My whole life, I thought that I was never subject to racism. I grew up in a town where we had two Indian grocery stores, the Bhangra team performed at high school rallies and Indian grandparents met up at the park to discuss politics. Our high school was 80% Asian. It was a community where I saw my culture everywhere and I knew I was privileged as someone in America to be able to coexist as an Indian and an American and be comfortable.
It’s been two weeks in college and I already have felt like an “other” as an Indian. I’m still privileged to see “my people” all around me. We have an Indian American a cappella group, a class just to learn my mother tongue Tamil and occasionally, the dining hall serves Chana Masala and Samosas. Despite this, there seems to be a major difference between 80% and 40%. I have to explain to people that my name is like Melanie but Indian. I don’t know whether it’s a compliment or insult that people will see me and say “I just love Indians”. Or when I talk about Indian music or food or culture, I feel like I was born in a different country.
But the difference about home and my new home is that I feel more beautiful as an Indian here. When I was reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, on my plane to India a month ago, a particular quote rang true to me:
“Some things(like white supremacy and people-of-color self-hate) never change”
So even though we had a majority of Indians in Cupertino, I felt ashamed of my Indian culture too much. I restrained from joining Indian clubs, in an effort to not be grouped in with the “Browntown”. I never actually told people I spoke Tamil, “just some other language that’s not Hindi”. I hid the fact that I had been learning Indian Classical Music for 12 years.
People would say that I was fobby or had a slight Indian accent and for some reason, I felt insulted. People would say “You’re pretty for an Indian” and I didn’t realize how much that hurt me until I came here.
Here I can carry my culture and my heritage on my shoulders and show it off. It’s something unique to me and special to me. I didn’t realize how “uncool” culture was or seemed to be.
But as always, when we come to the topic of racism, I definitely have my share of privilege. I have only had three lectures of my African American studies course and I already know there is so much hatred I’ve been sheltered from. I see the people in my discussion who had to take a break from college for 5, 10, 15 years and are now coming back. Some people transferred from community college. Some people are like me: first years just trying to figure out what the heck is going on.