Whenever I tell my story, the first question I get asked is “How are you dealing with living in India?”
I grew up in California and so I understand why I’m being asked this question, but it still irks me at the same time. India is just another country with its own challenges and beauty, and getting accustomed to it is a part of the adjustment process, just like how it is for every other country. I moved to India a few years ago after getting married, and felt more of a sense of belonging here than I’ve ever felt in my life.
I grew up in a smaller, predominantly white, town in Northern California, and I am a first-generation Indian American, my parents having emigrated from Punjab, India a few months after I was born. Being the oldest in my family and one of the oldest in the local Indian community, all experiences relating to school and social norms were a first for me and my parents. So, like many, I grew up having one set of values at home and another set of values at school. Certain things that were seen as harmless by the schools, like school dances, raised eyebrows for my parents, and for a kid like me that was frustrating because I was constantly confused on what is right and what is wrong. All I wanted was to fit in and be normal with my peers, but I also didn’t want to disappoint my parents.
This confused identity continued through summer vacation, which was dedicated to visiting India to see relatives. Not only could I not fully understand the Indian nuances but my Hindi had an accent which was made fun of. On top of this, I wasn’t allowed to go out in in public alone because I wasn’t "used to" the country despite having cousins/family friends around the same age as me going out like it was no big deal. I know it was out of love or in an effort to protect me, but I was in a perpetual state of “who am I?” I’m not Indian enough to handle and understand my country and culture, but I’m also not American so I shouldn’t participate in various "American" activities.
So I grew up knowing I was different and feeling like the odd one out until I actually moved to India. As I started living here, I started experiencing a much younger, more relatable part of India, getting exposed to how and where people hang out and what they like to do, which was complete 180 from the family trips I was used to during summer vacations. I realized that at the end of the day, no matter where we are in the world, we’re all the same. We like going out, hanging out with our friends and going to the movie
"There’s a common misconception that the idea of moving to India is a reverse migration"
Specifically, I moved to Gurgaon, which, compared to where I grew up, is such a melting pot of different types of people that it actually felt like a relief. Despite India’s challenges, the corporate culture of Gurgaon brings with it diversity. So for the first time in my life I connected with people like me, who grew up in one country and moved to India; who lived in different countries but are now Indian and others who are so well-traveled that it wasn’t weird talking to them or having a funny Hindi or English accent. I was around relatable people and it was a relief that I didn’t have to explain myself.
There’s a common misconception that the idea of moving to India is a reverse migration or moving backwards. However, for me that wasn’t the case - in fact I only grew and became more comfortable in my own skin and who I am. It’s made me realise there’s no “right way” to be the correct amount of Indian and American - it is whatever works for us as individuals- and I’m proud to be a both - an American Desi.
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