Third grade: I was around nine years old when I first felt embarrassed about my ethnicity.
A kid in my class started making fun of Indian food. He started talking making fun of Indian accents and probably very unintentionally, made me feel so inferior and embarrassed. I remember wanting to hide.
Freshman year of high school. I was sitting in science class when a girl walked up to me. She kinda looked me up and down and said: "So, do you like to make pottery or something?" I was immediately taken back. All I could say was "What?" (Now, if this would have happened today, I would have come back with a wittier response, but I had not grown into my confidence quite yet). She didn't take the hint that I was feeling uncomfortable, so she proceeded to ask more demeaning questions. "Have you ever ridden an elephant before?" "Do you have normal birthday parties, or do you weird things?" I remember my face getting warm and my palms getting sweaty. I shifted in my chair just said, "Nope, haven't done any of those things" in the timidest voice.
I wish I could tell you that those very derogatory questions meant nothing to me, that I brushed them off and went on my merry way walking in confidence in who I was.
The reality of this situation was that those words did not just brush those off. I remember feeling so annoyed and so hurt at the same time that I couldn't say anything to defend myself and that I just let myself be subjected to such embarrassment that I did nothing to deserve.
At that point in my life talking about my ethnic background was one of the most uncomfortable things for me to do. I always felt so separated by everyone else around me and I felt like there was no room to be proud of this part of my identity. When I was in high school, people weren't interested in truly knowing about my ethnic background. They asked questions to fill the void of their own ignorance, which ends up hurting the person they're talking to along the way Indian culture is something that has been warped into stereotypes on T.V. shows, and any other public outlet. And because there are some people that are unaware of how to properly talk to someone about their background, you get statements like this:
"Where are you from? Oh, sorry! That was probably racist."
In the public eye, I was very shy about talking about this part of my identity. I found myself wanting to quickly change the subject every time it was brought up. I had yet to find my confidence within that part of me.
Fast forward some years to where I am today, my perspective of my ethnicity has changed dramatically. And It's been the most life-giving and beautiful journey. I have recently been reflecting on the reasons why I now love my ethnic background and how I wouldn't change that for anything in this world.
I love that Indian food is a staple food in my life, a life without goat curry would be a sad one. I love that my mother speaks such a beautifully complex language. I could listen to her speak for hours. I love how intricate the clothing is.
Every detail is sown with such intentionality. I love that through becoming more immersed in my ethnic background, I've been able to fully grasp how amazing it is to hear prayers and songs of worship in a different language. It reminds me that God is near to everyone in such an individual and special way. And I love that family is so valued in this culture. It reminds me that God is so incredibly intentional with every person he places in my life. Each and every person. These are a few reasons that I've come to love and cherish this part of my identity. Although the journey to this love was a long one, it was worth it. I'm thankful that as I've gotten older I have gotten more confident, and in return, I've developed more pride for this part of my life.
If I could go back in time and sit down with nine-year-old Christina, I would tell her not to feel shame. I would cup her face in my hands and tell her that this part of her is beautiful, and she should be proud of it. I would tell her that no one can take this part of you away and you should walk with that confidence with your head held high. And lastly, I would tell her that this part of her identity is something she should be proud of.