A Reflection of How I Discovered My South Asian Roots in New York


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Kya aap hindee bolate hain?” 

I get requested this always by Indian individuals in Manhattan, in taxi cabs and Ubers, at halal carts and bodegas. My reply, all the time is, “No. I can perceive it, however I can’t communicate it.” 

Being a second era Punjabi American, I by no means discovered to talk the language of my ancestors. My mother spoke to my nani in Punjabi and to my sister and I in English. Bollywood motion pictures have been watched with subtitles on, semi-annual visits to the mandir have been whisper-translated to me by my mother and father and informal conversations with another desis we would meet in public have been rapidly veered into English. I discovered Spanish within the public college system of suburban Houston; neither Hindi nor Punjabi was ever supplied to me by any college class or extracurricular. I by no means turned down the chance to be taught it as a result of nobody ever requested me if I wished to be taught it, and because of this, I can extra simply decipher what my pal’s abuela says to her than what my very own nani says to me. 

Taxi drivers ask me if I communicate Hindi—I say no. Punjabi? Solely a bit of, I inform them. Have you ever been to India? By no means. Why not? My mother and father simply by no means took me, however don’t fear, “I need to go so badly!” The dialog all the time ends there and I do know precisely how I have to look to them: an Indian woman who grew up in America, utterly severed from her tradition, so westernized that she doesn’t even communicate her mom tongue. The tradition handed down a bloodline ends along with her era. It all the time stings, a minimum of a bit of bit. 

[Read Related: Perfecting Round Rotis: Embracing my Indian Roots and American Upbringing]

It’s not that my mother and father ever tried to cover our Indian heritage from my sister and me, it’s simply the way in which issues turned out. Actually, it wasn’t even till late into highschool that I started to query it, started to really feel ashamed of being a “whitewashed” Indian with extra ties to America than to my house nation, as a result of how can I check with a spot as “my nation” after I’ve by no means stepped foot in it?

Till I moved to a spot the place there have been extra Indian individuals than I’d ever been round in my life, I all the time felt a extreme disconnect from my South Asian roots. I might criticize white individuals sporting bindis to coachella on-line all day, however on the finish of that day, did I deserve the best to put on them any extra? Coconut, a time period thrown round usually after I was youthful, appeared nearly relevant within the worst means potential. Brown on the surface, white on the within, regardless of not wanting that Americanized a part of me to be the reigning perspective.

However, it’s what I used to be and what I’m and what hundreds of different desi youngsters who grew up within the States are: by no means absolutely Indian, however not fairly absolutely American, both in between that existed only for kids of the diaspora, kids whose mother and father’ language was not their very own language.  

My nani in her traditional lenghaMy nani in her traditional lenghaA photograph of my nani in her sari shortly after shifting to the USA within the 60s

However, in New York, not being the one Indian particular person in a room constantly made me much less okay with burying my tradition beneath an American flag. I started to hunt out any piece of India I might, discovering solace and a wierd type of connection in something I might discover. I take the lengthy approach to my courses simply to stroll down Sixth Road, previous the row of Indian eating places on the block. I really feel a twang of absurd satisfaction in my chest when a pal raves in regards to the dosa man’s cart in Washington Sq. Park—that’s my tradition’s meals they love, my individuals’s recipe. When Uber drivers ask me, “Trishna—is that this an Indian identify?” I say sure and ask them the place they’re from, listening to tales about Punjab, Delhi, and Calcutta, locations I so hope to see. 

I discover a house I’ve by no means been to in a house I selected for myself, within the smiles shared between myself and desi aunties I go on the sidewalks, within the normalization of listening to Hindi spoken between strangers, within the non-otherness I expertise when New Yorkers rave about Indian eating places in Soho or that Punjabi deli within the Decrease East Facet. New York has given me a motherland away from the motherland, a group to be one of many hundreds of, a approach to really feel Indian in a means that extends previous my look, that wraps round my brown pores and skin like a cushty scarf somewhat than an ever-present weight round my shoulders in a room stuffed with white individuals. 

[Read Related: How Growing Up in Little India Molded My South Asian American Identity]

I discover myself feeling nearer and nearer to a rustic I’ve by no means seen as a result of items of it are scattered all throughout New York, and right here, it’s celebrated, not stifled. Right here, I’m a toddler of the diaspora in a metropolis the place hundreds and hundreds of different Indians reside, bringing our tradition with them and replicating it of their garments, their tongues, their meals. I’m infrequently the one South Asian in a room anymore, a reality which, as a result of I might by no means say that for the primary 18 years of my life, brings immense consolation with it. I’m reminded of a spot I’ve by no means been to, however whose heritage and roots run in my blood: a spot that isn’t deemed so “unique” when it has room to develop and flourish, a spot that although nonetheless unfamiliar and hundreds of miles away, feels tangible, inside attain.

Being surrounded by items of India set adrift isn’t any alternative for seeing India itself, for talking the language and experiencing the tradition, but it surely’s actually a begin—and for now, for a second-generation American, for the woman who would attempt on her mother’s previous saris and simply sit round the home as a result of she felt nearer to the tradition that means, it’s most positively sufficient. 

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Trishna RikhyTrishna Rikhy

Trishna Rikhy

Trishna is a rising junior at New York College finding out Journalism and Artwork Historical past. When she’s not writing, Instagramming or napping, she might be discovered compiling lists of the very best espresso outlets in NYC or petting canines in Washington Sq. Park.

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