The Perfect Percent

On red hot mornings, we drink masala chai. As the sun rises, we rise with it.

Vendors trudge through the bustling streets with a vigor unlike any other. The sound of car horns and restless rush hour victims echo through the ivory walls. Downstairs, my aunts are ringing bells inside the pooja room and the holy smell of jasmine floods the apartment. Breakfast is served shortly after and our dining table is filled with a sense of warmth hailing not from the scorching sun or from the chai, but from the bright orange smiles from my family. That was home.

More than a decade later, my definition of home is skewed. After assimilating into a small Jersey Shore town and then again within my college campus — I’ve come to realize that home was far from stable. And that is okay. I’ve come to terms with myself and my identity after immigrating from India to America. It took a lot of effort to balance two cultures while keeping a sense of who I was at my core, but it was worth it in the end. Time to time however, my mind starts to waver — especially when those dear to me question my own identity harmlessly.

“You’re too white.”
“You’re definitely more brown than her.”
“You’re the whitest Indian I have ever met.”

In some contexts, these are meant in jest or in wit wherein the topic is ultimately drowned out. Most importantly, these statements do not hold hate nor do they hold malice because they tend to come from our friends, our colleagues, and the rest of our social circles. Why then do I find myself not being able to answer back? These kinds of statements clip the tongue and still our core. I have heard these phrases far too many times as a teenager and as an emerging adult from people of color. At first, I was confused. Why would Indian-Americans cast such judgments on other Indian-Americans? Aren’t we all struggling with our own sense of culture and identity? Aren’t we all on different paths to finding our own sense of home in a country far from our motherland? Why do we strip other identities down without even knowing their full story?

This pressure to be or to not be “white” has resonated with several other minority groups. Whether people want to conform to mainstream white culture or not is simply their choice. They, in turn, should not be ridiculed by the lifestyle they choose to show on the surface. As an immigrant, there were many moments in my childhood where I questioned my own cultural values and norms when I was growing up in a predominantly white town. There was a dark inner dialogue wrapped around my mind for quite some time nudging at me to be someone I was not.

Distinguishing the difference between conforming and assimilating has always been a difficult journey throughout my youth. In essence, I was afraid. I was afraid of what people thought of me because I was something they did not understand.

Yet despite this, these remarks do not provoke anger or frustration, but they do provoke the bigger questions at hand: 

When will we be enough? When will we be the perfect percentage of “white” and “brown” for our seemingly black and white society?


(Featured Artwork: Manjit Thapp)

Prathigna Yerakala

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