Illustration by Marie Ann Dt.

 

My world was 90% white, and the only colors I saw in my suburban town was eggshell, ivory and bleach. As a little brown girl undertaking the troubles of growing up, never meeting anyone like me was a certain hell.

I never actually fit into the white suburbia I had lived in my whole life, despite growing up the same as my friends. I existed, and for maybe even a moment, I thought I fit in but I didn’t. I never did. I was not the pretty girl and I didn’t look anything like the Barbie doll, that of which most of my friends had modeled themselves after. I was a tall brown girl with the prominence of my unibrow coming second to only my moustache and big brown eyes. I never really did much about how conventionally unattractive I was, because in my mind, the only things that really mattered were letters and numbers.

From kindergarten, in the spirit of true brown parenting, my mother made sure I was better than everyone else in my writing and mathematics skills. I didn’t dissapoint her, and I made friends. Only to have them speak to me and discover the slightest accent I had picked up from my mother. Back then I didn’t really care though. I don’t think anyone noticed at that time, my unibrow and mustache took more attention than my accent. In my eyes I thought I was the same as all the other girls. I was happy until first grade. One day, I was given the excruciating task of counting in front of the entire class, only to discover my slight stutter when encountering the number three.

It was little and practically unnoticeable unless you were looking for it, and luckily for me, as someone who was labeled different on face value, my classmates were always looking for “it”. Say it again, say it again! I knew they were laughing at my voice, my accent, at me. That was the moment I decided to never speak unless I had to.

First grade was also the first year we would be able to eat lunch in school. I brought my Mom’s paranthas to lunch and then promptly stopped when my friends sneered at me with their noses pinched asking me what I was eating. My life continued on after that, me slowly abandoning pieces of my cultural identity. I began hearing racist jokes about curry and how Indians smelled bad and I got conscious. I changed my speech patterns, basing each word I uttered off the girls I heard on TV. My voice began reflecting chunks of the Valley, although I never traveled anywhere near California.  I stopped eating my mother’s food overall and bought little dollar store body sprays, because the familiar scent I had grown up loving, of red saffron and aromatic spices was unacceptable to me, to them.

During the school year, my parents planned a trip to India for my cousin’s wedding and I was ecstatic. I had been to India before, but hadn’t remembered it, and wanted to get away from these white people as quickly as possible. I saw color for the first time in a while and family and love, and my sense of pride in India was temporarily rejuvenated.

When I came back third grade, I was confronted by a group of girls asking me what was on my hand and laughing about how they thought it was “shit”. I was adorned with the mendhi my mother drew on so beautifully and all my progress disappeared. When I thought I safely abandoned all fragments of my ethnicity, people began laughing about my physical features. My eyes looked like shit, my hair was ugly, I was too tall. I was convinced it was because there was something wrong with my race, although there was no resemblance of a relationship between the two. When someone asked me if I was Indian, I shook my head no. I was Albanian and Romanian or anything but Indian, I was not Indian. I shaved off my unibrow, had learned to cover up my accent and even forgot my mother tongue. Nothing would connect me to being Indian.

From then I stopped living a life and began a process of westernizing myself. I stopped being a person, instead I became a robot. I dehumanized myself, and broke off anything suggesting I was Indian and replaced it with something white.

It got to the worst point in middle school, I didn’t know anyone and the only thing people knew about me was that I was Indian. I had a target on my back the first day, I was that Indian girl. At my school, there were only of five Indian kids and hundreds of white kids. To avoid being bullied any more than I already was, I began laughing at the other Indian kids to feel more accepted by people who hated me for my race. In the summer of seventh grade, my family recognized how much my town had disfigured my sense of identity and took me to India as a last resort for me to gain a sense of cultural integrity. The last time I had been was third grade when pieces of India still existed in me. Now, I was unrecognizable, I wasn’t Indian inside. I was those people who hated me for no good reason. I was a blank little canvas of self hatred. I hated myself.

I remember how upset I was to go, my spark of excitement was gone. I would rather go to Europe, I remember saying. India is a dump, I thought. I hated it, before we got on the plane, and when I saw my aunt and cousins the moment we landed, I realized how wrong I was.

During that trip I met my family again for a second time, I saw India again, and I finally opened my eyes to realize that my race was not the problem, I was. The lack of faith I had in my family, the only people who treated me like a person through all those years, was horrifying. I came back, and physically I was awful but inside I began to unlearn all the things I had been taught for so long. By the beginning of high school, I had gotten physically gorgeous and relatively skinny with curves and everything high school movies promise ugly girls, and I’m able to love myself enough to admit it. All of those people who hurt me for my race and features began complimenting me, and the girls on TV looked like me. They had big brows and noses, but they were white. I laughed when I think about it, all this time I looked like this and I was ugly but a white girl comes along, and these qualities became beautiful. All my work meant nothing, I would never become white and for the first time in my life, I was okay with that. I was happy about it, actually. I was able to love myself and my culture enough to scare off the people who needed me to hate myself to feel better about themselves. Growing up Indian was weird, it was great, it was awful. It taught me things that none of the white girls who hurt me could ever even come close to comprehending.

I wonder had I become white at the moments I wanted, would I be happier? Would my life become easier? Definitely, but had I become white, I would have lost me. I am intertwined into my culture, and vice versa. I am Indian, and without this fact, I would cease to be me.

Through my journey to self acceptance, I still find myself in bed crying about the same things I swore never to let affect me when I accepted my culture. I find myself horrified so many brown girls I have met have faced similar situations, and so many are going through the same level of self I had been through hatred right now. I find myself attached to old views I thought I let go, and I find myself unlearning the smallest of things.

My quest to self love and acceptance will never end and has led me to cutting off the same people I would have given my life for a few years ago and I am okay with it. I realized that everything and everyone you will ever care about will never be worth as much as yourself, because you are only left with yourself in the end. Everything in this world will hurt you and everyone you will ever meet will probably make you completely miserable at some point, but you should never, ever belittle yourself or any part of yourself to try to fix that.  धन्यवाद