Am I Indian enough? This has been a question on my mind lately as I enter my second semester at Wellesley, an institution that has afforded me the opportunity to see my identity in a whole new light. I am now surrounded by a vibrant South Asian community with a population that hails from places as far as Bangalore, India and as close as Brookline, Massachusetts. From the Wellesley Association for South Asian Cultures (WASAC) meetings with samosas and chai to dancing at Bollywood Pub Night, I’ve had several opportunities to celebrate my Indian and Sri Lankan heritage with my other “brown siblings.” However, these moments have also made me painfully aware of my cultural deficiencies: my inability to speak or understand Hindi, my insufficient knowledge of Bollywood films released past 2006 and my lack of knowledge of certain Hindu traditions.
Growing up in the San Francisco Bay area, I thought that I was surrounded by diversity. Students of color constituted the majority of the population at my high school, which included a sizable amount of students who identified as of South Asian descent. However, there was no collective cultural consciousness present that forced me to analyze my identity critically. Sure, I was present for the Diwali dinner parties and communitywide garbas. Every summer, I was dragged to my sister’s Indian classical dance company performances— by far the most “Indian” experiences of my life. Nonetheless, I took for granted that I was Indian-American, ignoring the layers of my other experiences that should’ve forced me to rethink that characterization.
My father is Indian, and my mother is Sri Lankan, but both have spent a majority of their lives outside of their countries of origin. My father moved around all over the world in his youth before finally settling in the United Kingdom for school. My mother moved to the United States at the beginning of high school to escape civil war in Sri Lanka. As a result, they faced a classic immigrant dilemma, one that involved deciding between the cultures of their home countries and that of their host nations. While it would be fair to say that I’m a second-generation immigrant, there is one complication to this narrative: my family and I lived in India and Malaysia for six years before moving back to the United States when I was nine years old. I still vividly remember coming back to the United States as a foreigner, unfamiliar with everything from spelling “favourite” and “colour” without the letter “u” to sucking yogurt from a plastic pouch for the first time—Go-Gurt was all the rage in my elementary school. Thus, I’ve been an immigrant to the United States, despite being a second-generation immigrant as well.
I love my newfound South Asian community at Wellesley. While having a new group of friends that share a common ethnicity has made me question my identity and where I stand in the spectrum of “brownness” at times, it has also provided me a set of friends that embrace me despite my cultural differences. It all goes to show that the South Asian experience is not singular, but rich and diverse. I’m beginning to understand that the question “Am I Indian enough?” is null and void.