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‘Andrea, from Norway. Pleased to meet you.’
‘Hey. Elen from –’ I stopped short, unable to shake the hand of my to-be-roommate.
First day at high school, and I was already struggling for words to explain my identity.Born in USA. Brought up in Bangladesh. Banglarican, they called me; mixed half-breed of national identities that dabbled in both but belonged to neither. I was as Bengali in the rice I ate with my fingers as I was American in the Thanksgiving dinner we cooked. But I could never fully integrate the two. My passion to play the violin was always too ‘Western’ for my traditionalist aunts; my dance-style too ‘Dhaliwood’ for my American friends at school. The American values of freedom of expression were always in direct clash with the Bengali ideals of conformity. So, when asked which side I ‘identified’ with, in a campus of people from a myriad of nations, I couldn’t choose one while denying the other.
Still, it was the same diversity that made me realize that I didn’t have to choose. A mixed half-breed of national identities, I found it easier to connect with people from both backgrounds. I treasure the night I dressed my American roommate in a sari, the kitchen conversations as I cooked Thanksgiving dinner for my Bengali co-years. I now know that my duality is not a barrier, but a lens that – owing to my exposure to two diverse cultures – lets me gain a better understanding of the world around me.
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