By Ayushi Chotai
“Where are you from?”
“No, where are you really from?”
I have been asked this question several times, not only here in the US, but also in India. My first answer is, quite logically, where I am living. Unsatisfied with my answer, they ask the latter. In the US, my answer is that I am Indian, if you’re asking about my ethnicity. In India, my answer is my nationality, I am American. This is a dilemma that a lot of the young South Asian Americans face. Not feeling American enough in America and not feeling Indian enough in India.
At age 9, I moved to Houston; all my expectations came from Disney channel movies. I thought the kids would bully me, judge me for being too Indian. But I got lucky and wasn’t judged for anything. The quiet and shy me started to socialize and talk to others. I acquired an American accent and moved towards assimilating into the culture.
At age 12, my family moved back to Mumbai. I had practically lived there my whole life, so there was no need to be worried. I thought that my old classmates would welcome me back, and life would be wonderful. However, I was surprised when they treated me like a total stranger. What was even more shocking was that they judged me for not talking like them. Some of them did not understand what I said, some tried to talk like me, and some mocked me. I did not meet their expectations of being an American in India. But I was trying to figure out my own identity while fulfilling others’ expectations.
These two environments made me feel like I was not American enough for one and not Indian enough for the other. I was asked the questions in both places but in different tones, which was extremely confusing to me. Looking back now, I understand that one was general curiosity, and the other was a form of stereotyping. After graduating high school, I am back in the US for college and happy to not move around.
At times, I still face the same problem. I am too Indian for the Indian Americans and too American for the international Indian students. But I have realized that I have a unique identity, which I need to embrace. I am Indian enough to understand the Indian students and have the experiences of a young Indian American growing up in the US. Even now, I struggle to fit in, but slowly, I am finding my group of friends who don’t exclude anybody for being different; instead, we celebrate it.