Second-Generation Identity Crisis

This week is a celebration for many Indians around the world: the celebration of the festival known as Ganesh Chaturthi (Birthday of Ganesha). While Diwali is probably one of the most well-known Indian celebrations, I didn’t realize how many additional holidays there were until I became older. Since I wasn’t raised in a Hindu household (or any traditional religion for that matter), I didn’t truly understand their respective cultural significance. This led to one of the most difficult things I struggled with growing up — being genetically Indian, but culturally American.

Having a hyphen in both my first name (Jay-Ram) and my culture (Indian-American), my identity was rejected by most orthodox Indian people and families as being uncultured – they would scoff at me for knowing very little of my heritage. On the other hand, I didn’t know enough about American culture to understand certain social norms to fit in. I was too uncultured for one group, yet too foreign for another. In school, whenever a friend or teacher would ask me a question about Indian culture, it saddened me that I couldn’t offer them any information of value; I would often know as little as they did about the culture.

Little did I know then, there was an entire generation of second-generation immigrants struggling to find their own identities. This would prove to be an impossible task because there wasn’t an identity existed for us then– we had to create and synthesize our own culture from our own experiences. Additionally, if they weren’t second-generation immigrants themselves, many of our friends and teachers were a part of this cultural shift and new paradigm. Today, we are the majority. Our culture today is big on acceptance, because we know how it feels not to belong. We have gone through the struggle of being rejected and laughed at, while trying to create an identity for ourselves – we try to accept the people around us because some of us are still trying to accept ourselves.

It’s such an interesting feeling when two separate cultures feel foreign yet familiar at the same time. I can eat rice and lentils with my hands in the morning, and animal-style fries from In & Out with a fork in the evening — and I wouldn’t miss a beat travelling between these cultural dimensions. This practice of crossing cultures has become second nature to many of us because we through the struggle of adjusting and synthesizing a new culture. Holidays like today help give me context as to the person I’ve become and why it’s important to accept our past to create the path forward. Ganesha is known as the destroyers of obstacles and bringer of prosperity, and these are both things I wish for you on your journey of self-creation.

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