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With six layers on, I waddled out the door, feeling and looking like an oompa loompa. My mother had dressed me in layer after layer, and, begrudgingly, I had allowed myself to be smothered with an array of puffy jackets and scarves. The weather abroad was nothing like that of my neighborhood in sunny California, where I needed only to wear one layer regardless of the season.
To say I only grew up in the average-sized suburban city of Chino Hills, California would be a lie. Although it is the only place I have resided, I did a lot of growing up in other places due to my parents’ desire for me to learn about the world. My parents are self-made people, both of whom worked hard to travel from their birthplace in Africa to England for an education, and then to America to make a living. Perhaps this is why it is of the utmost importance to them that I not only cherish my education and relationships, but also that I learn about other cultures. Because of their persistent belief that I should experience the world for myself, I have had the opportunity to do some incredible things: including cheer at the Olympics in England, watch a high-speed lion chase in Tanzania, and venture inside the beautiful Taj Mahal in India.
Although my parents were raised in traditional societies, I grew up in an unconventional traditional household. I was raised with the traditional Indian mindset that elders must be respected and taken care of, the traditional African mindset that the family is more than those who are related by blood, the traditional British mindset that breakfast must be eaten before I leave the house, and the traditional American mindset that I can achieve anything if I work hard enough. Together, all of these traditional mindsets created one very unconventional and unique culture.
So who am I? When asked in America, my response is that I am Indian. When asked in India, my response is that I am American. However, the truth is that I do not fit into either of these molds. I am not the brazen and rebellious American, nor am I the modest Indian girl who quietly does as she is told. Instead, I am a mix of India and America—and of Africa, England, and a multitude of other cultures that have seeped into my own. It is these things that make me unique: the fact that every Diwali, my family dresses up in matching outfits and delivers plates of food to our neighbors, and the fact that we celebrate Thanksgiving with a variety of deep-fried African foods instead of the traditional turkey. What does it matter if people think my family is eccentric because we don’t have a television downstairs? It lets us talk to each other during mealtimes, which has brought us closer together. What of it if I sometimes subconsciously intertwine Swahili with Gujarati while speaking? All it does is add a little bit of flair to the conversation.
And so, those layers of clothing I often spent my winters abroad wrapped in soon came to symbolize myself: a complex person with many layers. Although I may be a patchwork of many different experiences and civilizations, I have come to be proud of my discrepancies, and have finally acknowledged that this is what makes me who I am today. I am proud to have created a culture, one that is not widely shared, but is my own. I am proud that I can call my family my best friends, and call my best friends my family. I am proud that my home is not just a small city in the U.S., but is scattered throughout the corners of the world.
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