When my father turned 21, he left India with his older brother and friends to find work abroad. During this journey, he travelled to Jordan, Switzerland, Germany, England, and finally the United States. He was amazed at how large the world actually is. There were so many different kinds of people and traditions that made his home village seem miniscule and homogenous in comparison. He saw that life outside of his village afforded more opportunities for advancement. Thus, after my father married my mother, he went back to the United States to create a better life for his family.
My mother and I came to the U.S in February 1997, when I was a little under two years old. I don’t remember much about my first few months in the U.S. My current memories seem to vividly begin around the time when my younger sister was born, around Christmastime of the same year. Thus, all of my knowledge before time comes from stories that relatives have told me. According to my family I was a gregarious child, always looking to make new friends. However, as I grew a little older, I seemed to become more of an introvert, a change that no one could explain. However, I know that my change in personality was most likely due to the sudden cultural shakeup that I underwent when I first went to school. Up until my first day of Pre-K, people of my own culture surrounded me. I never had to speak anything other than Punjabi and there were never any communication problems between myself and those I interacted with. All of a sudden, I was in an environment that I did not understand and one did not understand me.
It took me about three painstakingly difficult years to learn how to speak English properly. I owe everything to my parents for teaching me English. They sat down with me and taught me how to read and write every day. If I needed any help, they would stop whatever they were doing and rush to my aid. My mother was taking a nap once and I, very inconsiderately, woke her up and asked her to help me write the alphabet. I wouldn’t have blamed my mother for ignoring me or getting angry at me. However, instead of being annoyed with me, she was thrilled to see me trying to learn so she got up and coached me through the alphabet. I didn’t appreciate it back then, but now that I look back at everything my parents did so that I would have a better life, a deep sense of gratitude emerges from my heart.
I slowly acclimated to American culture over my first few years in the U.S and I slowly began to feel more comfortable in my new environment. By the time I entered 1st grade, I was getting back to my original, outgoing self. But then, the tragedy of 9/11 occurred and had an enormous impact on my life. While I was used to curious looks from people who had never seen a person who looked like me before, I had never received hostility along with those looks. Due to 9/11, some Americans began to associate people with “brown” skin with “terrorist”. Suddenly, people who used to be genuinely curious as to why I wore a turban were suspicious of me. I was subjected to taunting and bullying and I had no idea why. I was too young to understand why I was suddenly being treated differently from everyone else. I started to act out at school and I became even more anti-social that I already was.
Getting through this tough period in my life would have been impossible had it not been for my family traditions and culture. When I felt like fighting someone who was bothering me, I heard my mother’s voice in my head, telling me to never solve problems through violence. Sikhs are taught to love all human beings and to promote the well being of everyone. Meaningless violence over a misunderstanding caused by ignorance would be a direct affront to the teachings of my forefathers. This strong tradition is what kept me from possibly ruining my life by focusing on the negatives of the situation rather than on what I could do to help others understand my culture. By promoting understanding rather than conflict, I was able to make friends rather than enemies. Those friends stood by me and supported me when I was down.
Since I was educated in the U.S, I came into contact many American ideals and beliefs. These values mixed with my Indian values to create a unique amalgamation of American and Indian cultures that made me into the person I am today. This mix of cultures has given me a unique perspective of the world. This one of a kind perspective has also caused me to question some of the Indian value I was taught. For example, for as long as I can remember, my parents have been telling me that I was going to be a doctor. As I grew older, I began to hate when my parents said, “You’re going to become a doctor”. What gave them the right to plan my life without me even getting a say as to how it was going to play out? I abhor the pressure that Indian parents tend to place on their children to become doctors, engineers, or businessmen/businesswomen. I appreciate that my parents pushed me to do well in school, but I would rather be
allowed to forge my own path to success rather than follow a trail that was laid out for me even before I was born.
Immigrating to a new country where the people speak a totally foreign language and practice different customs is a frightening experience. It takes time and effort to assimilate into a new culture. However, the rewards of my assimilation have been worth it. Gaining a unique view of the world through the fusion of Indian and American cultures has given me my own identity.