So I moved from India at the age of 7 months and basically grew up in the US. But up until 10, you wouldn't have guessed that about me, you would have thought that I grew up in India and moved here. My parents were assimilating slowly to this country and being the only child, were major influences on how I grew up. When they moved, they were still very rooted in their ways. My first language was Hindi/Urdu, my first favorite movie was Sholay, and I only listened to Bollywood music. And as I grew into the teens, due to a combination of my parents keeping me on check and my own fear of upsetting my parents, I didn't really immerse myself into American culture. Yea, I watched cartoons, played Pokemon, etc. But my favorite sports were soccer and cricket at a time when football and baseball were super important to everyone else. I was in ESL until 1st grade and I had little exposure to pop culture. And because of all this, I sometimes didn't feel like I fit in, especially with kids who were “American” and for some reason always felt inferior and at times uncomfortable. But as I grew older and started doing more things for myself; listening to the Top 40 on AIM messenger, watching basketball, watching more American movies, I felt that I was able to fit in more.. But even so I think the feeling of being different never went away and my interactions with those so called “American” people from my childhood never became meaningful.
On the other hand, there was something special about this experience too. I realized that the more I broadened my own horizons, I think the more my parents opened up their view of American culture. I remember when I would take over the radio in the car and my dad than would say find out that song, and tell me the name so I can listen to it later. And as I got older my mom started making different types of food at home. These were simple things but looking back on everything now, it feels like my parents and I grew up into American culture together, which has made our relationship even more special.
While in high school, I felt different from others. In college, I found people a lot like me especially people who were very rooted in both American and Indian cultures. These friends of mine jammed to J.Cole and Kid Cudi and also could bust out and sing Kuch Kuch Hota Hai at a moment’s notice. And most of these friends were on my fusion dance team Broad Street Baadshahz. I never danced in my life and the older members took a shot on me and the rest was history. I wanted to keep up the legacy and worked as hard as I could to become a good dancer and eventually go on to lead the team as Captain. But I think besides the dancing, the most meaningful part of my journey on BSB was that learning it was okay to be a Desi-American. We portrayed this through the dancing, music mixes, and the stories we performed on stage. And at the end of my years on the team, I no longer felt the confusion of trying to feel more American, because I knew I was a fusion Desi-American.
The start of medical school was a new beginning. But interestingly because of other brown friends who grew up in a more “American” culture, at times they made me feel like I was back in high school. That my acceptance of trying to be Desi- American made me different. They still tried to hide being Desi, partly because that's how they grew up and partly they associated being brown as being bad because of their own past experiences. And like all good friends, they roasted me. But unlike high school, I didnt just sit back and take it, I bounced back by calling them uncultured. And retrospectively, I think that I was doing the same thing to them that they were doing to me. Im glad they made jokes about me, because it made me proud of who I am. But I also realized that this was the type of behavior that creates camps within our Desi-American generation. We tend to call each other “Too Brown’’, Too American”, FOB, white-washed, etc… I think being Desi-American is a spectrum and we each have our own stories. And the more we listen and learn from each other, the more we can grow and develop our identities as Desi-Americans. Shout out to Bakwaas for this project and giving us a platform to share these stories.