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On any given day, I eat eggs for breakfast, a turkey and cheese sandwich for lunch, and lamb biryani for dinner. I get presents on both Diwali and Christmas, and my closet has a mix of the current fashion and kurtas from India. Most might brand me as an ABCD, (American Born Confused Desi), a derogatory term targeted at Indians who have grown up in the United States and adopted the “American culture.” But my name is Yohith Reddivari, and I am much more than a “Whitewashed” Indian.
Born in St. Peter’s Hospital, I lived in NJ for almost a year, and although I don’t remember anything from that time, I do know that I can check the box that says I am a citizen. After this, I moved to India and resided there for 7 years; growing up being able to see my grandparents, celebrating festivals (which were really excuses to play with firecrackers), and eating food that my dad was clearly passionate about.
Coming back to America, I was so worried about losing my heritage, as the language and people are much different, and the worst news an 8 year old can get was finding out that firecrackers were illegal where we were moving.
The sole reason my father asked to be transferred back to America was for my brother and I, as he wanted to provide us a platform to succeed, and give us the opportunity that he had when he came here in his early twenties. However, things were hard when I first moved here.
I was afraid I would forget the languages I learned in India, and when I tested out of ESL, it frightened me even more. Losing my Indian identity was very scary as a kid; I didn’t want to be associated with owning a convenience store, having my house smell like curry, and other stereotypical assumptions people had of me.
I am ready to order pizza at anytime, but secretly crave some chicken tikka masala, and no matter how much I love watching football, I still wake up at 4 AM to watch the India vs Pakistan cricket match. Living this double life is no picnic. Do I go to the run-down theater far from home that shows Indian movies, or do I go watch Avengers at AMC? Do I tune in to Hot 97, or do I shuffle through my Indian music playlist at a stop sign? How much time has to go by before keeping up with Hindi songs, Bollywood movies, Indian sports, and current events becomes too taxing, and I just choose one side of my life? I live my life on the fence between American and Indian culture, with a respect for both, and even if being Indian is easier, the American aspect of me predominates.
Thankfully, as I have gotten older, I have been able to define my identity, and merge the two halves of my life to make me whole. I volunteer at the temple, and during the weekends and the summers, being head counselor for the camp is really rewarding. I get to organize the cultural activity, and seeing all the little kids dress up in Indian clothes, participating in a plays, dances, songs, and yoga really brings back the sense of being in India. However, the American side of me shines too, as during the week, I swim and coach at the YMCA swim team, and helping the little kids out gives me that same sense of satisfaction and achievement; the feeling that I was part of something bigger.
I lie on the spectrum of Indian to American culture, but am never solely on one side. Instead of consisting of two primary colors like red and blue, I am the one and only shade of purple. Growing up in two different worlds was a struggle, but as a young adult, I appreciate the uniqueness of the cultures, atypical social experiences, and being able to be me. Identity and culture is what builds my ethnicity, caused me to face the hardships in life, made me stronger as a person, and realize the impact I have on the people around me.
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