society places on me, such as attending an Ivy League college or UC Berkeley and receiving a perfect SAT score cause me to disregard my own true expectations for myself. The Asian influence on society indirectly shapes my life and identity, leaving me incapable of maintaining individualistic goals, desires, and opinions. These feelings of embarrassment, fear, and shame leave a part of me feeling incomplete and empty. It is at times such as these that I dislike being Indian, because of the restrictions and judgments that I am forced to deal with each day. At times I have a strong urge to break free from my school, society, and peers. I dream of experiencing life in a different environment, and meeting different people who have interests similar to mine. After suffering silently from inferiority for a long time, I slowly began to reach out and develop friendships with people of other ethnicities. It was then that I began to realize how much I have in common with these friends, how our interests match, and how I feel as though I can be myself and at the same time, not be ashamed of who I am. I let go of the attachment I had to Indians, and opened my mind to accepting friendships with everyone, despite the cultural and physical differences. My experiences have shaped my personal growth in numerous ways. Although I am proud of my Indian culture and heritage, my standard answer to the commonly asked question of “What are you?” has changed from “Indian” to “A person, just like you”. Samyukta S

15 thoughts on “Indian, American or Indian American

  1. Jayashree and Kumar

    Dear Samyukta
    Excellent self realisation at this young age. The message is very clear to all Indian children abroad.
    Your writing capability is very good. Pl. keep writing. Be proud of what you are and give the best of you to the society.

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  2. Vi

    Similar situation here in NJ–we have a huge Indian population and my school had regular gharba dances, international food days, etc. High school was quite fun. 🙂

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  3. vaasumama

    dear sammu i enjoyed your frank reflections in freeflowing delectable english.I particularly liked that you would like to be known not as an indian or american or an indo american but as a person. may god bless you to grow into a nice humanbeing!

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  4. Shira Mor

    Dear Samyukta,

    I completly related to your experiences, but guess what? I am not Indian or Indian-American,but an Israeli immigrant.
    Personally,I found that only when I stepped away from my homeland I was able to find my true self. In other words “keep it real” and soon you will discover that people will be interested in getting to know who you are as a whole,rather than being intrigued by your nationality or cultural background. And even more interestingly, you will find that all of our life experiences are universal (just like in “Babel”);we all find joy and pain in the world and therfore such commonalities bind us together,rather than set us apart.

    I wish you the best of luck in your studies. Your unique perspective on the world is what makes you a shining star in a clear blue sky.

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  5. Deepa Krishnamurthi

    Sammie,

    Sammie. Very well written article. Kudos to you for being so honest. I can totally relate to the pressures you felt from the Asian community to excel at Science and Math, despite being a generation apart. It’s wonderful that you have found your identity now. Keep yourself open minded always. U’ll be amazed at how much you grow as a person. You are obviously a gifted writer. Please keep the articles coming.

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  6. Gita Mohan

    Lovely article, Samyukta.It comes across as being extremely honest. And as far as reaching out to other cultures is concerned, go ahead and you’ll realise how much we have to learn from each ethnic group. Retain your essential Indianness, yet imbibe what is good in other cultures. As someone who grew up in India and only interacted with other cultures (incl. Arabs) in the last five years in the UK, all I can say is you have nothing to be ashamed of or feel inferior about.Go for it, girl…

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  7. Pavani Kaushik

    Samyukta – wonderful to see an honest portrayal of your experiences growing up straddling two cultures. Funnily enough, I’m one of many who can attest to similar peer pressures in our cultural ideals of ‘success’. Barring the age difference and the fact that I grew up in India, in the end it amounts to the same thing. ‘Finding yourself’.

    Please continue writing. Would love to read more of your thoughts!

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  8. Sharda Krishnamurthy

    Nice work Samyukta. You’ve not just found a peer group to fit into outside your “comfort zone” but you’ve been honest about the journey that brought you here and about the soul-searching involved in the process.

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  9. Subha Barry

    Beautifully expressed Sammy. Embracing who we are allows each of us to be the best we can be. If we are trying to be like someone else, we can, at best, be only second best. By taking the risk of opening ourselves up to other cultures, we enrich ourselves and become transformed by the experience. Keep on being open and please keep on being yourself.

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  10. Spandana

    hey sammy!!!
    loved your speal! i can totaly relate consedring the fact that i go to the same school and everything! lol.
    but i really do like it. and all the best for college =D

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