As a South Asian American, I have heard that term being thrown around a lot lately. Conferences. Seminars. Books. Church. It is used in an attempt to describe the conflict between being raised in two cultures: immigrant desi and domestic American.
Which culture do I embrace?
Who do I identify with?
Who am I??????
Maybe you claim you haven’t really thought about these issues, you just live “normally.” Maybe you think it’s a silly thing to talk about. But I guarantee you that while you were growing up, your mind was in overdrive, trying to figure out who you would be. The “fob” with the accent and out-of-style attire? The “cool guy” with the Express wardrobe and perfectly coiffed hair. The “gangster,” complete with tall tee and hat. The “white boy/girl” with the surfer I-don’t-care look. One of the nearly countless other niche groups.
But in the meantime, you had your parents harassing you over what your hair looked like. Coconut oil looks way better in your hair than your gel/mousse/wax concoction! They complained that your clothes were either too tight or too loose. Rap music made them uncomfortably angry, rock left them bewildered. Why were you hanging out with this group of friends? You “hang out” too much.
At school, your skin tone immediately gave you away. And if you’re Malayalee, probably the fact that you have 3 first names. You came to school with the unmistakable aroma of masala on your clothes. Your parents played HolyBeats and Binoy Chacko a little too loud as they dropped you off, always turning heads. You made (mostly) A’s. You grew facial hair before you hit puberty.
And so, your mind decided at some point to either appease your parents and ethnic culture or completely adapt to the American niche of your choice. Most walk a line, trying to balance both. But you’re never going to completely balance it.
Understandably, this causes a bit of a tension between groups of first and second generation-ers who disagree over how you should live, look, and behave. “Cultural” or “western.” All sides look at the others with a bit of derision, creating cliques and factions.
Yay to diversity!
But maybe that’s what’s so great about having this opportunity to create new cultures. America is the great melting pot of the West, and unknowingly, we’re making the same moves that scores of immigrant groups have done for the last 3 centuries.
Culture has always been a part of the human race. And it is always adapting. And it always leaves a mark on the individual. So I’m not sure what path you’ve taken in your quest to find yourself….
But me? Well, I still like a bit of curry in my culture.