There are so many great things about being Indian or American Indian or American or however you want to identify as a brown person born in America. For one thing, Indian families are generally very large, which meant that I was fortunate to grow up with and/or know many of my cousins. The numerous family gatherings were and are still some of the highlights of my life. These family gatherings were places where we [the kids] could bond while the adults discussed mundane things that we did not care about. What made the gatherings even more worthwhile was the kick-ass food. O, the food! Can I just say that so many people in my family were blessed by the Father up above when it comes to cooking. I still think about those events–those moments as a kid where I did not have to think about “grown-up” things, and could just be blissfully ignorant. See, the idea of family is so important in the Indian culture, and for that I am forever grateful. I know how fortunate I am to have a family that loves me, and would be willing to do anything for me (well mostly anything).
Yet, as kids tend to do, they grow older. I got older. As you mature, and start to make sense of things on your own, you begin to see the cracks in your culture. A culture that you love. A culture that places significance on education and religion. A culture that is both deeply amazing and deeply flawed. A culture that instills in you a desire to work tremendously hard, but also one that prohibits you from speaking up. A culture that tells you from the get-go that Christianity is in our blood, but one that emphasizes religiosity over actual faith.
Sometimes I wonder why I had to be that person; the person that saw things differently. Why couldn’t I just be just the good kid? Why couldn’t that be enough? I’ve always been known to be the quiet, nice one within our extended family, and I am those things, but I also just keep a lot of things to myself. I’ve learned in life you just have to pick your battles, and a lot of times it’s just not worth it. One thing Indians are great at doing is silently judging you; they won’t say anything to your face, but eventually word will spread, and oh it will, and now everyone in the Indian community knows your story. It’s the thing that I absolutely hate about my culture, and that may just be human nature in general, but it goes much deeper than that. See, the Indian Christian community does many great things, but as someone who has grown up and been around the Indian Christian scene for a long time, I know so much goes unsaid. Why? Because people are scared and ashamed, and feel like they will be judged for saying anything. Because we’ve been brought up in a culture that stifles necessary conversation however uncomfortable it may be. A culture that would rather sweep things under the rug because that is easy, and so that no one will get their feelings hurt. It is awful and it breaks my heart.
Remember, when I said that there are days where I wish I wasn’t this person because honestly, sometimes it really sucks. Yet, I can’t change what happened to me when I was younger. I’ve written about it before, but to put it bluntly, I was sexually abused as a child. I have grown so much since then; I have been able to move forward in my life in so many different ways, but it was not easy at all. I do not want this to be a sob story, but it was extremely difficult not having anyone to talk to about it. There already is a deep sense of shame with something like this even though you know it is not your fault—that feeling of shame only multiplies when you are brought up in a culture that blindly ignores anything that is even remotely uncomfortable. A culture so interwoven with Christianity that it really is no longer Christianity, but instead, the Indian culture’s perception of that religion. So, they throw a couple of albeit nice, but generic phrases like “God will get you through this” or “God is bigger than your problems.” And there I was, a teenager, who discovered that yes, something horrible happened to me as a child, and no, it wasn’t just a nightmare, and I had no one to guide me through such complex emotions. Still, I pressed forward, I kept my faith (even though, at times, I wasn’t sure why the hell I did), and I did my thing. My parents have always been supportive and loving, and while I couldn’t be open with them, it definitely helped in my healing process. So, I worked hard in high school, and I went off to college, and I was eventually, able to open about the things that happened to me to a few people. It was tough and awkward, but also, incredibly freeing.
I was able to move forward, but not everyone can. I still have tough days, but I know the worst is behind me. The thing is when someone hears about sexual abuse or rape or whatever, they never think about the long-term effects. That was what really screwed me up. Yes, something horrible happened to me that I blocked it out of my memory, but the ramifications of that horrible incident messed me up even more than I could even imagine. I had an incredibly hard time getting close with people, and the idea of having a relationship, seemed extremely daunting. How could I ever get close with a person with all this heavy baggage? Those are still some of the things I’m working through, but they aren’t eating me up at night like they used to. It’s an incredibly complicated situation that I could go on and on about, especially because I’ve always felt like an introvert to begin with.
Earlier I mentioned how I sometimes regretted the person that I am because it comes with a terrible thing that I wish I could erase. Yet, it also means that I can’t look at things the way my culture looks at things. I just cannot. I can’t just blindly go with the flow, and accept the status quo. I’ve been silent about a lot of things, but lately, I’ve been realizing that my voice is important for my culture, especially for people that have been in similar situations, or even worse ones. I know they are there—I may not know all of their names, but I know they exist. Rape, sexual abuse, sexuality, domestic violence, etc may all be uncomfortable things to talk about, especially for Indians, but honestly, who cares. Yes, they may be deemed controversial, but actual human being went through these things. Your mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins. Your family. Yes, these things happen within the Indian community whether you want to accept it or not. And it’s not that these things just happen, but it actually is a bigger problem than most Indians want to believe. I don’t know where to go from here—I am just one person. But, I want others to know that you are not alone. I know our culture indirectly makes us feel inadequate at times, but all of our voices are important. There is so much I love about my culture, but there is also so much that needs to be changed…