A first generation child will always tell you how difficult the push and pull between your so-called American-ness and your family roots. It’s a constant battle straddling the line between being cool and American in front of your friends, while remaining traditional and cultured and tied to your roots with your family.
One minute you’re eating poori and kaddu at a family pooja and the next you’re out having turkey burgers and fries with friends (explaining why you don’t eat beef is a whole other issue).
Being Fijian-Indian and born in America brings up a whole other set of issues. The world we live in always wants to label us. Filling out those little race forms was always so confusing to me. Are you Indian? Are you a Pacific Islander? You’re supposed to fit in a neat little box.
The Fijian community in California is small – it was even smaller when I was growing up in the Bay Area. I was the only Fijian person in my elementary, junior high and high school. I could never fully relate to the Indian kids from India and other people automatically assumed I was Indian. “Wait, but you look Indian and you have an Indian name! How is that different?” No one really understood how different the cultures are. The food, the language, the traditions, etc. are all different.
Forget high school, to this day I still get people from India who look down on me for being from Fiji – “oh you’re not one of us.”
I actually had a guy tell me he couldn’t be with me because while I was Indian, his mom wouldn’t approve of me being from Fiji. On the other end, I wasn’t fully American because I didn’t look it. Yet, I wasn’t fully Fijian because I wan’t born in Fiji. Where did I belong?
The answer to that is each culture. I’ve grown to appreciate and love being able to talk about listening to Tupac and Too $hort when I was growing up and switch to discussing in Fijian-Hindi, which saree I’m going to wear to a cousin’s wedding to talking about the latest Shah Rukh Khan movie to asking my dad and uncles for a bowl of nagona or kava.
Having this unique blend of three cultures has made me who I am today. I may have been born the US, but I wouldn’t trade my heritage for anything.