Wearing Traditional Indian Clothes

My parents moved here to the US about two decades ago. And while they are still NRIs, I am very much a born and raised girl in America. From the time I was born, my parents insisted I was aware and respectful of our native Indian culture. We would come back to India to see my grandparents and extended family at least once every two years; with the trip mostly around Diwali and Durga Puja, since Durga Puja is of great significance to us Bengalis.

While I was happy to embrace my ethnicity, my ‘inherited’ Indian-ness has not always been easy to handle. I don’t mean to belittle all the love and care my parents have given me; but sometimes I think it is hard for parents to relate to the problems us teenagers go through. That may be because they lived and grew up in a simpler time. And certainly in the case of my own parents, they grew up in Kolkata, in India. But for me, and I know many other teens like me of Indian origin; maintaining and subscribing to our native identities, is hard. High school can be a mean and judgmental place. And this I found out when I started wearing regular Indian clothes to school here in the US.

My normal salwar-kameez, or even Bengali sarees I would love to and want to wear to special occasions at school; would be made fun of. We seem to live in a post 9/11 world that is not only harsh, but also ignorant at times. The perception in a large part of the Western World is quite skewed. Anything in a turban is a terrorist, anything in a kurta is a Paki. I have had to face all these slurs and more. There were times I would really sob and fight with my parents. They too were at a loss for how exactly to console me.

I guess it all boils down to a few things. One; you learn to be a bit thick-skinned. In fact the sooner you learn that, the better it is for you. Two; you make a group of friends that are either from similar ethnicity, or better still, with the few international students that are ‘aware’ and mature. And three; you just find it in you to embrace your culture with a pride that forms an armor around you. An invisible, metaphorical cocoon where you stay confident, proud, and unaffected. In the last few months, I have been able to do this. How? Because India is rising. The world is taking notice. And that is fast changing the way we are perceived, the world over.

Wearing traditional Indian clothes has become a euphemism for the immense pride I feel about my heritage and my home country. I am an Indian, and that is my proud identity!

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