The sweet humid air surrounded my body with the first step I took on the soil of my parent’s birthplace. It was an odd sensation being in a country new to me yet feeling so at home. I was 12 and had taken my first plane ride (a 13 hour one) with my parents to the place where they, their parents and grandparents were born, the Fiji Islands. I had cried before boarding the Air Pacific plane at SFO, not wanting to leave my cousin/best friend for an entire month for an island which shaped so much of my childhood, yet had never been. I had never traveled this far out of my world and was scared and naive of what was waiting on the other side of the world.
I was born in the Bay Area, California, but 90% of my family is from the Fiji Islands. I grew up with dual cultures, like any first generation American or immigrant child will tell you. It was a battle straddling the line between being American in front of your friends while remaining traditional, cultured and tied to your roots with your family. In this country I was born in I was constantly made to feel other. “Where do you come from?” “What are you?” While for my friends born from immigrant parents from India, I was never entirely Indian enough. Where did I fit?
It was that first breath of humid air, the hugs of my aunt and cousins at the Nadi airport, and the ride to her home through the sugarcane fields along the Sleeping Giant mountain that made me realize where I belonged. All of the stories I grew up hearing from my parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents had told me melted into realization. This is where I came from. It’s the place that shaped my parents, who in turn shaped me. I didn’t feel other. Sure, I was the kid from America, but I spoke the same language, ate the same food growing up and had the same values passed on to me. I learned more about myself than I ever could have imagined. I felt a point of pride in my heritage that until then had never fully understood.
Those four weeks were a catalyst for my future. It gave birth to my commitment not just to human rights and equality but gave me a piece of my identity that wasn’t fully actualized. This was my heritage. This was me. I was no longer the other in Fiji. The islands had wrapped me in its arms in a way that America never fully had.
I cried again as I left the airport in Fiji. Shedding tears leaving behind my cousins and aunt that I had grown so attached to. The aunt who lovingly called me Radha Rani, fed me and told me stories about my dad when he was a child that I had never heard before. She made my ties to Fiji palpable. The hurt I felt leaving her and Fiji behind as a 12 year old much more immense than I would have thought. The pain of leaving this home that I became so attached to. This place that I had such a deep connection to. That connection which still lives in me in California.