My teachers and even
some of my friends would stare at my name for a few minutes before
making an attempt at saying it. I winced every time somebody called
out my name and got anxious every time I had to stand up in class
and repeat it at least 400 times so that everybody knew how to say
it. Now, I think, it was perhaps preparing me to come to the United
States, where even a few hours wouldn’t be enough for people
to say my name—and forget pronouncing it correctly!
My breakfasts at home were soft idlis
(South Indian rice cakes) and crispy dosas (South Indian
crepes) interspersed with scrumptious paranthas (stuffed
and fried flatbread). Though we ate rice as well as roti
(grilled flatbread), it was always an ordeal trying to explain to
my Punjabi friends why we ate rice with our hand and not a spoon.
Even more difficult was trying to explain the cultural significance
of the bindi to my North Indian friends. Traditionally,
bindis are only worn by married women in the north whereas
all South Indian women are a part of the bindi brigade.
Don’t ask me why because I still don’t know! I just
remember trying to avoid awkward questions like, “Par
beta, aapne kyon bindi lagaayi hai? Aapki shaadi toe nahin
hui hai.” (“But why are you wearing a bindi?
You are not married.”) from all the random aunties around
The added dimension to my already split personality
came as a result of moving to the United States. I had culture shock,
but it came from somewhere I least expected it: my new South Indian
friends. Never in my life had I felt more like a misfit. I couldn’t
follow South Indian movies, enjoy the typical food or speak the
college slang! I did not know the words to any of the super-hit
Tollywood songs (South Indian equivalent of Bollywood),
and I did not understand the meaning of the lyrics, even though
I speak more than one South Indian language. To my South Indian
friends, I was always the Hindi-speaking South Indian girl raised
in the north and to my North Indian friends I remained the sambar-eating
(vegetable and lentil stew, a staple in South India) South Indian
While at the crossroads of North India-South India,
I became friends with people who grew up in the United States—some
Indians and some not.
Living in the United States brought out the fiercely
independent person in me. I live in Oklahoma, and there’s
not a lot of desi stuff going on and whatever little there is involves
aunties and uncles. I started adapting to the lifestyle
of the people around me. I began to love spaghetti just as much
samosas (deep-fried puff pastry filled with peas and potatoes)!
Soon enough, I noticed relatives hounding my parents for letting
me come to the United States without getting married first. As I
started to assert myself and speak my mind, I found myself more
at odds with my family. My friends here said, “You’ve
been Americanized!” and for a second I thought perhaps I had
been. Then, I asked myself, “Since when did having an opinion
equate to being Americanized?” I found myself feeling guilty
and constantly questioning myself. Who was I and what had I become?
In my struggle to find a place for myself, I realized I had to
re-learn everything about who I truly was and what I wanted from
life. I had to go back to the drawing board. I had to start with
being okay with my name. I had to teach myself to feel fortunate
to have grown up around different cultures and remind myself that
I could fit in anywhere I wanted to. I had to constantly tell myself
that my South Asian upbringing combined with my American outlook
in life would only help me be a better person; all I needed was
to keep an open mind and not judge myself by anybody else’s
I am learning to accept who I am and working everyday on trying
to be more and more comfortable in my own skin. I love wearing saris
and yet am very comfortable in my jeans and tees! I enjoy my Raisin
Bran cereal, and I still eat dosas and paranthas
when I can. I long to dance Garba (traditional dance form
from western India), but recently, have taken up salsa!
I have embarked on this new journey, where I find myself being
content with all the different “me’s” co-existing
Srividhya Viswanathan is an Environmental Engineer who lives in Lawton, Oklahoma.