Somebody once told me that the way I was born was going to be the way I would be treated for the rest of my life. I was born as a South Asian Muslim female, but I've never felt as if I could identify as one. Even at a young age, there was this hidden fear that I was always going to be seen as something foreign in the eyes of everyone else. This encouraged me to change myself.
When people would ask me where I was from, I would tell them my parents were South Asian, but I was born in America. This gave me a sense of relief that I would be accepted in their eyes since I wasn't completely from a distant country.
There were many cases I was forced to wear something from my culture, but the expression on my face was clear about whether I liked it or not. On TV, I would see many shows with girls dancing in beautiful traditional clothes, speaking about how proud they are to be where they are from. In those times, I wished I could be proud of where I was from, but not the place my parents were from.
There was almost always a sense of embarrassment because people would tend to generalize the place where my parents came from as a poor, garbage-filled land. Those were the times I felt most vulnerable in my own skin.
At school, diversity was heavily accepted. Yet, I'd never felt the way I should feel about being different. I didn't realize it, but slowly I was melting away from the root of my own culture that I couldn’t even call mine.
When people who ask me if I knew my parent's mother tongue, I would say I wasn't good at it. When others would tell me to tell them about my culture, I would say that I didn't grow up in that country so I didn't know much about it. Sometimes, when it was multicultural day at our school, I would be extremely embarrassed to wear our traditional clothing. When someone would say I didn’t look as if I was from where I was from, I’d become really happy. This started to take over me as I got older.
I personally didn't know why I was feeling this way. Why was I so uncomfortable to be where I was from? Why did I care so much about what others thought of me? What was wrong? It was like I was going through some sort of identity crisis. It was rather shameful of me to be this way. I didn't want people to think of me in a certain way. I just didn't want to stand out.
This summer I had the chance to visit my parent's country. I wouldn't say I loved it since it was very different from where I grew up, but I got to visit my mom's hometown and see my grandmother. I also met with my dad's brothers and sisters. It was rather an eye-opener for me.
They were living as housewives, bankers, doctors, engineers, teachers, but in reality, they were all the same. They all loved their culture the way they should and they didn’t let stereotypes determine who they became.
It made me feel self-conscious that I didn't love it enough. I got the ability to learn about this country that I only heard little about. I met people who had big dreams for themselves but didn't have the ability to. I met people who seemed nice from the outside but were really mean on the inside and vice versa. I got to meet those who didn’t have money but said they couldn’t be happier seeing that I didn’t give up my culture. I had been exposed to so many types of people.
I realized that there was no point in being ashamed of who I was. If I wasn't judging anyone around me, I would never know if people were doing the same to me. It wouldn't affect me.
Although I'm starting to become more open towards my culture, sometimes I still get weary when someone stares at me because my skin colour is different or that my hair isn't the typical straight.
But then I remember that my culture is only a part of who I am, it doesn’t define how my heart truly is. Of course, it is a gift to be able to embrace your culture, but never feel ashamed as if you are being patronized by others. People don't truly know each other as much as we think we do.