Neither/Nor

By Isheeta Sanghi

What is it that makes us who we are? Is it our parents? Is it where we grew up? Or is it our friends? I have struggled a lot with figuring out the answer to this question. For the longest time it was easy, I was simply an American. No two ways about it. Then somewhere along the way I realized that I wasn’t .

I realized that my non Indian friends did not tie a band around their brother’s hand once a year symbolizing that there will always be togetherness, a bond of love, a bond of protection. I realized that my non Indian friends’ mothers did not fast once a year to bless their husbands with long, prosperous lives. I know that these traditions are just that- traditions, and there’s no scientific proof that by tying a Rakhi or by participating in Karva Chauth that anything happens- but that’s precisely the point. We have these traditions that give us hope, they keep us going.
Growing up with two cultures puts you in limbo- because it’s not that you have a choice, you really are neither/nor. You can’t be totally American because the festivals will pull you back- the color, the music, the excitement and anticipation of festivals like Rakhi and Karva Chauth will rope you back to your roots. The haunting voice of Lata Mangeshkar singing ‘Aye Mere Vatan Ki Logo’ brings you to tears, because you think of what the country has gone through, what all the people of the country have gone through, and you are instantaneously overwhelmed with a sense of pride.
Simultaneously, you’re not all Indian – you articulate a certain way, have certain mannerisms, and of course have cleaning methods that overwhelm the house help; Manju looks at my Mom in complete and utter bewilderment when she tells her to wash and dry the bananas before putting them on the table.
You also remain incredibly involved in US Affairs including the victory of President-elect Barack Obama. I actually was airborne on my way to India when the captain announced that the new president of the United States of America was Barack Obama. I was overwhelmed with excitement.
So is it my passport that defines me, or is it my last name? I don’t really know, because I don’t feel completely one or the other is what defines me. On the inside I feel that both cultures are part of me, they’re interwoven into the person I am and I can’t choose just one to define me. Traditional values that pull me back to my Indian roots are at the same time balanced out by my American independence.

The American in me realizes that there are things that I have to do- for myself and for my life, and the Indian in me recognizes that though I should set out into this world and do all the things that I want to do, I should never forget that a lot of who I am is because of my family- and their due importance should always be appreciated and noted.

Isheeta Sanghi grew up in San Diego and recently relocated to India.

3 thoughts on “Neither/Nor

  1. Nivetha

    Thank you so much for this post and all the other Culture Shock ones. I’ve been reading through them and I can relate to every sentence. I grew up in the US, moved to India for high school, and then came back to the US for college. I’ve been really struggling with that duality you illustrate in your posts. It’s such a blessing and yet at times, a curse too. I go through periods where I don’t feel like I belong in either country/community, and that’s really hard. And like you said, seeing the consumerism in the US and the poverty in India and feeling powerless and unable to do anything about it is really hard too. But it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone in that. So thanks.

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