you are five and excitement flies in your stomach like the bright butterflies you saw last spring. and when snack time comes around, you bring out your samosas to share when the rest of the class shares their cookies and sandwiches. and the girl to your right, the one who is the prettiest, or so you think, she makes a face and squeezes her nose shut. for the next 13 years, you will learn to hide away the food you love in exchange for peanut butter & jelly sandwiches and lunchables.
you are seven and you explain to your mother how you will introduce Ganeshji to all your friends at ‘show and tell’. and your mother, the blessing she is, pride in her eyes and love on her lips, she nods excitedly, clapping as you finish. and it is time, and you, sweet & voracious seven year old, bring out your Ganeshji. that day at the playground the boys who chase around the girls yelling ‘cooties’, they instead snicker when they pass the swings, where you sit quietly, and they laugh at the “girl who believes in elephants.” for the remainder of your ‘show and tell’ career, you will bring pencils and baby dolls and toys, and your eyes will not light up.
you are thirteen and you are invited to your first birthday party. and when your mother picks out the dress she bought for you from india last summer, you smile and try it on. but as soon as she is gone, you rumple it up, only to throw it in the back of the closet. and you try on outfit after outfit, but nothing looks as good as the anarkali that lies in the back of your closet. and so you decide to wear it. ‘gorgeous’ claims your mother, tears in her eyes. she places a bindi, a small one, so as not to draw attention. but the cute boy, the one with the mesmerizing blue eyes and the smile that makes your heart flutter, he laughs pointing at your outfit. from that day forward, you will learn that heels and short dresses are the way to go.
you are fifteen and almost through high school. and one day you will bump into the girl who sat to your right 13 years ago. you bump into her at the local indian restaurant, as she orders ‘naan bread’ and ‘curry’, loudly exclaiming to her friends that she loves exotic food.
you are sixteen and the guys who laughed at you are all wearing white tees with Ganeshji printed in different geometric arrangements. and the girls from the playground, show off their tattoos of ‘namaste’ and ‘om’,
you are seventeen and the cute boy, the one with the blue eyes and the smile, he will claim to be attracted to “exotic” girls, he will say looking into your eyes.
you are eighteen, and prom is around the corner. heels and dresses - the way to go you have learnt throughout the years. but as you drape the chiffon brocade saree around your hips and your chest, you can’t but help realize that your saree fits so beautifully. the way it accentuates your curves and the way your black hair falls down your shoulders and the way your brown eyes twinkle in the sunlight and the way your bindi looks so perfect between your eyebrows.
and after a lifetime of storing away your culture in the big bags that your parents only took back to their homeland, you will finally understand that your culture is not a ornament, that is not only to be used by those who claim no pride in anything but the curry and the ‘namastes’, that no number of “color runs” will explain your culture, that is is not meant to be stuffed away.
your culture and history will define you.
you are the desi girl