No I didn’t want to take chicken curry and roti for lunch. I wanted a sandwich with pudding and a juice box because thats what all the other kids had. First daughter, first child in the family to grow up in the United States, and this was probably the first sign of me wanting to be the typical American.
Growing up my parents made a rule that when I was at home I would have to speak hindi, I would eat indian food and watch indian movies. This was to make sure I had an Indian structure before I stepped out of the house everyday. Though, whenever I walked out, I wanted to be like the other kids. I wanted to eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, I wanted to have sleepovers and be able to wear converse.
The older I got, the more I saw the other immigrant kids acting american, whenever I brought up an Indian reference I would see the judgemental looks and hear the condecending tones in their voice. That made me realize that it’s “cool” to be American and I should want to be American. This toxic ideology continued until I was in high school. I found myself starving throughout school because I was too embarassed to bring indian lunch from home. I would take weeks to explain to my parents why I need what the cool kids have. I would watch american shows and movies to make sure I could understand what the other kids were talking about. I wanted to know who these actors were because all I knew were all the bollywood actors- from Shah Rukh Khan to Kareena Kapoor to Ranveer Singh to Alia Bhatt. I will admit, to this day I know very little because behind closed doors, I would only listen to Hindi music and watch Bollywood movies (always got bored during american tv). During group hangouts I would agree to go out and watch movies and pretend to like them to fit in. During Indian festivals, I wouldn’t post on social media about it and I would not truly enjoy it because I kept telling myself that this isn’t “cool”.
Whenever people asked for my name- I would tell them Harshita, in an American accent. They would slaughter it or make fun of it, even after I was saying it in the most American accent. That’s when I created a nickname for myself. I didn’t want to be the lame indian girl that go made fun of for her indian name, I wanted to be a cool brown indian. I didn’t dare to tell them my real name in the correct accent or tone. I went from being Harshita (Har-shith-uh) at home to being Harshita at school (Har-sheet-ah) to telling everyone to call me Sheeta (sheet-uh).
My childhood best friend and I (like many Indian children) struggled with figuring out where we stand on this line. To the Americans we were Indians, but to Indians we were American. We didn’t know who we were or what to do. We just assumed that being American would make us normal and cool. I remember her downloading music on her ipod and renaming the Hindi music to American styled names so that if someone looked through it she wouldn’t be made fun of for being Indian and uncool.
When college started I saw people of all nationalities, some coming straight from a foreign country to the United States. When I met Indian people in college and other Indo-Americans, I introduced myself in my American name, they all assumed that I was too American and that the only thing about me is my Indian blood. I was lucky enough to show my true self and talk to them in Hindi and show them that the real me is more Indian than most would expect.
Fast forward, I realized it was cooler to be your culture and share it with others. I took so much time being embarassed of who I was and how I raised. I was focused on blending in with the american high school sterotype that I stopped myself from enjoying this beautiful culture that I am from. I connected with the other Indians and Indo-Americans at my college and found myself even more in love with who I was born as. I couldn’t wait for Diwali and Holi. I lived for the drives with hindi music on, I lived for showing my latinx friends how to dance to bollywood songs. I took extreme pride in being able to say that I am billingual.
This also brought a change with how I came back home from college, I found myself enjoying a cup of chai at home rather than a cappuccino. I wanted to do Hindi movie nights on Fridays, and I would request my mom for my favorite Indian foods. I also found myself asking them more about my culture and what many things mean.
Throughout this ongoing journey, my biggest regret is being ashamed of my culture. This colorful, beautiful culture that has so many variations from north to south, east to west. Being the first child and first person (in my entire family!) to be raised in the United States, I realize that I brought a lot of stress onto my parents for growing up as someone who didn’t want to continue the story and values they brought. I hid myself from everyone because I wanted to fit in when clearly, I was born to stand out. I shouldn’t have to americanize my name or be ashamed of being called Indian. If anything, I want to be able to share it more with everyone around me because I am truly lucky.
Who am I now? I am an American raised Indian. I am Harshita Verma (Har-shith-uh) Verma.