Burgers & Chai

I recently joined the staff at Brown Girl Magazine as a writer, and I’ve decided I’m going to start posting my articles on my blog as well. Below is my most recent article.

I can still remember the feeling of embarrassment and contempt I felt at my culture when my 5th grade teacher refused to take any of the food I made because she thought I had a disease that afflicted my hands. That “disease” was my henna. Growing up in the suburbs meant to conform to the cookie cutter mold; being different was not a good thing. My henna, my mum’s Indian clothes at Open Houses, and the smell of spices permeating from my house were all frowned upon. I did not care though. I wanted to fit in so badly, so badly that I would happily give up anything. What was the price for my spot in the assembly line you ask? My culture.

As a child, I wanted so desperately to be a part of 90’s American culture. I pretended to know all the words to the latest Backstreet Boys and NSYNC songs. I got dressed up and fumbled my way through awkward middle school dances. I ate sloppy Joes and made sure to make a mess of my face and shirt. I entered talent shows and did renditions of Britney Spears “Hit Me Baby One More Time.” I harassed my parents for the latest fad: Giga Pets, Doc Martens, Pogs, etc. I did everything I could think of so my friends would think I was one of them. While I was hard at work on my self-transformation, I completely neglected my Indian culture. I shunned Bollywood. I scoffed at kids who came to school in Indian clothes. I made fun of girls with henna on their hands even though, secretly, I envied the beauty and color of it. I argued incessantly with my mum about why we were eating Gujarati food every day. Was it too much to ask for to have a pizza or some other typical “American” meal? My mum and I got into countless debates and arguments about my lack of enthusiasm for the Indian culture. She didn’t understand why I was trying so hard to hide a piece of myself, and I didn’t understand why she was sabotaging my quest to be a REAL American.

When I visited India a few years ago, I saw the overwhelming display of culture surrounding me, and I was utterly consumed by it. Temples made from pure white marble, chiseled by hand, and with more love and devotion than I could imagine were everywhere. Food stalls emitting heavenly smells of freshly fried Jalebi sent my nostrils into frenzy. Motorcycles, cars, rickshaws, and bicycles navigating roads filled with cows, goats, dogs, cats, and chickens left me awestruck. Bollywood songs blasting from small radios inside sari shops that offered the loveliest outfits in the most vibrant hues imaginable were on every corner. The vibrant colors, the beautiful textures, the scrumptious smells, and the never-ending love I saw made me stop in my tracks. I was stuck between a rock and a hard place. I spent half of my life trying hard to be something I thought I wanted to be, and in one breathtaking moment everything I thought I believed in was thrown out the window. What had I been doing? Thinking back to that moment, I have no idea why I ever thought adopting a culture was better than trying to understand the one I was a part of.

Living in one culture does not mean that we have to give up our other culture. The trick is to find a good balance. As a South Asian female living in America, I’ve struggled to assimilate my whole life. Instead, I should have been learning to be comfortable in my own skin. Life is not about fitting into a neat little box. It’s about gaining wisdom and strength from experience. At the ripe age of twenty-two, I think I have finally begun to understand that a balance between my American culture and my Indian culture is possible. Like a patchwork quilt, each aspect is unique and wonderful on its own; but only when it has been sewn seamlessly together can a beautiful and inspiring picture be made.


149 thoughts on “Burgers & Chai

  1. True…everyone is unique in his/her own way. And we should try and be what we are than try to be what others are.
    Very nice post. And congratulations on being freshly pressed.

  2. Holiday Blogger says:

    Congratulations for Freshly Pressed..!!!
    One of the best blog/article, I’ve read in recent months. Being an Indian myself, I could imagine myself being in your situation. Probably, I would have also done the same you did in your younger years. Just following the principle, ” While in Rome, Do as Romans do!!” However, I’m 18, and I’m content living in India & being an Indian.

  3. Congratulations on a very mature realization — at the ripe age of 22!

    There is such beauty inherent to both cultures, and your ability to embrace both is a testament to the strength of your character. 🙂

  4. Hey I just stumbled upon this because it was “freshly pressed” I was reading an article about South Asian Americans, especially immigrants and more than any other immigrant they tend to move into less diverse areas. I can imagine it would feel very isolating when everyone else around you lives their life differently than your family.

    Its really great that you are finding yourself and growing comfortable in who you are and where your family comes from!

  5. Beautiful post. I am a British female, living in Texas and I too have had to assimilate to a different environment. It does make for an interesting life though, with wonderful stories to tell.

  6. ive always wanted to go to india but im afraid i might get lost in the crowded streets 😛 kidding aside, the indian culture is one of the most fascinating cultures ive ever stumbled upon. i just love the food so much. bollywood may be a bit too much for me, considering the amount of singing and dancing these films have. but the women are just awesomely beautiful.
    thanks for this post! :p

  7. Beautifully put! India does get under your skin doesn’t it? I’ve returned after a stint abroad and although it’s frustrating at times, and chaotic almost always…it still feels like home 🙂

    Enjoyed this post and Congratulations on FP!

    • Thank you so much! I honestly had no idea that this post would get so many responses! It’s the chaos of India that makes it so beautiful isn’t it?! Thanks for reading!

  8. This is a really great article! This brings to light one of the things I dislike most about society. It’s so easy for everyone to shun what is different and make you feel ashamed to be who you are because of it. This identity crisis is something that most teens/people our age go through so it’s definitely easy to relate. Growing up as an international kid going to American schools in Asian countries definitely didn’t help with that. Yet despite being heavily influenced by the American culture, the contrast between school and reality (outside school) helped me appreciate the different cultures that I was constantly surrounded by. It taught me that even if you don’t accept your culture, there’ll still be a part of you that connects! Oh and India is definitely one of the most beautiful places I’ve been to 😉 Be proud of who you are, don’t let society dictate!

    • Thank you for reading! Maybe if people spent more time trying to teach acceptance instead of fear of the unknown, society wouldn’t shun different cultures/lifestyles. It’s so good that you were able to develop a healthy appreciation for different cultures!!

  9. I just want to thank all of you for reading my posts and your comments! I am so humbled by all of this. I never in a million years imagined that this post would get the attention it has! Thank you again and I can’t believe I’ve been “Freshly Pressed”!!!! *Jumps up and down*

  10. love your article..especially about gaining wisdom and strength from your experience.If ever you plan on coming to India visit during festival…not in metro’s but town’s.I am sure it will be a great experience for you.

  11. Rennie says:

    Brownie26, I read this article with interest. I’m interning with a small publishing house which is about to publish a beautiful book by an Indian writer called Hema Macherla.
    I am trying to find writers who would identify with Hema, who writes as a British Indian about the difficulty of living in a new country whilst retaining Indian culture. I’m hoping to find someone who would agree wo read the manuscript and offer a quote for the sleever of the book. From what you’ve written here I believe you would greatly enjoy the book, could I possible ask you to read it and see what you think?

  12. jaynepatel says:

    When I was in third grade a little boy started crying because he was scared of the henna on my hands haha-you are so not alone.

  13. nourishncherish says:

    Spoke to my heart. When we are young, the need to ‘fit in’ trumps anything else. It is sad how much energy and thought we put into transforming ourselves instead of embracing ourselves. IF I could go back to my teenage years, that is what I’d tell myself.

    The twenties is a wonderful time to make peace with who are and build a good self image – all the best!

  14. LOVE your description of India. I visited a few years ago and it was always hard for me to put the experiences and sights into words. You did it wonderfully. Thanks and congrats on being Freshly Pressed!

  15. Great post and Congrats on being featured !! Loved the description of India and how it brought about a change in you 🙂 It’s true, our country is all about love, tradition and the rich culture is incomparable. It’s hard not to fall in love!

  16. It’s kind of funny. Even though I was part of the ethnic majority growing up in school, I still never felt like I was fitting in. I would imagine the degree of not fitting in may have been stronger had I been of a different culture and ethnicity, but I never felt like I belonged…and I wanted to belong so badly. Eventually I just gave up on it and discovered myself deep down. It’s great when that revelation finally comes to you. I can imagine it would have been quite the experience for your revelation to come in India. Congrats on being FPed!

  17. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

    As a South-Asian (Sri Lankan) Canadian, the situations you’ve described of your childhood and youth are familiar to me. I also had a similar awakening and renewed love for my South Asian culture in my early twenties and strived for being comfortable in my own skin and between cultures. I now work with University students and especially love helping bicultural students embrace both of their cultures.

    Best of luck to you as you find balance between your Indian and American cultures; some days will be hard and some days will be easy, but the gifts both cultures bring to your life make you a better person!

  18. Murtuza says:

    Love your insight! Your definitely being added to my blog-roll[if u don’t mind i.e:-)]. Its only outside when we are alienated from other people’s cultures and try to fit in with them that we become an alien to our own culture. You’ve inspired this amateur blogger. Good job!

  19. i love your openness. Im indian to, but from england. india is definitely a interesting place to go, cultures different all over. Its great to mix cultures learn others, develop your own, spread the joy haha. great post! Balance is key. i hope you keep this balance for a very long time.

  20. the road to self-discovery isnt an easy one. i totally agree with you, sometimes its hard to balance what kind of culture you want to live in.

    cool post, hopefully more in the future yes? 🙂

  21. I lived in Belgium for several years. Upon returning to Toronto I saw for the first time how wonderful this menage of cultures was. In the high school I work in there are over 50 different cultures. We have their flags in our cafeteria. And in all of this mix there are very few problems related to ethnicity. Kids just get along. The world is shrinking and if we hope to survive the global village we’d all better learn this lesson from our young people.

    • It’s so good to see kids getting along without any regard for cultural differences! You’re right, if we want to survive, we need to learn from younger generations. Thanks for reading!

  22. springingtiger says:

    My wife is Indian Hindu (born in Kenya) and naturalized UK citizen. She lives a sort of hybridized British Hindu culture and we are members of the local mandir. Our daughter is almost completely western in her lifestyle. However on her key-ring she keeps the kara she was given as a baby she (and her 100% Scottish husband) have statues of Ganesh at home and now she is a mother she has started spending more time with my mother-in-law and has started cooking Indian food regularly.

    I think it is important to keep presenting kids with their ancestral culture so that when the day comes when suddenly they want to reconnect it is available to them. My granddaughters will probably never be Hindu, genetically they are more Celt than Indian but it looks as if they and my will be a bridge joining the two cultures.

    Happy Diwali

    • My mum is also an Indian Hindu born in Kenya and a Naturalized UK citizen. Growing up, she too had to learn to balance and lived in a ‘hybrid’ culture. It’s encouraging to hear that your daughter is keeping her mum’s culture alive through the statues, kara, etc. As for your granddaughters, maybe they too will learn to love the Indian culture in addition to their other cultures! Good luck and thank you for reading!

      Happy Diwali to you as well!

  23. Banana007 says:

    Very intersting indeed. Tell us more…how things are developing. Not many cultures like the patch work on their bed, nice else where. This particularly true of Indian culture. As you embrace others you are alienated from your own….

  24. Your post is so mature and inspirational. Although the culture change is obviously less, when my sister and I were moved from England to NZ as children, my sister struggled. She even put on a fake accent to try and fit in. And it really didn’t work.
    Life is all about embracing. You can have American culture without rejecting your Indian heritage. And what wonderful cultures to be caught between.

    • You’re right, life is all about embracing! Every culture and the degree of difference doesn’t make it any easier. I’m glad you two were able to find a balance! Thanks for reading!

  25. Hi. Lovely to hear your thoughts. Being from Pakistan and living in Melbourne, I too feel like I am out of my depth sometimes. However, I have never entertained the thought of leaving one culture behind for the sake the fitting in. In fact, through my blog I intend to be the brown girl in the land down under – with a voice. Drop by sometime. 🙂 Cheers

  26. 1centthoughts says:

    Great post! Although I never experienced America from the eyes of another culture I have felt the need to assimilate as a woman of color. Yes, I’m American. However, on the outside I’m just another Black female. So, of course I too felt the need to be “American” as a child…forgetting all along that I was. I am.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Funny isn’t it, how seeing certain things make us question what is right and wrong? There is no right or wrong when it comes to culture, and I’m glad you were able to see that you are and always will be an American! Thanks for reading!

  27. jaswrites says:

    A great insight, brownie26. Excellently written! I am enlightened.

    I know what you mean. I spent the first few years of my life in the United States, went to India for a couple of years and came back.
    And it’s interesting. Interesting that I feel very attached to my Indian and Punjabi culture. Yet I manage to get by with my Indian accent in America.

    That is what is great about the United States. One can be culturally diverse, and still be identified as American.

    You are right. The trick is to find balance. We must not forget where our roots lie. We must not forget what our roots have taught us. Yet we should let our plants extend into the infinite spaces, soaking the droplets and sunshine, and the enviornment. Breathe in every new breeze, and take what is worthwhile, while taking what we do not need and giving it to others.

    I came to America. I stuttered in English (I still do). I don’t understand the popular culture. Yet, I see America as a land of oppurtunity. God has given me a chance to pursue excellence here. I may never lose my accent nor my morality, but I will surely contribute to the United States by achieving excellence.

    I am proud of the Statue of Liberty and proud of India Gate. I am proud of the small and meager tight roads and proud of the 4 Way Freeways. I am proud of President Barack Obama and proud of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh . I am proud of the small huts and proud of the tall skyscrapers.

    I am proud to be an Indian American/American Indian.
    God Bless The United States and God Bless India.

    • Hi! I absolutely loved your analogy about letting our branches expand and experience different things. I’m happy you have so much pride in being both Indian and American! Thank you so much for reading!

  28. As I write this I am sitting in a cybercafe tucked into the central Indian city of hyderabad. My trip is reaching an end I leave in about a week. I have been here for five months and have blogged all about my introduction to indian culture. I’m A punk from the united states. When I talk to the people here I say I am a begger, or a “Kutta”. My name graeme actually means gray Dog. If you would like to hear about my experience living on the streets of India and working on my spiritual body check out my blog. http://www.ofthelefthand.wordpress.com

  29. I am happy for you to have found this out about yourself now, instead of 30 years or more later. Hopefully, when and if you have children of your own, you will now be able to help them accept themselves for who they are, and from who and where their past comes from so that they can come to this same realization, also, at a much earlier age than yourself, thus providing them with a more secure feeling about themselves.

    Congratulations of your discovery about yourself and I wish you much happiness in your life!

  30. As an American, I am sorry that we Americans made you feel out of place or that you were different. I am American Indian Cherokee, and even at that I I tried to shun my heritage and be anything other than what I am…

    Funny you mention this about the Henna, I am 40 years old and I sit here tonight with Henna tattoos on my hands.

    I am fascinated by all cultures and love to learn and experience other cultures.

    I feel that we are all one, if we could learn to accept ourselves we could except everyone else.

    Peace be to you..

  31. marlowesnymph says:

    This is really special. Congratulations on the new position at the magazine. From your post I can tell that your point of view is a great addition.


  32. Great post! I did the same thing when I was younger. To speak a different language other than English meant being labeled “stupid.” Why did we have to eat Chinese food all the time??! Today, it’s different. If you can speak a second (third and fourth) language, you valuable! How I wish I would have paid more attention to my own culture. And as you, it took a few trips to Hong Kong to learn my own culture is pretty neat! Congrats on Freshly Pressed! LB

    • It’s not only language, but the culture is different. We must adaptation to they culture like food and personality. Generally if you go abroad out of country, you will get a problem with foods. Its very hard to me to eat different teste of foods

  33. It is a good story with valid points. The shame is that even now a days. People struggle to fit in. Even though the saying “Be Youself” is taught to everyone. Growing up. Kids can be cruel, and it makes it nearly impossible to actually be Yourself. You have to conform to society, or else be considered an outcast. The truth is though. When You do embrace who You are. It actually gives You a firm understanding of who Your not suppose to be. Bravo on the story.


  34. This is a fantastic post! Although I don’t have a specific culture that I came from, I still greatly appreciate when I see others embrace their own. Your blog is extremely well-written and entrancing, and really draws you in. Your life story is intriguing, and extremely inspiring.

    It is wonderful that you have decided to embrace your Indian culture while here in America. Keeping the balance is a struggle, I’m sure, but it’s wonderful that you’re up for the challenge!

    I also love your patchwork quilt analogy… it really gets the point across 🙂

  35. Our culture is still not eliminated, but there is something very important is that we should be able to adapt to the environment of our existing culture. Because we interact with the environment around us to be able to live with decent.

  36. i like the way you present your article.

    i loved the heading most “BURGERS & CHAI ” (that’s waht made me to read inside)


  37. I could always see people who are all gone abroad
    with a slang of speaking about the peaks of their foreign lands on comparing the pitfalls of their native land(India)…..

    As an indian….its nice to see some one who is in US embracing the goodness in indian culture…..Great…:)..

    Thanks for expressing your views!

  38. I’m not the Indian, but yeah i can feel you. been there. 🙂
    I’m 22 and i’m happy with my skin, my hair, and all fun Chinese, Indonesian, and Western culture.. Keep exploring, keep balancing… 🙂 Thumbs up.. 🙂

  39. fallonburnsh says:

    I’m so glad you found your balance and you’re so positive about your experience.
    Keep going with this, its a really cool perspective to be hearing from-

  40. This is really good work on this post. Happy to read the quote “if U obey all the rules, U miss all the fun” Here I learned couple of new things and facts which will not easily forget. I think I’ll be back for more information on this useful web destination. Thanks for sharing quality content and interesting facts….

  41. This is lovely! Well done for finding that balance. I know exactly where you are coming from cause I am an Indian who gets told you don’t even look like an Indian and I’ve lost my culture, in fact it sits there all around me with pride as it blends with my English culture. Thank you for the share. As you mentioned Gujarati I have to ask. Kem cho 🙂

  42. Read this post and somehow felt uplifted, and it gave me memories of when I travelled to India a few years back, I have to say this is really awesome. Cheers

  43. Yummy4Tummy says:

    Nice Post – Once upon a time even I was in the same situation. But now I respect other culture but I love my culture.

  44. Good stuff! I hope that things will be easier for my kids now that cultural assimilation is more commonplace in America. But then I turn on the TV and watch a show like Outsourced and sigh…some stereotypes just don’t die…

  45. Dinesh John says:

    I really appreciate your honesty! I am from Delhi, as growing up in a middle class family things were..well very competitive :/…I can somewhat relate to you as I was strongly inclined towards the western side (hmm..that rhymes) :P. Now as an adult and working in the Non Profit Sector things are not the same, there is much more to life, further than our eyes can see and its pretty intense. I love life and and appreciate the ups and downs and the people involved in it :). I have changed and You know how it feels :).

    A great post. God Bless!


  46. walkingpast says:

    woa…i think thats the best one-syllable word ive got after this amazingly-written piece of “typing”.i come from Pakistan.the culture there is like 90% that of India,the fact that they were “one” once.
    anyways,the “henna” part is lovely,though now it kinda kills me,and unbelievably,schools here have banned girls to put on mehndi designs,how funny is that?
    i am “love-in-first-sight” with your blog
    great job,
    good day,
    peace and serenity,

  47. Rennie says:

    Thanks, I think you will love the book, it seems like you and Hema have very similar perspectives. How can I email you the book?

  48. David Halliday said “Kids just get along. The world is shrinking and if we hope to survive the global village we’d all better learn this lesson from our young people” and I had to reply.

    David, of course kids get along just fine! It’s because they’re KIDS that they get along so well. At least until they start getting old enough to bully each other (Columbine). Bullying is one of the reasons I said, in my initial comment, that American culture sometimes sucks and I say that as an American.

  49. I’m loving your rational views on this and glad you resolved to embrace your culture and heritage. All too much these days we forget about these things and try to conform.

    I think the hardest thing though is not to accept ourselves, but live with others not accepting us (if you see my point?)


  50. y says:

    I always find the Indian culture interesting and fascinating. In fact, India is one of my dream destinations. I think the rich history and culture are just two of the many reasons that attracted me. I am a Filipino and I’m very proud of being one. I also have embraced our culture despite the strong influence the Western have in my country. I’m going to India and hopefully, soon.

    Great post and congrats on being on the freshly pressed. 🙂

  51. congratulations……you’ve demonstrated more maturity than our current elected “leaders”…..I use the term loosely because I despise those who drag the names of people like me through the mud just for disagreeing with the way they’re running things

  52. I really identified with your story and realized that I experienced a similar thing, if only in reverse. I spent my college years trying so hard to compensate for appearances and tried to be “authentically Asian.” It took me quite some time to realize that it’s okay to embrace both parts of my identity; I am, after all, a born and bred American. Thanks for this great post.

  53. partialview says:

    Was browsing through Freshly Pressed and came across a picture of Coke with Shiva. Couldn’t resist and I am glad I stopped over.
    Congratulations not just for writing a vastly popular blog, but also for knowing, rediscovering yourself. And at such a ripe age, too. 🙂

  54. Thanks God you finally realized how important is it to understand your own culture. I’ve been to India for a couple of weeks and I love the Indian culture. Until now, I still miss the freshly brewed ‘chai’. You must be proud of your heritage.

  55. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed! I am so proud of you for being so honest and open about your struggles to assimilate.. After my recent induction into the American Citizenship Hall of Fame, it has been a struggle imagining giving up my ‘Indian’ness.. But I have started to slowly figure out that I can end up having the best of both worlds and still enjoy it!
    Good luck!

  56. I totally relate to your article! It is really difficult to integrate in a new culture while keeping one’s identity and being proud of one’s own culture.
    Self-acceptance in a foreign land is certainly the way to a balanced life. while being open-minded we can easily melt into the host culture and celebrate our own.

  57. Hey Congratulation for being on fresly pressed. That is so the truth which remains all the time and ironically everyone knows about it. Apparently it happens not only in between races but oftenly among us. Its really a phobia of not letting us fall out of the peers, may it be family or locality. and the good thing is that we do realize this ,may be at a later stage…

    and i tried to look for ur articles on browngirl magazine, but could find it. Links would help.

    Congrats again.

  58. Good day I was luck to find your subject in google
    your Topics is wonderful
    I learn much in your website really thank your very much
    btw the theme of you website is really quality
    where can find it

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