Life + Arts Profile

A letter to myself, to my culture, to my identity

The lady herself. l Courtesy of Binish Azhar

My culture plays an inescapable role that regularly leaves me railing or inspired — but never in between. I am a first-generation Indian from a family that immigrated to the United States in the late ’80s.

Growing up, denying this truth was a battle that never ended. At the time though, I was determined.

My heritage is like a birthmark I cannot avoid. The process of coming to terms with its permanence leaves me feeling uncomfortably cognizant of my place in this world, or at least what others think of it.

I’m sure many others like myself felt an unnatural desire to be in control of the things that made us different. What I wear, what I say, how I present myself, these were measures in which I could decide what makes me “other.” My freedom to choose allowed me to feel more secure in who I was.

My skin? Where I come from? The predispositions others have of me, just by looking at me? I hated these things for being out of my control. The lack of choice pigeonholed me in ways I couldn’t understand before.

I hated these things for being out of my control. The plight of trying to understand why I wanted a culture different from my own could be explained easily now. Yet, growing up in the early 2000s, when representation was hardly a concept and no one else had a name like mine, it’s easy to imagine why I struggled.

I still have not met anyone named Binish, but the feelings of resentment toward the things that make me different have since been replaced with pride. I now hope to never meet anyone with a name like mine.

I clearly remember being 13 and at my friend’s house — she is of Pakistani descent — asking ourselves why the white boys we liked would never like us back. I think of that moment often, even as an adult, and laugh at how little I knew of what was to come.

Although my Indian heritage did not solely lead to my various insecurities, the way I looked had a lot to do with it. Hairy arms and eyebrows, Hermione-like curls and even the “curry smell” of my home were different things I became self-conscious of from a young age.

Working through these things is a different experience for everyone. For me personally, the resolve came with finally understanding what it means to not care about what others think. It sounds corny, but it’s true.

The development I have undergone with relation to understanding who I am relative to where I come from was, and continues to be, an arduous trek with centuries of grief to learn from.

Now, my pride comes from my mom, my strength from my dad and my exquisite taste in food from my homeland.

Previously, I was insecure about the things that came with being Indian. I criticized myself for just existing as an Indian person and the things that came with being from that culture

Now I am able to exist free of those insecurities, without having to burden myself with those kinds of things. Being able to exist without criticizing myself for things I cannot control is a privilege I did not have when I was younger. 

It is a privilege many people still don’t have because many people are still working toward feeling secure in themselves and their culture.

At 20, I am unburdened by my heritage. I choose to forget it’s there, as opposed to pretending it isn’t.

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