I was only 4 years old, but the memory remains crystal clear. I sat in the backseat of my Dad’s 1999 Honda Civic as my eyes glistened from the skyscraping buildings. The familiarity of hectic and vibrant landscapes faded into a calm, snow-covered city. I was filled with optimistic curiosity —little did I know about the struggles I would face from the moment I got off of that 19-hour flight from India. I still remember my first day of school: we were learning the alphabet. I recited the letters so confidently while the other kids pointed and laughed at my accent. My cheeks flushed with embarrassment; this was the first time in my life I felt different. I realized from a young age that I had to strip myself of my “Indian-ness” to feel a sense of belonging. I already had to leave my homeland, but the pieces that connected me to it needed to be deleted to be seen as more “normal.” I was forced to live the best of both worlds.
At school, I was a typical American kid surrounded by western culture. I wanted to be independent; I wanted to make money; I wanted to travel the world. I had the same dreams as any other American girl.
At home, I was the daughter of Indian immigrants. I spoke my native language with reserved freedom, and indulged in the delicacies that I kept hidden at the bottom of my lunch box. “How can I embrace myself in a society that tainted my culture with shame?”
Being an “American” came at the cost of my identity as I tried to bury the embarrassment from my first day of school. Even after I have assimilated, the unwelcoming feeling still haunts me: the immigration system makes policies instead of jokes that hit harder. It wasn’t my feelings this time, it was my future. How can I feel like I belong when I grew up the same way as my peers, but can’t be afforded the same chances as them because of a simple visa status?
I was raised in this country, but the one thing that differentiates me is how I came here just a few years later but those few years are holding my life back from me. It’s as if I’m temporarily an outsider to my dreams- spending endless amounts of energy to persistently run towards a magical future that I can’t get a hold of.