Confessions of a Cultural Hybrid

Growing up as a second generation American has been an interesting experience.  I don’t use the word interesting to imply a less negative version of strange. Rather, I honestly think being a cultural halfie has given me a unique perspective on life and all things that come along with it.  When I was young, I used to think the country my parents were from had a magical quality to it – a luster and glimmer they kept alive through the food they made for my brothers and me, the sequined salwar kameez my mom would have specially picked out for me and the funny stories which made absolutely no sense when translated to English.

Life was good, easy and fun. I had two of everything:  two countries, two sets of wardrobes, two different kinds of cuisine to pick from (macaroni and cheese or lentils and spinach with rice… or both!), two languages… I was living the life in elementary school.  I had a masterful mom who would French braid my hair in the morning (tres chic among 8 year old girls), my neon socks were super bright and my Little Mermaid lunch kit was uber trendy.  And I had really cool pictures to show my friends on Show and Tell day.  I had it made.

Then middle school happened.  All of a sudden I didn’t find my other culture quite so magical.  I became focused on myself, too focused on myself and tried hard to not stand out.  I would speak English to my parents all the time to prove to them that I was 100% American.  I scoffed at the clothes my mother would hand me and would throw on the rattiest t-shirts and jeans I could find.  I refused to go to their dinner parties – I did not want to sit at someone’s house for 5 or 6 hours with no MTV.  I didn’t want to talk to other kids either – some of them were so good at playing the perfect Bengali child role that I would have to hear about them all the way home, silently rolling my eyes.  Others were more “Americanized” than me and had no interest in starting a friendship.  The strictness with which my parents ruled over me only made me turn away from them more.  At the heart of it, I was wholly interested in becoming a standard piece of the standard puzzle of life, rather than breaking out and creating my own puzzle, standard be damned.  Rather than appreciating the inherent awesomeness of my experiences so far, I specialized in methods with which to culturally dumb myself down.

I went to college two and a half hours away from home and it certainly was a good time.  I had no one to tell me what to do and I loved every moment of it.  I became further and further removed from my culture and started forgetting bits and pieces of Bengali.  Words that used to flow smoothly from my mouth were now bumpy and filled with English filler words.  And I didn’t care, because I felt like that culture was what was holding me back anyways.  I downplayed the importance of my parents to my friends – some of them only spoke to their parents once or twice a month anyways.  Was it weird that I wanted to talk to mine way more than that?  Definitely not.

I moved to San Francisco soon after graduating college.  And as everyone always says, you really do figure it out as you grow up.  Moving to a new city knowing only a handful of people is the most eye-opening experience I’ve ever had. It teaches you to learn new things, meet new people and figure out how to live totally on your own.  But it was different from college – I really began to appreciate my parents and everything they’ve taught me.  I missed my mom’s food.  My mother immediately spent hours on the phone with me teaching me how to cook (semi) Bengali food and shipped a rice cooker my way along with the typical South Asian spices.  Apparently the quality of one’s biryani says a lot about their skills as a wife in the future – if that were true, I would be an epic fail and single for ever.  But I can make a few dishes that can maybe pass for my mom’s, I promise.  I hung up one of her old sari’s as a tapestry on my wall.  I liked seeing it all the time – it was the most comforting thing in my apartment.  I realized that a lot of the qualities I had taken for granted for many years were blessings in disguise.  Generosity, commitment, abundance and wisdom – my parents’ encompass all of these qualities.

While living in the city, I figured out that all of the different aspects of my life – where my parents are from, where I was born, the languages I speak, the countries I’ve travelled to, the traditions I’ve learnt – they all make me uniquely, me.  Some people only get to see certain geographies for their entire lives.  I have been lucky enough to not only travel to many different places, but to have pieces of them within me.  I still see myself as different, but different is the best thing ever.  It lets me see all sorts of different situations with a different filter.  It allows me to meet people I could never have met with out my background.  Don’t get me wrong – I still get into arguments with my parents.  My dad for one, still asks me what “going out” means on a weekly basis.  He would prefer that I stay at home on Friday night reading Maxim Gorky or studying for the GMATs (even though I plan on taking them in a year).  Sometimes parents are well…parental.  I still love mine.

Let’s go for a metaphor here – I hear they are popular.  If you imagine people as stained glass windows, everyone will reflect light somewhat differently right?  I believe that people with the most colorful, varied, multifaceted pieces of glass will reflect back the richest light.  And this doesn’t stand for just culture – it can be any life experience you have ever had.  All of those experiences made you uniquely you.  And I happen to find you very very awesome, just as you are.

Till next time


You can read more from Moon Ashan on her blog.

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