This I Believe

Jessica - Saratoga, California
Entered on December 16, 2006

I believe that worldviews do not have to be shaped by one culture alone. As India’s first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru once said, “Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit.”

My father is East Indian and my mother is European, but neither imposed their background upon me, instead simply telling me to follow my interests. As I grew older, this created a problem – most people I knew tended to socialize with others of their own ethnicity, leaving no place for a “mixed” child like me.

I felt empty, and often bitter. So, in an attempt to fill the void within myself, I began to explore other cultures: four years of Chinese school and tutoring, a lifelong commitment to vegetarianism, five years and counting of French, an interest in post World War II Japan, books translated from Turkish and Arabic, and a black belt in tae kwon do.

At some point during this convoluted journey, I grasped that what I had thought of as a curse is actually a blessing – as somebody with no fixed set of cultural ideas, I have the intellectual freedom to find out what truly matters to me. Lately, I’ve been looking to my own parents to understand where my ideas come from.

My mother often leaves books and clipped magazine articles on my pillow that we later talk about. I see myself most in Orhan Pamuk and V.S. Naipaul, in those authors who grapple with issues of identity as I do.

But losing myself in other worlds has limits; sometimes I need to find one of my own. It is here where my father helps me, by reminding me of my roots in a country thousands of miles away. He takes me to Hindi movies where I race to read the subtitles, matching them with the smooth language and gorgeous couples serenading each other on screen. Other things have the same effect – the rustle of hand woven silk under my fingers, the sweet scent of the coconut oil my aunt puts in her hair each morning, the taste of mutter paneer.

It’s taken a long time, but I’m finally comfortable with who I am. At the same time, I know there are many others like me struggling to find themselves in a world where ethnicity is often the most important label. I believe that while celebrating individual cultures is important, we need to celebrate how they are connected as well. And I believe that to choose only one culture would be to deny a part of myself, so I slide between worlds, reaching for my unique truth.