How it Feels to be Cultured Me

April 22, 2013
By , Coral Springs, FL
I am cultured, but I possess nothing in the way of boasting about my foreign ancestry, except for the fact that I am probably the only American-born Indian whose paternal grandparents were not the sultans of India possessing the intellect and gold to rule over the poor and needy.

I recall the exact day in which I became cultural in both American and Indian ways. I was about five years old in the quaint little American town of New Hyde Park, New York. It was a multicultural town with Africans, Indians, Caucasians, Japanese, etc. I didn’t really get to know the other cultures, the only time I would get to observe or even talk to other people of different cultures would be in school, in my kindergarten class of twenty five kids. The East Asian kids had straight, thin hair and would bring raw fish for snacks, the Hispanic kids spoke amongst themselves in what I thought was gibberish and brought whatever their mothers had made them, the native Caucasians got along with everyone and brought store-bought envious snacks. The other Indian kids and I had oily hair; some of us had Indian snacks like roti while others had something they could find in a dusty pantry. The Indians stuck to themselves; they were taught that if a kid of another race/ethnicity was intelligent, they should talk to them, or talk to the other Indians in their class. They also observed very closely on how others would act before they got to know them. The other kids in my class were not taught like that especially the non-immigrants. They would want to know everyone in the class; they just didn’t hang out with the kids who annoyed them. The ones who wanted to get to know different cultures got as much joy or even more getting to know other people than the other people had as they got to know them.

The classroom might seem an ordinary place or playground for the rest of the kids, but it was a laboratory to me. My favorite seat was near the back of the classroom, an observation deck for the curious scientist. Not only did I like to get to know other people and their different cultures, but I didn’t mind if they wanted to get to know my culture as well. I spoke to them when I wanted to. I’d smile with my crooked and missing teeth, and when they would smile back or look at me, I would say, “Hallo, myself Nandi Sara! Very hapvy to see with you! Vhat is yourself name?” Usually, they would look at me oddly and laugh a little, and we would “make the fraandship” as they would say in in my mother’s faraway land, India. If my mother were actually there, she would take my aside and scold me, saying that I should concentrate on my studies at five years old and that I should find Indian kids in my class who are smart. It was evident that I was the first “talk-out-of-your-culture” Indian, and I hope that the Nobel Peace Prize committee would take some nomination.

During elementary school, those of other cultures were different in that they only had a different skin color and a different way of living life, never the same personality though. All my non-Indian friends, liked how I spoke to them in my “smart Indian voices” and dance in my classical style of bharathnatym, and they would become my friends for doing my Indian things, which I thought was a little strange because they were going to be my friends even if I didn’t do those quirks. The only thing is that they didn’t know how the other Indian kids treated me; they thought that I shouldn’t become friends with the other people, and that I should keep my bharathnatym to myself, but they still liked me for me anyways. Some of the Indian kids in my class were my best friends, and I still loved to hang out with them, and they to me.

Something happened though with my grandparents, when I was about seven, and all of my family was set to live in sunny Coral Springs. I departed from cold and wintry New Hyde Park, the town of the different, but the same, as Sara. When I set foot off of the airplane at Fort Lauderdale Airport, I wasn’t the same anymore. I guess I had a sort of air change. I was not Sara, the funny, but nice girl who wanted to know everyone; I was now just the smart Indian who knows all about curry. I found that out in many different ways. In my heart and soul, I saw myself as a smart brown kid—cultured not to assimilate nor assess.
Nevertheless I am not strictly cultural. There is no unlimited arrogance welled up in my mind or in my soul. Actually, I pay no attention to anything at all. I do not belong to an Indian school of higher mathematics and sciences who make it seem that everything in life is a competition of higher intelligence and that one who is Indian has to constantly get ahead, and their ambitions will be crushed if they are not number one. Even in the worry-stressful wart that shapes my life, I observe the globe as opportunities arising that nothing is a competition of cultures or intelligence. No, I do not compete with the world—I am too occupied trying to make an extravagant house of cards.
There is always some Indian person nudging me that I am the granddaughter of a military man who fought against the British, who fought for freedom in the land where Indians were puppets and poor, needy people. The constant reminders do not make me rejoice in the winning. Freedom was gained about sixty five years ago, long before I was born. The award was received, and the recipient is very ecstatic, thank you. The difficult setting that made me an American out of an immigrant said “Take your mark!” The citizenship exam said, “Hold!”; and the green cards that were sent out before made the gun shot. I sprang off the board as fast as I could to try to make the final laps, never looking at my competitors or behind me. Immigration difficulties, extreme hard work, and labor were the charge I had to pay in order to gain opportunities and freedom, and that decision was made by my parents. It was a dangerous adventure and was worth all that my family and I had paid. Not a single soul in the universe had more pride. Nothing could ever stop me, everything was an opportunity, and nothing was a burden. Over the next years, as different cultures interloped, I would get either recognition or scolding. It is a little anxious to be a star having the whole universe watching, knowing that they might applaud with happiness or be silent with disappointment.
Other cultures have life difficult also, maybe even worse than I do. No strict guardian beats me if I get a low grade. No scary chef comes to me to force raw food down my throat. The race of keeping the personality and culture you have is not as worthwhile as the race of getting new ideas and thoughts from different cultures.
Sometimes, I do not have a feeling that I am just Indian culture. Recently, I have the old Sara from New Hyde Park back, who was not aware of the prejudices or stereotypes. I feel most cultured when I am surrounded by others who are not of the same culture.
For example, I feel my culture when I am beside those who do know who I am. Among hundreds of thousands of people of different cultures, I feel the most cultured the most different. I am the brightest star amongst the black of space. I burn brighter, and meteors come in my way, but after all of it, I am still the same. When covered by another same size star, I am still me; and the meteors come, and the space paths change, but they reveal me once again.
Other times, when a person of different culture feels different amongst the mix of the straight Indian culture, there is still a difference between me and them. To illustrate, when I am sitting in an enormous auditorium that is the Indian Association with a person of different culture such as a person of Hispanic culture, that it also when my culture comes out. We sit next to each other making small talk about the different activities we both like to do and are handed programs by women in saris of the upcoming events and talents. Then, we cease our chatting and just watch the different types of Indian dances, and songs. This one song had me jumping out of my seat. The music circles around me, and then slowly enters one ear going to the brain. It makes my mind boggle and divides all my insides with the catchy lyrics and the distinctive instruments playing. The people playing and dancing around the stage grow to faster tempo, their hands shake from the excitement, sweat beading at their foreheads. They go wild; I hear whistling in the background from excited Indian teenagers. I hear myself scream, rooooaaaar! I look at my hands and see mehendi, I feel as though I am in the sky with lightening all around me, dancing to the different sounds that I hear. I clap to sounds of thunder, my steps match the beats. My face is glowing with brilliance, and my body is floating to the top of the world. My heart beats as if someone is drumming a dhol. I want to scream, shout, strain, I do not know. As the song ends, everyone is happy, laughing, having a great time. I come down from the top of the world. The men and women playing the instruments and dancing wipe their sweaty foreheads and take a sip of the regenerating water. I find my friend just sitting, but she was smiling.
“Wow, that was really interesting and different,” she says, clapping her hands for the musicians.
Dance, songs, and music! The distinct colors and emotions that I had felt, did not touch her the same way. She only heard what my culture is, what my culture does. She does not know how it really feels, she is sort of distant, and I see her at the crossroad of a cultural path. She is not as cultured as I am, but she is not cultured by her Hispanic side, only by the American culture. I am so cultured.
At distinct points in my life, I am not cultured. I have no culture sometimes, I am neither American nor Indian. I am just me. When I adjust my clothes to fit right and stride down the path of University Drive, Wiles Road, feeling as unique as the statue/metal sculpture near the Northwest Regional Library, for example. Even Aishwarya Rai, with her exotic eyes, upright character, perfect English accent, beautiful cultural self, does not have anything on me. The real Phoenix Sara arises. I do not have a certain culture or ethnicity. I will always be myself forever.
I feel as though I have no other different feelings about following an American cultural lifestyle or an Indian cultural lifestyle. I am merely a small leaf on an enormous oak tree. My culture, right or wrong.
Yet, sometimes I do feel stereotyped, but those stereotypes do not make me enraged. It sometimes surprises me that one would think in such a way. How can an individual just use me for my supposed intelligence because I am Indian and not just to become my friend instead! Now, that is far out of reach for me!
All in all, I feel as though I am a long interesting book of different subjects on a bookshelf. On a bookshelf, next to so many other books, long, short, interesting, informational, fiction, and fairy-tales. Read the book, and one can find out the many different ways a book can be written; there can be useless advice, or helpful advice. A biography of the author, the first chapter of the book, the struggles the character/characters went through, the triumphs they attained, the people who the character met, the exciting adventures the character went on, how they dealt with all their problems, an ending to the long story. In your life, there are so many chapters, like the long interesting book, all the past chapters could have an effect on you, and the future chapters could change you. One may never know how their life is written; I guess it’s the creative author who puts it all together that makes the big difference—how are we supposed to know?

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