From The God of Small Things
By Arundhati Roy
“There is a war that makes us adore our conquerors and despise ourselves.”
It was one of the first times that
How much I hated myself
And how much I hated India
I had known
For a long time
That my skin
Was less desirable
Even when I was born
The first thing they said was
She’s so dark.
And that was in my homeland.
I had grown up
Hating and loving my sister all at once
Hating her for being olive skinned and mistaken for Italian
and Loving her for everything else.
But you see,
In “exposing” India
Had made me hate myself more.
She talked about the days of the Untouchables
And I was horrified learning about a history which was apparently mine
But I had never claimed to be mine
One that Couldn’t be Mine.
So I went home
And I talked to Dad and Aunty about it
They told me that it had never been like that
They had lived through it
And it had never been like that
Dad even called Arundhati a “communist”
But that’s another story.
And then I read
By Jhumpa Lahiri
And was reminded all over again
About the long legs
The slim hips
Of everyone who wasn’t me.
Hell there’s a million dollar industry running off of creams to make you lighter skinned in India
When would we stop adoring our conquerors?
When would we begin adoring ourselves?
Oh she doesn’t sing?
Mine does, she placed first in her school actually
Hum long ke liye ga lo beta (Sing for us child)
Mine does, she’s so in love with our culture
Dekha do sab long ko (Show them all)
UConn? That’s wonderful. Ours went to Harvard, she loved it.
Henna, beta? (Right, child?)
Ye to moti ho gayi hai! (She’s gotten so fat!)
Why, I would even say she’s tripled in size!!
You have a boyfriend? *with a curt smile* That’s nice.
THE WHITE PICKET FENCE
6 moves within 1 year
Mom barely spoke English
So she, upon moving a thousand miles away from her parents,
And never really learning how to be a parent herself,
Fell into a clinical depression
Dad supported a family of 4 on 30,000
And became 1 parent to 3 kids
Electroconvulsive Shock Therapy was suggested
But time and a foreign country heals all things
Or really it forces you out of them.
My sister suffered a lot too
I don’t know if it was because of the culture shock or because
It was destined to be.
But she developed severe anxiety, depression, eating disorders, body dysmorphia, panic attacks
The Whole Barrel
Kids made fun of her, a lot. They were just cruel
And I think part of it had to do with her not being like them
Having thick black hair that fell beautifully down her back until she bleached it blonde and wispy
Thick glasses that helped her see
Thick body that had been fed well by loving and devoted parents
Who didn’t know any better
Who didn’t know what to make of The Whole Barrel
But then again
Maybe it was genetics
But then again
What if we hadn’t gone in search of that white picket fence?
I am Indian
Indian American I guess but
I’m not Indian.
I have to prove to other Indians that I am indian.
I speak Hindi with an accent
I don’t know how to eat roti with one hand
I can’t understand everything in Hindi movies
I barely know anything about India because for the longest time
I didn’t ever want to go back.
The last time I had gone back
~7 YEARS AGO~
there were people with polio dragging themselves across the dirty, shit covered train station floor and stray dogs and poor people and it was hot and we got sick and the toilets were gross and the air killed you
But that was all an excuse.
And it was 7 years ago
And then I lost my grandfather
And then I lost my only other grandfather
And now I’m left with the question
Why didn’t I go back?
So now we’re here
Because I have to end this piece,
But more because I don’t want to say any more.
A lot more is left to be said
But not all of it can fit in here
There’s a whole discussion to be had
About the American Dream,
Whatever the hell that means
About the Third World,
The Developing Country,
And how enraged those terms make me.
For they impose a hierarchy between countries
And Glorify Western Living as being the Ideal
When it’s NOT.
Not only does the term perpetuate stereotypes
But it also
Reinforces those stereotypes within those communities about which these stereotypes are made
And so again
We Adore Our Conquerors And We Despise Ourselves
To be Honest
My life is very comfortable
And I am happy
For the experiences that I’ve had
That I wouldn’t possibly have had if I had stayed
But Then Again
What would have happened if we had stayed?
Culture Shock is an anonymous space for underrepresented and marginalized groups at UConn to share their stories. You can submit your story here.