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Combine your cultures: The ‘S Movement’

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As the daughter of two Indian immigrants, I can tell you one thing for certain: Children of immigrants typically struggle to find their place in the United States. When you’re raised in a family that embraces foreign cultural values and traditions, it can be difficult to adapt to a country brimming with hip-hop music, baseball, grilled cheese, memes, sneakers, jeans and ever-changing slang.

For one, I used to feel really embarrassed whenever my mom wore a sari in public. The very same feeling would engulf me if I had to speak my first language, Tamil, outside my home, perhaps when communicating with my family or other native speakers. After all, being the kid with frizzy hair, braces and glasses was bad enough; I didn’t need to distance myself even further from American society.

I believed that in order to be considered “cool,” I had to strictly conform to my perceptions of the ideal American lifestyle. When reflecting back on the so-called humiliation I felt, I can honestly say that it was both pointless and frustrating.”

I believed that in order to be considered “cool,” I had to strictly conform to my perceptions of the ideal American lifestyle. When reflecting back on the so-called humiliation I felt, I can honestly say that it was both pointless and frustrating. I could never be my full self around my friends.

Then, my cousin called me, and told me about how she had started a movement with a friend, about culture combination. When I asked her what it was about, she told me about her struggles initiating herself into the American society, as well as the bullying she faced because she tired to retain her culture. And in less than a month, word had spread about the movement like the Norovirus in a high school.

In order to encourage the combination of cultures, Smrithi Ram, my cousin, and Sree Brahmamdam, my cousin’s partner in crime, both students at the University of Cincinnati, created the “S Movement.” According to their website, thesmovement.com, the S Movement “showcase[s] the beauty of South Asian culture intertwined with a hip-hop lifestyle” in order to “stand up for [their] rich, beautiful and vibrant culture and hope to empower you to do the same with yours.”

For their movement, these two girls organize photo shoots combining ethnic jewelry and street-style clothing; create playlists featuring music from a variety of cultures; and promote many different artists, including Pakistani-American rapper “Haas Spitta,” through their inspiring platform.

Spitta said “[he] wouldn’t be the person [he is] today” had he not chosen to combine his Pakistani and American cultures.

As a first-generation Indian-American, my cultural identity is mixed — the two influences, though distinctly different, are nevertheless combined.”

Through their movement, Ram and Brahmamdam challenge beautifully the idea that people must be “one or the other” when it comes to your culture — or rather, cultures.

I have to admit, I was quite perplexed at the thought of combining two things that could not be more opposite. When you compare foreign cultures to America’s gregarious and free-spirited identity, they do usually come out on the traditional and conservative side. When I visited the S Movement website, my first thought was: How did the people around them react to someone in jeans and leather with traditional bangles, nethi chuttis (Indian headdress) and traditional necklaces?

As a first-generation Indian-American, my cultural identity is mixed — the two influences, though distinctly different, are nevertheless combined. I can listen to Beyonce, lace up my Converse and celebrate the Fourth of July, but that doesn’t mean I can’t also wear my chudidhars (traditional Indian clothing) and bindis (a designed sticker-like mark a woman wears on her forehead) and speak Tamil.

Fortunately, on my road to cultural acceptance, I had some amazing role models. My cousin was always so open about our culture and religion. She would blast Indian music in the car with the windows down, and would share our culture with all her friends. Gradually, she did rub off on me, and from there I started my journey of acceptance.

Only because of my cousin did my own little “aha” moment come along. I shouldn’t worry about what others think about what I wear, just as these inspirational women didn’t. I love everything about my culture, including its music, dance, art and religion. I was done feeling embarrassed — done hiding part of my life from my American friends — simply because they might not always understand what I’m wearing or bringing to school for lunch.

Separating yourself from your culture every now and then is completely understandable, but it’s important that you at least be able to reconnect with those roots whenever you’d like. Your culture is a crucial part of your identity. Whether you reconnect through religion, art, literature, fashion or even food, make sure to hold on to that piece of you. Though you may not be interested in your culture now, you never know how you will feel about it in the future.

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