I am American. I am also Indian. I speak, read and write in English and in Hindi. I gaze excitedly at fireworks on Fourth of July and light diyas on Diwali. I snuggle on the couch to watch Hollywood rom-coms but dance to the beats of Bollywood songs. I listen to Taylor Swift and Selena Gomez, but my favorite TV show is an Indian soap opera. My parents call me a pasta monster, but I relish digging my fingers into a bowl of rice and chicken curry. I am American—but I am also Indian—and I love being both.
After living in the United States for all of my elementary school years, I only knew the American way of life, but a fateful trip to India seven years ago began an exhilarating journey of self-discovery. Flying over the Atlantic Ocean, I first crossed the bridge that would later link two very important aspects of my being. On a hot July afternoon in 2005, my father announced that he had been offered a job in India and that we would relocate to New Delhi in four weeks. I was thrilled at the aspect of moving to another country, but more importantly, of escaping middle school girl politics, whatever that was. At the Indira Gandhi International Airport, New Delhi, the heat and the smell of sweat nauseated me, as I pushed my way through the massive crowds in a daze. Although barking stray dogs and roaming cows on the streets intimidated me, they were the least of my problems. Was it a good idea to move to India after all?
In stark contrast to the comfortable life I knew back in the United States, nothing came easy in the first few months. I struggled with Hindi—a foreign language, felt lost and lonely in a boisterous classroom, and was bewildered by my grandparents’ conservative routines. I could not speak Hindi fluently, the first language of most of the students at my school, which excluded me from even casual interactions. My eleventh birthday party in December had a grand total of four people—including me. I had a lot to learn. Then one day, I accompanied a friend to buy lunch. When she realized that I did not have any money, she offered to share her chole kulche with me, which I declined. “Over here, we always share our food with friends,” she said. “If you do not eat, then I will not either.” So we shared lunch together.
That was the first of many cultural lessons I learned about friendship. Gradually, as I began to converse in Hindi, I found the key to making new friends and was quickly surrounded by bright eyed, smiling faces. By 7th grade, I proudly showed off wrists full of colorful friendship bracelets that each of my friends had tied for me. I finally became part of a close group of girls, and savored true friendship.
However, I still had to deal with a strict routine at my grandparents’ home. We ate simple Indian food every day; pizza or pasta were rare treats. My grandparents frowned upon my western attire and preferred to see me clad in conservative Indian school uniform. But, through knitting lessons and Indian folk tales, I grew closer to my grandmother and more accustomed to her curt ways. The once chaotic streets of New Delhi became familiar ground, and I discovered my true identity amidst the honking cars and stray animals. I bargained for bangles in bustling bazaars and gobbled spicy samosas from street sellers. Life soon blossomed into a palette of bright Holi colors, and I dispersed the colored powder in joy. Despite my enjoyable stay in India, I always longed to come back to the United States, and my family’s annual summer trips to Palo Alto kept that hope alive. It seemed like I would never be completely happy in either place.
In the spring of 2009, my father made another announcement—we were moving back to California! I was thrilled yet again, as I crossed the bridge over the Atlantic one more time.
But only after moving into an empty apartment, did the melancholy of leaving New Delhi, a city I had grown to love, my
grandparents, and most of all, my wonderful friends engulf me. At that moment I realized the true value of my journey to India and the importance of friendships I had formed.
When high school started in fall, I found myself quite different from other students around me. Before leaving for India, I wanted to be just like them: in color, in behavior and in style, but not now. Something had changed. I had changed. Just like smearing Dove lotion would never obliterate the scent of sandalwood soap after a bath, I realized, that no matter how hard I tried to become American, I would always have an Indian part hidden underneath.
Instead of suppressing that part, I decided to embrace my rich Indian culture and heritage. Since this self-realization, being both Indian and American has become an integral part of my lifestyle. By blending two contrasting cultures, I have bridged the gap between my American half and my Indian half. As I travel between two continents, my bridge strengthens my ability to adapt to changes, and I endeavor to adjust to various schools, people, and belief systems. With every passing year, this bridge helps me go back and forth between the more traditional Indian values and the independent and outgoing American way of life.
When the frothy waves of Moss Beach tickle my toes, and I begin to miss the balmy shores of the Indian Ocean, I cross the bridge by emailing my middle school friends from India or watching an episode of my favorite Indian television show. My bridge, which spans from San Francisco to New Delhi, connects two countries, two cultures, two lifestyles and two defining parts of my personality.
Now I go to New Delhi every summer and reconnect with family and friends there. By attending schools in India and in US, I have constructed a strong bridge that spans halfway across the globe and allows me to appreciate two diverse cultures. This bridge connects two extremely important parts of my identity and I can say that I am proud to be an American and an Indian.
Charu Srivastava is in the 11th Grade at Palo Alto High School in Palo Alto. This essay won 3rd Place in the Growing Up Asian in America Contest.
Growing Up Asian in America contestants were asked to reflect on the bridges in their lives—whether real, physical bridges, or symbolic bridges that connect important parts of their lives, or help them cross through challenging personal journeys.
Growing Up Asian in America is a program of the Asian Pacific Fund, a Bay Area community foundation established to improve the well-being of all Asians in the region, that works with donors to provide grants and services to over 90 Asian organizations. You can also view the winning entries online atwww.asianpacificfund.org.