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Children of Two Nations
She’s unaware how much her life has changed after she got off that plane. She doesn’t know that for the next cognizant years of her life, she’ll have this constant battle of who she is, what she is, why the way she is how she is and the constant stress to fulfill everyone’s expectations. She’s two years old. She’s a brown, black haired baby. She’s brown, but she’s white. She’s white, but she’s brown. Only to everyone but herself. She’s Indian but too American. She’s technically an American, but she’ll always be an Indian. She is Saranya, but she is also Sara. No matter what, she'll disappoint someone, somewhere. Every movement, every phrase, the way she dresses is analyzed and part of her, part of her identity.
The girl is lost, her insides tormenting and spinning and flipping with emotion as if you looked inside of her you would see a tornado the size of her swirling and hear the thunder of her heart beating and the lightening of her tears, zig zagging down her face as she curses herself because there are people suffering much, much worse.
Sixth Grade. My father bought me a Christmas hat. I fussed about decorations and helped him decorate our house in the most basic colorful and white Christmas lights. Frank Sinatra Christmas carols were playing, and my toddler brother and I were dancing. Mom was smiling, smiling this sad smile, the corners of her lips tense.
“What’s wrong Mom? Inquiring only to be hit in the face with;
“Sometimes we worry you're too American. Where’s the excitement about Indian holidays?.”
One second, two seconds, three seconds pass as Sinatra's voice drones in the back. I denied it. Denying whatever she was implying with some idiotic, childish, on-the-spot response about presents. Speechless. Not quite sure what to say. One million responses were in my head, as crude embarrassment and hurt seeped slowly into me. How, how in the world could she say that? How, in one sentence could she rip apart of my shell away from me? I wanted to shout it wasn’t true. Those few words disarmed me, and planted a seed in me, the very first. It let uneasiness and insecurity sprout, began to let these new feelings flourish. A few months later, my friend remarked I was “too white” These two words burned into my memory, always in the back of my head. Chuckled it off, but more I thought about it, the more it whirled around, tumbling in my sea of emotions . All I’ve ever wanted was not to be known because of my race, especially for being in the most diverse school in the world. Honestly, who was fooled?
Eighth Grade. TED Talks. I know all the minority kids do something or other about their race. Naturally, I didn’t pick a topic even mildly related to that. The friend mentioned before did hers on minorities. It went to the grade finals. Of course. Then, why did the same friend complain to me later that not one of her friends truly understand the meaning of her presentation? One could only stop themselves from saying “ I told you so.” No matter how many kids in my school I see appropriating African American culture, they will all still be white. They will never understand, at least not here, what it is truly like to be different than everyone around you. On top of that, the people my friend was speaking to were some insolent 14 year olds. People hear the boys in my grade talk about a old Indian family friend in our school today the N-word and remark about his dark skin. I’m unsure if these words hurt him or not, but what I am sure about is that he never says anything back, chuckles it off,for the sake of his popularity. My friends always find a way to mention my race in their jokes, not necessarily with malicious intent. The dark voice in my head wonders if this is all I am to them. Their side accessory of melanin as a confirmation of something.
No matter how many times I slap myself later, I don’t say anything, in fear of creating divide deeper than petty school drama. A divide that has only one man standing on the opposite side.
High School. Exactly one week ago, She signed a paper. Her eyes no longer childlike, but they are as big as ever. They don’t drop, leaking tiny, surprising tears until later, much later. She signed away the citizenship of her former country, her mother country carrying her mother tongue, her very last connection. The one thing she could have, could claim, even thousands of miles away.
It clouds her thoughts, that signature on that paper, clouding her sunshine. The one thing she could have, could claim, even thousands of miles away.
Words, words, words. Poking me, itching me, but every time I go to scratch the feeling gets more irritated, more red. These are the words I thought of every time I looked at the news, every time I watched a Indian movie, listened to Indian music, was made fun of my friends and family for the American accent that leaked through whenever I spoke Telugu. Every time I went to India and people asked me if I spoke Telugu and my annoyance was clearly displayed in my sharp, cutting reply, I realized it wasn’t anyone else’s fault but mine.
When my parents immigrated to the United States of America, they were armed with ability to speak, write and read English, Telugu and Hindi. When I migrated I was armed with the little Telugu I learned at that age. Over a course of six months, I learned to speak English. I learned how to feed myself, and as the Recession hit, Mom had to leave for Denver and Detroit for work while I stayed put with my father. Unproportionate pigtails became my new look. I was tardy 17 times in one quarter alone in Kindergarten. I would often eat alone in the kitchen. This wasn’t a time of tremendous struggle for young me,because I cherish how much my father cared for me during these times with love and affection, save for the pigtails. I never quite realized the amount of work my parents put in into their dreams, until now as I look back to the times when my mother and I had to pack up all of our things to live in Connecticut and my father had to stay in Portsmouth because of their careers. My father would drive 3 hours every Thursday just to visit us, staying until Sunday when he would leave to return for a full working week. I’d wait for his car and rush down the apartment stairs to greet him in the small lobby-esque area Now I realize how small those apartments we often lived in were. I didn’t understand why I had to be put in Indian school or why I had to learn Telugu and Hindi and all about Hinduism. I didn’t understand that I barely even knew how to speak Telugu. I didn’t understand a lot of things back then.
She didn’t realize even after she regained the ability to speak Telugu her lack of effort to try to read and write the language or speak to her grandmother at least once a week was slowly causing something irreversible, causing the chance of losing something that was a vital piece of her identity, of what, why, who she is. She didn’t understand that if she didn’t learn, her kids wouldn’t carry the knowledge that she herself barely carried. Her younger brother could understand, not speak .This girl is the last direct descendant to have the power to pass on this knowledge, the knowledge of language, of culture, of history, of self-identity.
We must protect, fight for, carry on our heritage in our blood. It is every child of an immigrant or immigrant responsibility to pass on their culture, in some way, somehow. She is an American now yes, but in a way she always was. But she will never lose the color of her skin, the skin she wouldn’t trade for anything in the world, the black, thick black hair that will stand out in the sea of blondes and brunettes, the pride when she wears her henna to school and the way she feels when she’s dancing to Bollywood music with all of her friends. She will remember never to lose that pride that she shares with 1.342 billion people about country that she can’t fully call hers, but she will anyway. She will never write her name as Sara on a paper again. She wears the name Saranya like a badge of pride, as a symbol of uniqueness and she will not be called some butchered version of it. She will sing the national anthem, salute the flag and vote every election but she will sing the anthem for a flag that’s colored orange, green and white. Never again will anyone slide by saying anything demeaning about her ethnicity. The girl is perseverant and no matter the days, months, years it will take she will learn her language. No matter how much she or anyone doubts her, she is and always will be Indian.
“ A nation’s culture resides in the heart and soul of its people”- Mahatma Gandhi