It has never been a secret that I’m not white. I mean, it’s pretty darn obvious. And honestly, being an Indian in America is not very uncommon. Face it, there are a lot of us. Everywhere.
It is pretty normal for a person of a non-white ethnicity to often feel out of place. For example, over here in America, I’m considered “foreign,” even though I was born here and haven’t lived anywhere outside of California. But when I visit India, I’m still considered “foreign," because I’ve never lived anywhere outside of California. To the people in India, I’m basically white.
Since such conflicts are very common in the salad bowl that is the United States of America, many communities are formed to create an Americanized version of different countries within the United States. This way, a new culture can be established for a group that can take into account the ideals of both the United States and the group’s homeland. For example, the Indian American communities in America are generally referred to Brown Town. But sometimes even that culture is hard to fit into.
Brown Town is a very unique community. It usually starts in middle or high school and continues throughout college. The common Brown Town usually consists of about 20 people, both guys and girls. Most people in Brown Town can dance Bhangra, Raas, Bollywood, or other traditional Indian dance styles.
In addition, the members of Brown Town are generally all STEM majors. Occasionally there is an aspiring law student, which is okay because law is a highly respected profession. They usually spend their weekends volunteering at hospitals. When it comes to student jobs, it’s all about starting a new company or scoring various internships. Retail is NOT a thing.
The members of Brown Town are so close that the parents and family members of the people in Brown Town also become close. Of course the parents and members have their own personal contacts in other schools’ Brown Towns, which evidently increases the size of the community.
Most of the other Indian kids I grew up with were part of Brown Town. Don’t get me wrong, they are all amazing people and I am still good friends with most of them. But I was never in Brown Town.
I’m from a cute little beach town called Santa Cruz, a place that is mostly inhabited by hippies, stoners, and college students (none necessarily mutually exclusive). I grew up in a very liberal area filled with art and nature. When my family moved to the Bay Area, I had a really tough time fitting in. The population of the city I went to was predominantly Asian. The neighborhood I lived in was mostly Indian and the student population at my middle and high school was over 50% Indian.
I was an Indian person who was born and raised in the United States. And somehow I didn’t fit in with the community of other American kids whose parents had moved from India. I know how to dance, but it wasn’t my life. I grew up dancing but what I really trained for was fencing, a sport that is predominantly white. Out of the thousands of competitive fencers representing the United States, I am probably one of about 30 who are Indian Americans. In high school, I participated in the Spotlight on India event, which was a giant, two night show that comprised of a basic Bollywood inspired plotline and numerous dance numbers and musical performances that highlight some of India’s various artistic styles. Of course, I wasn’t part of an act or an emcee or anything. I was a theatre kid, so I was usually hired to play with the lights and sound board or something “totally weird” like that.
In high school, I was considered a “white person” because of my involvement in theatre. Nothing really changed much when I came to college. I’m not a STEM major at all. In fact, I’m taking a class on programming this quarter and if I had to code for a living, I would probably throw numerous laptops out the window out of frustration. I’m a communications major, which most members of Brown Town consider a cop out. Many of the “aunties and uncles” I know have told me their Starbucks orders just in case “show business doesn’t work out.” The cool thing about being a communications major is that I get to study a variety of things from social justice to marketing and advertising. To deviate even more, I am also a theatre minor. What am I going to do with any of that, right?
Because of my slightly anomalous lifestyle, my parents were not like most other brown parents in our community. They are very friendly people and definitely make many friends on their own. And when it came to the friends they made through me, they were very open. Similarly to the relationships formed in Brown Town, my family became close with other fencing and theatre families.
I’ve spent my whole life living side by side with Brown Town. But even though my skin color and my parents’ background fit in with the culture of Brown Town, it wasn’t the place for me. My family and I have our own unique culture which made it interesting to deviate from the societal norms that the Indian community had set. And I can easily say that I wouldn’t want it any other way!