Updated: Aug 18, 2020
By Ira Sharma
Identity is difficult to define, just as someone’s entire life is hard to explain with only a few words. In my case, the words that describe my identity are “First-Generation Indian-American.” I have a unique experience growing up Indian-American, my whole identity straddling two continents, two countries, two wholly different cultures, and what feels like two different universes. My experience is one shared by millions in this country, of being not one or the other, of never being 100% one thing or the other. It’s been strange growing up in Tennesse, where most people don’t look like me. In my mind, I’ve always viewed myself as American, but based on what I look like, most people wouldn’t say I am. I often get asked, “But where are you really from?” I always feel like saying: I’m from Tennesse, that’s where I’m really from, but I realize their question isn’t one rooted in hate, it’s one rooted in ignorance. The percentage of Indians in the U.S. is 0.9%. That’s nine people out of every 1000 people. Especially down here, that number is even smaller, as the Indian population is clustered in other areas of the U.S.
When I was younger, it bothered me that I didn’t look like my other classmates, or that my parents were different from their parents. I always felt uncomfortable with people’s not-so-subtle stares, but as I got older, I got used to it. I also realized that on all the American TV shows and movies I watched, there were barely any people of color. If there were, they were the sidekick, the nerd in the background, never the main character. Especially with South Asians, we were always portrayed as the person with no friends, with a thick accent, who had no social skills. Other than in the media, I saw another gap in our representation. As I got older, I became more interested in politics and saw no one who was like me. However, recently, I’ve been so glad to see a few Indian-American politicians rising to the top. In particular- you’ve heard of Kamala Harris.
What you may not know about her is that she’s half-Indian. Her name- Kamala- actually means lotus, an auspicious symbol in Indian culture. It’s seen as unique since it grows in muddy water, yet is still so beautiful and pure. It’s seen as a symbol of abundance, considering the plant makes such a delicate flower when only given mud. Her mother, Shyamala Gopalan, was a researcher who immigrated to the States from Tamilnadu, a southern state of India—seeing her selected as Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential means a lot to me, and other Indian-Americans. I’m so glad that someone who understands how difficult it is to have a double identity, who understands being from two different worlds, may be in a significant office of the government just a few months from now. Alongside Kamala Harris, Indians and South Asians are starting to see a lot more representation in government. Bobby Jindal and Nikki Haley are two Indian-Americans who’ve served as governor. Ami Bera, Pramila Jayaprayal, and Ro Khanna are four other Indian-Americans that serve in the House of Representatives. As I grow older, I’m glad government is starting to portray the diversity of our nation accurately.
Here’s to Biden-Harris 2020.