> It's been a struggle my whole life, of not being American enough nor Indian enough.
MY DAD GREW UP in India. My mom is kind of a mutt: her mom was American, she was born in Belgium, and lived in both India and the U.S. Her dad was living in Bangladesh during partition. The part of Bangladesh he was in became India, so he was kind of a refugee. He came to the US once he was an adult. And then my dad came to the US for college.
I grew up in wealthy white suburbs, so all my friends were white. We were the only Brown people on the block. I think when I was younger, I was really interested in South Asian culture. I begged my dad for a really long time to teach me Bengali and he wouldn’t. Now I have this weird thing where I don't speak any Indian languages. And then, I think as I got older, in middle and high school, I was ashamed and wanted to fit in with the overwhelming whiteness of the places that I was in.
It's like you feel outcasted from your own community. But I also don't want to take up someone else’s space because I think it's a different experience, growing up in India and then coming to the US versus me, being born in the US. It's hard to know how to balance that dynamic.
I think I like to call my South Asian identity out because people can never tell where I'm from. They ask the dreaded question of, what are you? People always speak Spanish to me too. But at the same time, I definitely benefit from India being this dominating place, People think anyone who is South Asian is from India.
I LIVED IN INDIA for four months my junior year of college. A week before I flew to India, I found out it was still illegal to be gay and panicked. I had a really horrific experience living there. I feel like I went there wanting to trace my lineage and explore the country that my family comes from. I wanted to find a sense of belonging. I feel this in the US, and then I thought going and living in India would fulfil the rest of what’s missing. But I felt like such a foreigner because I didn't speak the language. I was queer with a shaved head and tattoos and was constantly bombarded with the fact that it's illegal to be queer. I felt frustrated and angry. It has made me hesitant to want to have anything to do with India. I also have a disease that progressively declines my vision, and I feel like disability is very stigmatized in India. It's traumatic to constantly be encountered with the fact that a huge part of your identity isn't accepted, and for it to be a country where it's your own culture complicates it.
> Honestly, I've felt more discomfort from South Asian people being like, you're not South Asian enough, than I have from white people.
I'm a people pleaser, and so, I feel like I have to play out the identity of the people that I'm with. For instance, I don't like how gendered Indian clothing is, but I feel like I have to participate in all of that in order to be South Asian. Or if I'm out at a dinner party with South Asian family and friends...I'll just be a 'good Indian girl' versus at college, I play up my queerness more. I also feel like I don't know many people who are mixed. A lot of the people I know…both of their parents are South Asian. With my mom being half-white, we’re a blend of not only the US and India, but also in terms of race.
I think I'm really lucky in that my parents are very supportive of my queerness, but we're kind of distanced from my dad's side of the family because they're very conservative and my parents don't want to deal with it.
OW I'M MORE INTERESTED in finding queer South Asian community and belonging in New York. I went to a very queer social justice-oriented college and started to feel more comfortable in my identity there, but also not, because it was very white. A lot of queer spaces are very white-dominated and also it's a lot of gay men. I often feel in conflict in those spaces, but I think the more I find queer South Asian people, the more at ease I feel.
I'm getting more comfortable, just kind of existing in the nuance, in the gray area of 'identity is complex.' I don't have to fit into a single box, and neither do you.
KEYA ACHARYA (they/them) is a poet, artist, and activist who recently graduated from Sarah Lawrence College. Much of their time is spent working towards prison abolition. You can follow them here.