For a class assignment, we were directed to imitate Hurston's famous "How It Feels To Be Colored Me" but make it unique to ourselves. After much difficulty, I found something that I was proud of but also struggled to deal with at the same time. I am proud to share with you my pastiche of her piece, renamed "How It Feels To Be Multicultural Me."
I AM MULTICULTURAL, but I offer nothing except the fact that I am the only person in my family who realizes the struggle of living in between worlds.
I remember the very day my struggle for a cultural identity began. Up until second grade, I lived in complete bliss of the issues I would face in the future involving the two heritages I would grow up with. It is something I wish I could go back to. The only language I knew was my native language taught to me by my mother and father, Gujarati. My mother always spoke to me in the mother tongue, and she tells me that I could speak just as fluently back. I knew the lady at the local Indian store and never hesitated to say "kem cho" ("How are you?") whenever we visited.
But English was something else.
Whenever we went to the local American Hy-vee grocery store, we would listen nervously to the fluent English speakers. My father, more fluent than my mother and I due to his previous studies in an English-medium school, would be the one to talk to the cashier, as if he had been speaking English his whole life.
Speaking in another language seemed nerve-wracking and obviously foreign to my mother, but I admired it. I admired the idea of being able to speak and understand a whole other universe. Not only did I admire it, but my mother realized that once I entered grade school, English would be a necessity for me. So she began to learn from my father. Simple things.
"Hello." "Goodbye." "How are you?" "Fine."
During this age, the only thing I found in the difference between my Indian culture and the new American culture was the language, and that did not bother me. My mother and father were proud of the little English I could speak because it was more than they knew when they were my age. They gave me compliments — all in the mother tongue, of course. But my kindergarten teachers gave no compliments to my improvement. They corrected every piece of broken English I spoke, but I tried my best nonetheless. I was speaking fluent English, or so I thought.
Changes came in my life when I moved to Johns Creek, Georgia and entered the second grade. My English had improved quite a bit, to a point where I could proudly say I was fluent in English and could say basic sentences. But with it came a loss of my mother tongue. When I entered my new classroom in elementary school, I was no longer considered fluent. I was not the little girl my mother and father were proud of for speaking broken English. I was now the girl who needed help in reading and writing class. In my heart, as well as in the mirror, I became a torn-up individual confused with what to do and how to live in between these two worlds.
But do not get me wrong. I AM NOT tragically multicultural.
I do not regret this life I live in between these two beautiful worlds. I do not regret anything at all. I no longer care to be the blissful girl I once was, believing that living among cultures would not tear me apart. A muddled irksomeness consumes my life. I have realized that the world cannot do much about my problems. I should not curse at the world for the strange life I live. I am too busy overcoming those barriers and living both lives in order to learn a new culture and keep my old one alive.
Someone is always reminding me that I am a native Gujarati, and I should remain fluent in that language as well to keep it alive for the future generations. It does not faze me. I know that I cannot let my heritage die. But I am doing all in my power to able to allow it to thrive as much as possible without recreating the mountains I have climbed in order to learn a new culture. The struggles my parents faced to allow our family to move to this golden country was the first step. Our baby steps in learning what American culture is was the second. And my parents' encouragement to always have a thirst for learning was the last.
These steps allowed me to thrive in between cultures, and I cannot stop now. A dying language is the price I paid to be able to thrive in this country, and I will not let it go to waste. I will struggle, and I will lose at some point. But that does not mean I will give up. I will keep trying to speak my native tongue even though it does not come as easily to me now as it once did. I will keep celebrating double the customs and holidays, because that is a part of me.
I do not always feel multicultural. At school, I often come off as an American-born, native-English speaking student. I feel most multicultural when I am at home trying to speak to my relatives back in India.
For instance, on the phone.
"Tamaro divas kewu atu?" ("How was your day?")
I feel myself wanting to speak in English. And this is where it stings the most. As I do my best to reply in broken Gujarati, speaking with a few English words in the mix, I realize that this is where I started. Speaking broken English. And now this is where I've ended up.
Sometimes it is the other way around. At school, as I sit among all my friends at lunch, I feel the same. We would all be speaking in English, and I don't even realize how easily the words are flying off my tongue. We talk about everything and anything. The latest on music or politics or our studies. One meaningless conversation into the next. The words continue to fly. We laugh a little. We take small breaks in between to grab a bite to eat. The conversation grows once more. Debates spark out of nowhere, and people begin to take sides. Again. Whether it's music or politics or our grades. Our laughter grows, and I am happy inside. I feel no worries or stress. I giggle along with my friends.
But when school is over, I have to go home. I have to go back to another world.
At certain times, I feel as if I am not stuck in between two worlds. I am just me. I am not Indian nor American. I do not struggle in between celebrating Diwali and Christmas nor speaking English or Gujarati. When I play music, I feel this the most. Because music is a third language, but it is the language I can relate to the most. Because I need not speak. I just play, and it is through playing which my emotions vibrate within me the most. I am at peace with myself.
I have no hate toward being an Indian and an American. I am merely a woman who floats in between both cultures. They are both my cultures, both my responsibilities to be a part of because they have both given me so much.
Sometimes I feel stuck, but it does not irritate me to a point of fury. It just confuses me. How can I do it? How can I be apart of both? I feel as if I'm living a double life.
But truly, I feel like any other immigrant in this sea of immigrants. I know I am not the only child who faces this struggle. My sister is purely American-born, and she knows almost none of my mother tongue. And so it is upon me to carry on our ancestry yet also live this life because I was born in our ancestral homeland, and I have learned from it.
At times I feel like just a small fish in this ocean. No one knows I'm there. No one knows what I'm facing. No one knows how stuck I feel at times. Perhaps at times I feel as if I am truly the fish out of water because there is no ocean for me. Sometimes I feel so pinned in between, I think I am suffocating because of too much. Too much exposure to both worlds. Too much pressure to be a part of both. But maybe, just maybe, one day, I will learn to accept that being a part of both cultures is just who I am and who I will be forever.