By Jaya Rao-Herel
A memoir, a thought, a realization. Finding and defining my own identity.
I’ve grown up in two worlds. Falling asleep at kirtans, soft hums of Indian songs drifting in the air, and also listening to my dad’s favorite Eagles song on repeat. I’ve grown up riding in rickshaws in India, and eating rice with my hands off banana leaves, but also learning where to place utensils to properly set a table on Christmas; forks on the left, knives and spoons on the right. I’ve grown up taking off my shoes at temples but also being told I can keep them on in my grandma’s house, even on the carpet. I’ve grown up saying grandma and grandpa, Ajji and Aja. The latter always followed up by “that’s grandma and grandpa in Kannada.” I’ve grown up hearing people call me “jii-ya,” but also learning about its Sanskrit origin from my mom. I’ve grown up with skin that made people say I looked more like my dad than mom, but dark hair that resembles hers exactly. I’ve grown up watching cartoons about Hanuman, and reading Nancy Drew before bed. I’ve grown up with the familiar sound of my Ajji’s thick Indian accent, but also cringing at the roar of laughter when the class clown jokingly spoke in one too. I’ve been angered by the way people let this slide, but also by the way I let it slide. I’ve grown up feeling like I wasn’t a reflection of the diversity that I am.
I wonder if my light skin makes people think of me as only white; if they don’t see the other fifty percent of me, does it even exist? The fifty percent that makes rangolis at Diwali and sings at pujas. The fifty percent that could eat paneer tikka masala and drink mango lassis every day. The fifty percent that is woven in my DNA and is dispersed through all aspects of my life. Yes, it does exist. I’ve grown up in two culturally rich worlds, into me.
Jaya Rao-Herel, from Brooklyn NY, is a senior in high school. She is a writer and musician, blending her love of storytelling and music through songwriting and composition. Her work is driven by her biracial heritage, observations of nature and daily life and her pieces are poetic reflections on the world around her.