By Supriya Savkoor
As the daughter of immigrants, someone with brown skin and a somewhat eastern upbringing, I should have a lot to say on the topic of fitting in. My co-bloggers think so, anyway. And yet I’ve been stressing over my post for a week now.
Contrary to what some people might expect or believe, I’ve never had much trouble adapting to new environments. We moved a lot when I was a kid, so I changed elementary schools four times that I can remember. Who knows, it may have been more. It was all so routine.
Of course, in those days, I was often the only brown kid in these schools, which tells you how long ago this was. But that was part of the adventure, what made me unique. Maybe just the tiniest bit exceptional. I’m sure I was the only kid who legitimately got to check “other” on all those old school forms, the ones where the only choices were, “black, white, or other.” None of my teachers knew what I should be checking, so at one time or another, I’ve checked off all of them. (Maybe I’m more black than white? Or, maybe I’m more white? I’m from Ohio, so could I be other? That’s right, a perfect chameleon, I chose my answer depending on my color mood.)
And so now, trying to remember the times when I didn’t fit in, I do suddenly recall a little acronym we American children born of Indian parents have heard so often (supposedly not as an insult): ABCD. That stands for American-born confused desi. Desis being anyone of South Asian descent, so Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Nepalis, Sri Lankans, and any others with roots on the subcontinent.
Was I confused? Most certainly. In America, ever the melting pot, even back then, most folks accepted my differences, though perhaps they didn’t always understand them. (True story: “India? Oh yeah, where they’ve got our hostages.”) But why did so many Indians, especially ones living in India, think I was confused?
I don’t mean to poke fun of either side, but I know such stories ring true to many “others” like me. And I saw the genuine confusion in the eyes of relatives back east. I was more other there than I was here. I looked like one of them, but I didn’t speak any of their languages, know their national anthem, or drink their water. So they were the ones confused, right? Er, not me.
I may not have known it then but being other gave me a deeper appreciation for both cultures as well numerous privileges and opportunities in both countries. While I wasn’t always grateful for them back then, I certainly am now. You could say it was my karma.
Have you ever had to walk the line between two cultures? If so, were you successful, and how did you do it?