As I sit here and write this piece I try to think back to a time where I wasn’t immediately stereotyped when I met someone for the first time. Living in a predominantly Hispanic community I seemed to be the only Indian girl in most schools I attended. In preschool, I was literally the first Indian toddler to attend the school, in elementary school I was the 5th Indian girl to attend– the first four being my cousins (shocker!). And then came along middle school… for once I wasn’t the only Asian girl, and for once I thought I’d have people to relate to. But the same pattern I had noticed before, was happening once again. The first time I introduced myself to people, I was either asked “Where are you from?” or told “Wow that’s a weird name.” And once again I was identified as “the Indian girl.”
Now I’ll admit, I used to bask in the glory of being the only Indian girl in school, I absolutely loved the attention, I just couldn’t get enough of it. But as I got older, it got tiring. The jokes became harsher, the name calling got worse, and the never ending ‘curry’ jokes were enough to make me consider complete isolation from every kid in school.
Being a lot older, and experiencing this torment for so many years I’ve realized that I am extremely tired of being stereotyped wherever I go, especially when the stereotype isn’t even true.
I’m tired of being asked how smart I actually am- if I’m a member of Mu Alpha Theta.
I’m tired of being asked: “So do you like… eat curry every day?”
I’m tired of my parents being made fun of because of something as small as their accent.
“The jokes became harsher, the name calling got worse, and the never ending ‘curry’ jokes were enough to make me consider complete isolation from every kid in school.”
If I’m so tired, can you imagine how other people must feel? I’m surely not the only person who deals with this on a daily basis, and I’m sure that there are other kids who have it a lot worse than me. To the point where they no longer feel comfortable going to school, or where they refuse to identify with their ethnicity because they’d rather fit in.
I remember being a sixth grader, and seeing a girl in the hallways, she always kept her head down, and she wore a Hijab. At the time, I associated Hijabs with Islam, and I immediately felt relief. I knew that if this girl could come to school in her hijab and not give a damn (or at least not show that she gave a damn) then I could put on a brave face and act like the teasing and constant badgering of racist questions didn’t bother me.
Six years later, I’ve lost the courage to act like I don’t give a damn; I’ve become the sensitive Indian girl who cries or screams when people tease her. And before another person has to experience that, or become that person, I’m here to tell you to stop picking people apart with stereotypes.
Don’t act like you know a person because of their ethnicity, they are something bigger than that, they are their own person. If a person wants to identify with the stereotypes of their race or heritage, allow them to. But you do not get to make that decision for them.