Until I left home, I never saw myself as brown.
Until I stumbled into places of whiteness, I did not know that I was an other.
Until I came to Bryn Mawr, I did not know the term “person of color”—partially due to my own ignorance, but mostly because that was not how I had ever seen myself. I know now that that was a privilege.
Sure, there were moments in high school when I felt the need to distance myself from my brownness, always wishing I could lighten my skin, change the size and shape of my nose, be “pretty,” eat PB&J sandwiches, not chadham and rajma.* But most of my time was spent focusing solely on operating as a student within my school’s walls. I did my homework, participated in after-school clubs, played instruments, and danced. I surrounded myself with other first generation South Asian and East Asian American students—never realizing the true reason that I was gravitating toward them. It was not because they were particularly amiable, but rather because of my own hidden assumptions and fears of being “othered” by my white peers.
I assumed I would have nothing in common with the white people at my school. They were popular, loud, athletic, and sat in one section of the lunch room—far from the rest of us. Only once or twice did someone who looked like me, successfully… and willingly infiltrate these white groups of students. They left behind their comb overs and their chadham and took on football and self-deprecating humor that just fed into the stereotypes about us [good at math, smells like “curry,” unconfident and unathletic]—it was their way of disassociating themselves from us and securing their ties with their white friends.
I never felt proud of my culture or of being brown. Instead, I did my best to tuck this part of me away, while at school. I don’t remember feeling ashamed, but I was always walking on a tight rope—neither here nor there-- just passing… being as inconspicuous as I could, trying to fall under the radar.
As I read Markus’ article, I realized that my attempts to “fit in” and my fears of being “othered” were not just because of my own assumptions, but also because schools are not actually “neutral spaces.” She points out that they are grounded historically in Euro-American ideals and beliefs of what is good, valued, respected and rewarded. In this way, I saw that behaving and speaking a certain way, dressing a certain way, and eating and participating in certain things would let me “pass.” I would not be limited to my brownness.
When I first came to BMC, I felt an immediate culture shock—a need to find my peers, people that look like me that could help create a sense of belonging. Though there had been a significant number of white students in my school, there was also a large population of Asian students. At Bryn Mawr, however, for the first time, I felt a need to find “my people.” What surprised me, though, was the fact that my people came from all different backgrounds. They identified themselves as Asian Americans, Indian Americans, Pakistanis, African Americans. They ate different foods at home, spoke different languages, wore different clothes.
But the one small thing that struck me the most was that together, they called themselves people of color. POC-- I think it feels good—it’s a space where I can embrace being Indian American as a strength—something to draw upon.