On May 2, 2011, the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, also known as SEAL Team 6, successfully killed Osama Bin Laden in Operation Neptune Spear. It was a patriotic victory for a healing nation. But that’s not the day I’ll remember — the day I’ll never forget is May 2, 2012.
I had just joined my high school’s color guard and was walking back to my car after a late practice. On the driver’s side were the words “We killed ur f------ uncle, go home sand n------.” I was hurt and confused, unsure of why this had happened. I drove to a CVS and tried to scrub the spray paint — and the color of my skin — away.
After that day, I tried to make myself small and transparent.
I completely erased myself from my Indian roots, and I became the exact same as everyone I went to school with. I started listening to country music, had a “Don’t tread on me” sticker on my binder, made fun of people who looked like me and laughed when racist and derogatory jokes were made about me.
I tried to look and act as American as possible — or at least the way I thought an American was supposed to be.
I felt like a foreigner in my own home.
It wasn’t until my mother passed away my junior year that I realized how much of myself I gave up. She was the one who taught me about our Indian culture and customs, but I was so ashamed of it that I forgot everything she taught me.
I started researching and learning more about my family’s culture and finally embraced it whole-heartedly. I started wearing a nose ring, re-watched Bollywood movies I loved as a kid and spoke more Hindi with my dad and sister.
I was scared that I would be ostracized for loving who I was by my old peers, but at this point I didn’t care.
I figured out how to be brown in a place where “American” meant you were white, and that was so important to me.
I realized that there is no cookie-cutter image of what being an American is. I can be proud of the roots I’ve planted — and the branches I’ve grown.