Children of immigrants move in cultural limbo

Illustration by Margo Kazak

Illustration by Margo Kazak

Imra Tajuddin and Mia Merchant

“You’re such a coconut: brown on the outside, white on the inside.” “Next time I go to your house, can I try some curry?” “You’re so white-washed.” “You’re not Asian, you’re Indian.” “What is your mom teaching you at home? You can barely speak Urdu.”

As children of immigrants, we’re often caught between two cultural worlds. We’re too “foreign” for some and too “American” for others. Our families and cultural community often criticize the parts of ourselves that are American, and our American peers often stereotype the parts of our identity that are Desi (South Asian). We don’t completely fit in with the culture of our peers or the culture of our parents. Any form of cultural self-expression is bound to be criticized by the communities that we are a part of.

We define ourselves differently based on who we’re with. In front of our families, we are Desi, we are loyal to the countries of our ancestors, we are the daughters of immigrants. In front of our peers, we are American, we are loyal to the country we live in, and daughters of the American Dream. We cannot be placed into a single cultural box.

When we find ourselves in situations where we are criticized for our cultural backgrounds, we are offered the chance to educate. We show everyone that we can take the best of both worlds and define our own cultures and identities. We get to eat nihari and biryani, as well as deep dish pizza and onion rings. We can wear elegant kurtis, but also get to enjoy the comforts of jeans and sweaters. This very opportunity and our multicultural existence fulfill our parents’ American dream.

We are living proof that Americans and Desis aren’t entirely different; we share the same sense of patriotic pride, of loyalty to our families and our friends, and acceptance of a wide variety of ethnic groups.

Even so, we ourselves aren’t innocent of cultural labeling, but seemingly harmless comments have done nothing but reinforce cultural divides. We acknowledge that if we want anything to change, we have to accept that culture is not rigid and that every person has the freedom to choose how connected they are to their ethnicity. We ask that the people around us understand that we, as children of immigrants, won’t be defined by stereotypes because we deserve to be accepted by everyone around us.