Today I would like to thank Martin Luther King for helping me create what I consider to be my Indian American Identity. What does that mean, you ask? Let me explain:
Fist of all, even though my skin color is a little different than the average person in America, I am still an American. Sometimes it's hard for me to say this because when people look at me they see a person who comes from another country, yet I grew up here. This is my home. America defines me first.
Secondly, I still retain some of my parent's Indian culture, or I should say my Indian culture. I understand some of the language, I follow some of the religious rituals, and I like some of the food. Some of my values come straight from my parent's homeland, I find that I have slightly different values than the average American.
So maybe you want to ask me why I have to call myself an Indian American as opposed to just an American? Because often times I look in the mirror and I see a person with so many different dimensions. I don't see blonde hair and blue eyes, but when I talk Hindi does not come out of my mouth.
The truth is I wouldn't fit in India even if I tried, I'm different than Indians in India. I sometime hang out with Indian people in America just to feel like there is somewhere I fit in.
I am often between two cultures and have the right to define myself within the borderlines of these cultures. Sometimes I don't feel Indian at all and sometimes I don't feel American at all. I also have a unique religious identity as a Sikh. Sikhs are a minority in India so I sometimes define myself as a Sikh Indian American.
When I walk around town, I'm one of those people who is mistaken to have many different culutral identities. People think I'm Arabic or Mexican etc. I don't mind this at all, it makes me feel worldly in fact.
However, I remember a time when I didn't feel so worldly. My uncle wears a turban and he was living with us in 1984. There were huge riots in India during this time because two Sikh men had assasinated the Prime Minister of India, Indra Gandhi. I suppose someone must have seen this on the news, since it was on the news every night.
It stared with eggs, they threw a few eggs at our window and we could hear laughter coming from outside. Then, the next day, it was tomatoes. And finally they threw rocks through our windows.
We don't know who did it. I remember feeling scared and hated and feeling ill. I didn't really realize, at that age, that I was so radically different than the average person. That we as a family were so different, different enough that people should throw stones.
I couldn't talk to anyone about it really, most of my friends were white at the time. I just went about my business with this new feeling of uncertainty. I felt like maybe, there was a chance, I did not belong in this country.
However, eventually I would read about Martin Luther King Jr. and how he helped make it so people like me would be accepted no matter what. Of course he was an idealist, but so am I.
I know there are people who look at me now and think I could be the girlfiriend or wife of a terrorist, or something like that. I think they think that I might be someone who doesn't speak English well even though I have two degrees in English.
The Civil Rights movement was not only for Black people, it was for everyone who felt like they had a place in this country, a place that was not being respected.
My place may look different than yours, but we share a space on this earth. America may not look like other countries because of people like me, people who mix things up, and I'm proud of that.
I'm proud of who I am and I will be a part of this country, a part of this world, and I will force you to accept me.
Whether or not you like it, I'm here to stay.