Hello, Namaste, What’s up, Kaise Ho!
In case you weren’t aware at this point: I, dear readers, am Indian-American (not American Indian, you’re not the first to ask). I was born in New York, but go back to India every year to visit distant family and make sure that those cultural connections (and linguistic connections) are still there. I assure you, my life is as exciting as it sounds.
Now, most of what you know about Indian culture may be gathered from various sources: Bollywood movies, some Jay-Z songs, countless YouTube videos (particularly Superwoman), The Simpsons, a few news articles, some literature, maybe some cultural classes in university, an Indian friend here or there who invites you to his sister’s best friend’s brother-in-law’s cousin’s wedding…the list goes on.
And what you know about American culture is gathered from living it. So…you may wonder what it’s like to live both of these cultures simultaneously. The answer? Hectic! Chaotic! And spectacularly entertaining!
First, let me help you understand which stereotypes about India, Indian people and Hinduism are false and which are true.
- Indian people dance all the time and hear music in their heads at key moments in their life. False…kind of. In general, that’s just what the Bollywood movie producers want you to think. However, I personally am prone to dancing by myself at any moment to the music in my head. I assure you, it is absurdly entertaining and is not indicative of insanity.
- India is filled with color and pretty outfits, objects and scenery. 100% true! It is one of the most…if not the most colorful place on Earth! Our clothing is colorful, our scenery is colorful, our traditional outfits are gorgeous and colorful, even the food is colorful!
- Indian food is spicy, as are the people. Yep, that’s true.
- Hinduism has 330 million gods and goddesses. According to the scriptures, this is true. With numbers like that, odds are at least one is listening!
- Arranged marriages are the norm. I am going to get back to this one in a bit.
Now that we have got that out of the way…let’s discuss what it’s like to try to live those stereotypes in the United States. People automatically assume I am fun loving, musical (I’m not by the way, much to my dismay), spicy, colorful and loud! Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile these stereotypes with the person I actually am.
There is a term for people who grew up similarly to me: ABCD. It stands for “American-Born Confused Desi.”
“Desi” means someone from the “desh,” or homeland (i.e. India, Pakistan and Bangladesh). ABCDs are known for being confused (it’s in the name), meaning they constantly struggle between their Indian and American identities. I don’t believe myself to be a victim of this phenomenon!
I like to think that I have successfully bridged both cultures to live the best of both. I have been known to eat the occasional hamburger (forbidden by Hinduism), wear leather (same thing, no cows), cut my hair on Tuesdays (I still don’t get it), and a variety of other things that make me distinctly American.
But there are always those points that make me less American than my “traditional” counterparts:
- I am accustomed to not fitting in. I was always the kid who didn’t get Christmas or Chanukah gifts (I know, shocking), didn’t understand the allure of tanning booths, always had a ready made Halloween costume (Jasmine/Indian princess, anyone), and definitely the only one who had to have their eyebrows combed by the school photographer on picture day. Those unruly caterpillars nearly did me in…
- Going to India every year. I think I took it for granted as a child. I have been in possession of a passport since I was three months old and it took me until middle school to realize how amazing and unique this situation was. I have friends now that have still never left the continental United States. Having that direct connection to my heritage and my ancestors just a hop, skip and a 747 away is fantastic!
- Food – need I say more? No PB&J for me! Aloo paranthas, ladoos and mango lassis on the regular.
Okay, now the big one. Relationships. We all know the stereotype. Indian girls having their husbands picked out for them (from birth, from the age of 20, from the ripe age of 27, etc.). I am here to tell you…that is not strictly true!
My parents never discouraged me from dating, never promised me to any man (you go, girl!), never did anything but wish me the best. Of course, like any protective parents, they did try to warn me when they thought I was getting too close to the wrong guy, but they never strictly forbade me from any type of guy.
Yet, now they have embarked on a new activity…I like to call it the “parent-approved blind date.” Meaning, they have friends with kids around my age and encourage us to meet, go out, and get to know each other. But I figure this could happen in the U.S. too. I mean who knows me better than my parents? Mumsy and Pop-Tart literally made me into who I am today. I know they have my best interests at heart, so I trust them to “introduce” me to boys. Not to say I will like those boys, but I am willing to give it a shot.
I can only hope to find someone who feels as internationally savvy as I do, whether he be Indian, American, Indian-American, British, Australian, Canadian, Italian, Greek…I could go on, but I think I should stop. This aspect of the culture also speaks to living at home: in Indian culture, children live at home until getting married, no questions and no “get out.”
Overall, I live a very exciting and diversified life. I think living in two cultures from the beginning has enabled me to have a very wide and unique worldview and has led me to make similar friends. Speaking two languages from birth has opened my brain to speaking four now (maybe five, I swear I understand French)! I get the opportunity to attend weddings, eat great food and party on a nearly monthly basis and always have fabulous things to wear (and gift)!
I wouldn’t trade these experiences for anything, and definitely not to be “normal.” I get the best of both worlds – East and West – and live my life fully in both, and I am definitely not confused about that!