Sim on Cultural Identity

Sim on Cultural Identity


I was born in India and my dad decided
he wanted to move to America to start his family, so while my mom was pregnant
with me he was studying for a specific job that he was gonna take in America so
he can get his work visa. Eventually we all moved out here. Living out
here wasn’t anything crazy. My little sister was born five years after, so she
was an American citizen. My parents and I are Indian citizens. They
never pressured us to be super religious. We’re Sikh by religion, but they never
forced us to go to the Gurudwara, which is our temple. They never forced us to go
to like the sunday-school to learn Punjabi, which is our main language. I do
know Hindi pretty well because they would speak it really often, but
there was never pressure to like read and write and learn it. It was
awesome. We were not allowed to cut our hair, we’re not allowed to eat meat, we’re not
allowed to drink. My parents have been always super cool with all of it. My dad
doesn’t believe in tangible things holding value over you that much. Just to
believe in a higher power. He believes if you want to connect with a higher power
you should be more spiritual. So we started with like very little. My dad
moved here without his parents approving, so he came here with very little money.
Got fired from his first job. We were homeless for a little while. We’ve jumped
from someone’s couch to another couch when they first came out here. Then my
sister was born and we got into an apartment. So all our life it’s been
really humble beginnings and my parents have always been really grounded people.
So religion and I guess the whole big part about being Indian was just
celebrating all the holidays and really um.. I guess the stereotypical stuff
wasn’t a huge thing besides eating Indian food every day, which was awesome!
So then, unfortunately, and when I was in the sixth grade, my dad’s dad got
terminally ill. He got lung cancer and so when we found out my dad’s like “Okay I
think it’s best if we go back and take care of him for a year. Since you know we
really don’t know when he’ll pass away.” And so..
I didn’t know that that was going to be a year-long thing. I actually assumed
we’d be visiting for the summer like we did every other summer. So my mom, sister,
and I moved to India. My dad helped us move back to his old house with like my
mom’s in-law, so my dad’s parents. It was interesting because I was only a
sixth grade and I was 10 and I had no idea the complexities of our families
and the way that in-laws sometimes work with you know married couples. And it was
even more awkward looking back now how my mother had to take care of them and
my dad’s side of the family was always weirdly judgy and unaccepting of her,
which made me like very protective since day one. So we did sixth grade there. It
was awful, but I learned very very quickly that me crying about living in
India wasn’t gonna do anything. Me burdening them with how much I miss my
friends, how much I didn’t really feel like I belonged, wasn’t gonna do anything.
So I learned to kind of hide like being emotional. So at an early age, I learned
to take care of my mom, who would work all night because she still worked her
American job, and since the time difference she has to work all night and
then during the day.. we had help. We had like nannies and stuff, so they
would take care of my sister and I and send us off to school. We went to an
international school, so that was cool. And it was really really expensive. And
so we thought.. okay they’d be a little bit more assimilation than versus going
to a regular public school. We were in New Delhi by the way. As much as I was
Indian by like religion, citizenship, blood, like every aspect you could think of
besides just growing up there. I completely felt like it was a camouflage
and as soon as I opened my mouth, my accent came out even when I spoke Hindi,
and it’s like everyone just assumed you were the snobbiest people ever. And it was
such a bummer that we were there for like ten months and out of those ten
months eight of them my sister and I had no friends. Literally no friends besides
the people that lived in our neighborhood that I kind of like notice
when we’d come and visit every summer. So like school wise, we had no school
friends. We would eat lunch alone. It just really annoyed me, overall, that
like having an American accent somehow made us completely different. Like we
weren’t another person with another personality. Everyone there has
their own unique personalities. So it bummed me out a lot. We got through it. Really
like month eight or something.. things started changing.
I remember when I’m leaving, like before month 10, I was leaving and like the
friends that I’d made I had a little group of like five or six girls that
were in my friend group. They had actually like made me a little like
going away yearr book thing.. scrapbook thing.. and it was really really cute and
they’d written like really long letters about how much they cherished my
friendship, and how much they wish I could stay longer, and how they wish
they’d known me earlier. And I was like I’ve been in your class all year it’s
hard for me to like empathize, but I appreciate the gesture. That was kind of
the point where I learned to be very analytical, and be like very cautious
with the risks that I take. Coming back to America I had a little
bit of an Indian accident, but I was coming out of that pretty quickly. And
that one year kind of engraved in me sort of how not Indian I am. Like it
freaked me out because being there when you’re immersed in that culture,
and you can’t keep up, and you don’t know so many things. People judge you.
Hardcore. Even when we go to the Gurudwara here sometimes on like holidays. We
will go on like specific religious holidays, and we won’t be in the full
suit or anything like the Indian garments. Like my mom would be
like wear jeans and just be like fully clothed and like you tie your hair up,
and like put the scarf on, and you’re good. And so we would do that, and that’s
because our parents like never cared. And so we would walk in, and everyone would just have eyes on us, because they’re the only ones who don’t like.. haven’t dressed up so much, and so I
remember asking my dad one time.. I was like,” how are you not noticing all the
eyes on us? Like how are you not like a little bit embarrassed by it? Like I feel
like I’m judged all the time. I like don’t even love going there anymore
because of that. And my dad’s like you just have to be learn to be confident in
the choices you make. Like we respect the religion that doesn’t mean it
dictates our everyday life. And he’s like that doesn’t mean I judge another person.
His best friend.. his best friend in college when he went to college in India.. like
he was like we’re talking waking up at 5:00 a.m. to pray and he was a Sikh as
well. Never cut his hair, wears a turban. His daughter actually goes to UCSD with
me now. We grew up together. It’s crazy! They’ve never been
judgmental people. They’re such a close family to ours, so it just goes to
show how little they judged us and how little we judge them for their
lifestyles, because bottom line is my dad and he are very good
people, so I think finding security in my parents, finding security and actually
coming to college really helped. There’s so many Indian people that are not super
Indian and in the sense that I’ve described. And that was super comforting, because I was really stuck in like I would see like the Indian orgs
and stuff and I was like “oh my god do I have the courage to go and do this?”
Because I remember my mom would be bummed out. She’s like I wish you did
more stuff. Do you think you’ll join an Indian org when you go to college? And
stuff.. and I was like no mom I’m probably gonna join a sorority and she was just
like “oh okay.” And she was like kind of bummed, and I was like I’m gonna trial
give it my best shot. And I never really went, but I told her I did, because I was
just.. I think that year kind of scarred me. But I met so many cool people like
outside of the org and even the people that are in the org. Maybe I don’t go to
their events, but I’ve met such awesome Indian like people that are.. I guess it’s
just you know with our generation it’s become less and less of a thing to be
judgy about it. Like we’re all at the end of the day most of us grew up in
America. We’re pretty Americanized to some degree that we can all get along.
And we can all kind of like talk about our struggles being Indian too. Sometimes
like that might seep into our life so I found like comfort in that, and I have
like a lot of Indian friends here, and I’ve never thought twice about this like
identity crisis that I had. But I think my little sister is going through it now
and she’s now a sophomore in high school. So I feel like the best way to overcome
it.. was to slowly find comfort in the fact that I’m not alone doing this. And
coming to college was kind of like the most tangible way to actually see that
come to fruition. Like I am really not alone in this. I think obviously going to
my temple was like the opposite extreme where it’s like you see it and you’re
like oh my god I am very different than these people, but you know at the end of
the day it’s not fair to judge people off of an accent, or the way they dress.
So you just have to remember that you were still just another person trying to
make you through life, trying to make it through college. And I don’t really think
about it every day anymore it was like that one year that really showed me that
being Indian was a big part of me, but it was like my choice to like allow myself
to be as Indian as I wanted to be and not feel guilty about it.
Because my parents didn’t feel guilty about the way they raised us, so I
shouldn’t either about my own upbringing. That’s the other
thing after India after that sixth grade I tried not to be bitter that was the
one like you have two paths when you deal with like real big trauma. It’s like
you can either get really mad about the fact that it happened to you and really
dwell on it and let it consume you, or you can move forward and realize that
there are people who are probably dealing with the same stuff that you are,
and that again doesn’t undermine what you went through. It just should help
lift you up more. Like if all these other people around me are surviving. People I
walk by every day whose stories I don’t know about. I can do it too.
So I think just remembering that like there’s no point in being bitter
it’ll only stop you in your tracks from moving forward. They’ll consume you. Do
cooler things and move on and just use that to your advantage and be able to
find a platform like this to be able to tell your story and feel good about it, you know? I feel like the more I tell it the more normalized it feels and the
more like empowered I feel about it like I don’t feel guilty anymore. you you you

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