Am I not Indian Enough? -- creative nonfiction by Shreya Prabhu
You’re not Indian enough.
The uncalled for remark jolts me out of placid daydreaming and into harsh reality, bringing back a whirlwind of emotions that I failed to address to my younger self.
Growing up in America, a land my parents immigrated to, I feel like I am cheating on my Indian heritage.
On one hand, I enjoy devouring potato samosas and dressing up in silk sarees adorned with rose-gold designs. On the flip side, I feel greatly responsible and distressed by the fact that I cannot fluently speak Konkani, my mother tongue, and an endangered language. It’s hard to remember that I am very well in the majority, since most Americans cannot speak a second language fluently, and every single person in my family can.
When I was a toddler, my parents would speak Konkani incessantly to me, hoping that my brother and I would pick up on it and transition into having regular conversations in the language. We did, and for that reason, today, I can at least understand every word that escapes their mouth.
However, as I whizzed through preschool and elementary school, the words and pronunciations stopped rolling out of my tongue with ease, and I couldn’t wrap my head around what had gotten into me. When my parents asked me how my day was, I would hesitate, wanting to answer in Konkani, only to be disappointed that I couldn’t string together a coherent sentence. This would progress into a convoluted cloud of emotions, such as frustration and incompetency. It was like a tree extending its branches to catch the breeze, but failing miserably each time.
While I could still understand the language perfectly, I couldn’t hold a conversation without substituting some words for English. Even worse, every time I get reminded that the language is slowly dwindling, with only a miniscule percentage of the Indian population still actively speaking in the dialect, I cannot help but feel like I am not doing my part to revive it. How can I be fully committed to my heritage if I am not speaking my native tongue?
It’s been difficult to balance being both Indian and American, depending on what setting I am in. I used to tailor my attitude to the people I am surrounded by, only to realize that it’s taking away from who I truly am. I would fear being too Indian in a group of white friends, or too white with my Indian family.
I don’t want to be responsible for the white-washing of my family’s bloodline, and not being able to pass down the language, but at the same time, I don’t think I can control it. Living in America doesn’t always allow for strong ties with external cultures.
As I’ve reflected over the months, I’ve realized that you don’t have to label yourself in any one category. You can check none of the boxes, or all, and whatever you choose is fine. After all, America is a melting pot, and while assimilation is inevitable, I still do want to continue to honor Indian traditions and speak Konkani to my family to keep the language strong.
If you have one leg in one country and another here in America, I feel you. While I can’t represent everyone, I will say that you don’t have to prove that you belong to your heritage. Your involvement level is your choice, but your heritage will always be a part of you, so embrace it.
Shreya Prabhu is a student journalist based in Connecticut. She enjoys reporting for her school newspaper, reading, and being an active member of her Model United Nations team. She has been published in The Progressive, Thrive Global, GEN-ZiNE, and YR Media.