What it's like to be Desi in a white suburban town





"Mummy, look! A desi!" 


I used to say this all the time when I was a little kid, but honestly, out of habit, I still catch myself saying it sometimes. It was quite rare to see someone that looked even a little like me in the town I lived in, causing a lot of excitement whenever I saw another desi. My parents and I moved from India to a medium town in the suburbs of New Jersey when I was just two years old. However, there were no other desi people nearby besides my parents and cousins who lived ten minutes away. Though it might seem bad to other people, I do like where I live, but both sides have many pros and cons. 


My grandparents lived with my cousins in the town over, so their cultural influence rubbed off me. My cousins and I grew up speaking Gujarati and even learned to speak Hindi pretty well. We also would celebrate significant holidays like Diwali, Holi, and Navratri. Yet I didn't get that 'full experience' of being Indian. For example, I never had desi friends who could relate to and understand the things I was going through. Also, I never learned how to do Garba, one of Gujarat, India's most prominent dances. Though my cousins and I could do the basic Garba skills, we could not keep up with the dance's fast-paced variations. 


Looking back at these experiences, even though I grew up in a predominately white suburban town, I believe I am more cultured than whitewashed. However, I sometimes felt the pressure of being one of the only Desis going to a predominantly white school. I was not targeted for my different skin color nor was I ever the victim of racism. I would never describe myself as whitewashed, because I value my cultural identity, though I sometimes feel out of places at events with lots of Desis from other towns. However, some of the other desis at my school felt a need to fit in and remove any attachment to their desi culture. They were all guys, so they may have felt the pressure to fit in in a different way than I did. Being a desi is such a beautiful and enriching culture, so it was strange for me to see them remove the "desi" parts of their identity. 

Luckily, as I entered high school, I found myself surrounded by a much more diverse student body population. The beginning of high school was also when I started to appreciate and embrace my culture and roots. Previously, I never posted photos of myself in Indian clothing on social media, but I found the courage to start embracing this part of me and showing it off. Even though it may seem small, it was a massive deal for me at the time.

Though my life might have been entirely different if I had grown up in a town with more desis, I do not think growing up in a predominantly white suburban town was as bad of an experience as people would expect. My final piece of advice is that no matter where you fall on the scale, between 'cultured' or 'whitewashed', you should seek to take steps to reconnect with your cultural roots and proudly embrace the inner desi in you.