Struggling With My Indian Heritage At An All White High School And Embracing It In College
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I Struggled With My Indian Heritage At An All-White High School, But College Taught Me To Embrace It

I can honestly say now that I've never been more proud of my heritage.

I Struggled With My Indian Heritage At An All-White High School, But College Taught Me To Embrace It
Sherin Samuel

St. Anthony's High School, a predominantly white private school, is where I've called home for the past couple of years. Growing up in a white suburb on Long Island, NY, made me want to hide my South Indian heritage as much as possible. I was always irked when people asked me "what I was, " because I was embarrassed that if they found out that I was Indian, they would make some ignorant joke about me being a Hindu or a Muslim. Apparently, since I'm "brown," I'm only allowed to believe in either of those two religions. That's funny because, in actuality, I'm a Christian. However, no one has ever cared to know that. Instead, they asked presumptuous questions such as "Where's the dot on your head?" or "Where's your turban?" Yes, these are actual questions I received I remember despising myself for not being white, thinking that maybe if I changed the way I looked, I wouldn't be teased for my cultural background.

Before I went into high school, I decided to dye my hair with blonde highlights, wear blue contacts, and put on concealer to a point where I was three shades lighter than my color. For the next three years, it seemed like I didn't get any jabs about the color of my skin. I thought, "Wow. Maybe looking whiter actually worked..." Until one boy in my grade made a joke about how my mom is probably a terrorist and blows up buildings.

I cried to my best friend the next morning. Gasping for air and tears streaming down my face, wondering why should I be subjected to that. That ridicule, ignorance, biting comments, and self-loathing. I should not be ashamed of the country my parents are from, or feel the need to conceal the fact that I am "brown." I shouldn't have felt humiliated about who I am just because I am intimidated of some naïve kid.

My identity as Sherin Samuel includes being Indian. This is who I am. No amount of change to my appearance will ever change that. I am not white, and never will be. At that moment, I realized that I should not want to be someone else to please other people. No matter what I do or how I look, people are going to think a certain way because of their worldview, or simply because of their naïveté. People are ignorant because they are uninformed.

I tried to deny the fact that racism still existed before this. I excused some students in my school, who thought it was okay to throw around the "n" word, or who did not know the difference between nationality, religion, ethnicity, and culture. These circumstances in my life made me aware that kids my age needed to be informed. And I realized that it's not always their fault. That boy did not know the difference between right and wrong, how could he have? He could not have known that his joke would have affected me in a harsh way if everyone around him made it seem like it is acceptable to make racist jokes. I wanted to change this and enlighten those who did not know it already.

These discoveries led me to want to become a journalist. I want to bring news to the uneducated, especially to kids my age — kids who do not know what Dubai is, or what the civil war in Syria is. I want to pursue a career in journalism to pop the bubble of ignorance, to avoid what I experienced in my small town, in my high school.

It doesn't have to be like that for the next Indian, and I want to make sure of it.

Embracing my heritage has been a lot easier ever since I've attended Stony Brook University. With Stony being so diverse, not only was I learning new information about my own culture but other people's as well. I'm encouraged to be myself here, with there even being a South Asian club how could I not want too. I started making school friends who understood the struggle of being brown. I started to learn about the different types of ethnic groups and languages that were within the country of India, just by talking to fellow brown people. I couldn't believe that I was missing out on how beautiful my heritage really is all these years.

I've never been more proud of my background and I couldn't thank my university enough for that. Although it's only been my first year here, I'm still getting to know more about my identity. Though sometimes I can be naive about the traditions that my Indian culture has, I'm constantly open to learning them. And I still have A LOT to learn.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.

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