My culture and why I rejected it for so long

Being Indian was not as innate for me as it was for others

I hated being Indian.

There honestly was not a single part of me that liked it. I hated the music. I hated the movies. I hated the food. I hated the languages. All of it. The rejection truly was all-encompassing.

I am a first generation American-Indian.

Growing up, I attended a small private elementary school in Thousand Oaks, similar to Oak Park in that the soccer moms knew each other by name and the students breezed through each and every day without any predicaments.

My mother, like most Indian mothers, made a classic Indian chapati and curry for me from day to day, and I, like most Indian children, loved it — at home. At school, however, as I opened up my lunch, I was faced with the public scrutiny of my friends: “What is that smell?” or “How can you eat that?” they asked. Immediately ashamed, I schlepped my lunch away and, while my peers enjoyed their hamburgers and grilled cheeses, I would toy with my nametag waiting for the bell to ring.

To this very day, I do not bring lunch from home.

Time slowly but surely went on, and it was that time of year again: Diwali! During the festival of lights, also known as my favorite holiday of the year (Christmas was a close second), the Indian girls usually wear a bindi on their forehead. I wore one to school in fourth grade, since I was proud of my culture. Why should I be ashamed?

I remember my fellow classmate yelling to me, “Why do you have a target on your forehead? We aren’t in Iraq!” Immediately ashamed, I ripped it off my forehead and while my friends decorated the class Christmas trees, I would, yet again, toy with my nametag waiting for the bell to ring.

One thing that I used to be so good at was fitting in. Whether that meant erasing my whole belief system, abandoning my culture or assimilating so that there is no ounce of Indian left in me, I knew that I could do it. To survive, this came easy for me.

I was ashamed. I just wanted to be like all of the Jessicas, Alices and Laurens, I did not want to be Sravya. With the name that no teacher could ever pronounce, the culture that stood out and the language that made people uncomfortable, I was the whole unpackaged package.

When I turned 17, I had a conversation with my parents. The conversation comprised of me talking about my culture in a way that I never had before. My mom and I were talking about where I received so much of my politically-fueled, fire-branded personality and she told me something I had never known before.

My great grandfather was a freedom fighter.

He was one of the men who protested alongside Gandhi for independence from Britain. His commitment to his country, a part of me which is so innate and genetic, was something I did not accept for the majority of my life. In that moment I knew I was wrong.

This was bigger than me. It always has been and it always will be bigger than just me.

So much of my shame, I realized, originated from the social structures around me and what is considered “normal” in Western culture; with the hope of fitting in, I abandoned my whole background, my values and, most tragically, the samosas.

To all of the people out there who are not proud of where they come from, I have been there. There is no magic remedy for loving your heritage; in fact there is no magic remedy for loving yourself period. I would like to tell you all, though, put your bindis back on, eat your home-cooked lunch, be proud of who you are. Because, quite frankly, your culture is unique in a way that no other culture is.

It is representative of your parents and your grandparents and of your great-grandparents. It is representative of the struggle that they went through for independence and for the life that you have now.

Do not abandon it because of what some ignorant classmate said when you were in elementary school. Do not abandon it for the world, because I promise you there will come a time when you regret not loving your culture; there will come a time when you regret not saying, “I love being Indian.”