There are a lot of struggles associated with being a first-generation American. One of the most obvious struggles is you often question your identity, how you fit into the world and then, of course, how you fit into your particular world.
Personally, I've faced struggles finding the right friends for me. But my friend struggles have only been half as challenging as my romantic struggles.
My parents came to America from India in their 20s. They settled down in New York and assimilated pretty well. But I think they were able to do so with ease because they aren't super religious or bound by traditional Indian norms. Since they weren't rooted in a strong sense of culture, I found myself also not feeling rooted in much. I never really felt connected to my skin color and my dating life reflected that lack of connectedness.
I've always sort of fallen somewhere in between Indian and American. My friends refer to me as the "whitest Indian" they've ever met and I'm not really sure what that means, but I can make a pretty good guess.
The Indian clique at my college, "Browntown," was the place most Indians -- both Indian-Americans and Indians straight from India -- hung out. I never chose to be involved in Browntown activities because, to be completely honest with you, I felt out of place dancing to Indian music and arguing over whether it was Priyanka Chopra or Katrina Kaif who wore it better on the red carpet.
I never did Indian stuff growing up, so why would I feel inclined to do it now? And by refusing to to identify as "brown," I automatically identified more as being culturally American, but gravitating toward white men who weren't American.
My dating past has consisted of a couple of Irish guys, a British guy, a Croatian guy and a few Jewish guys. The point is they were all minorities in this sea of white Americans, and I think it was the fact we were different that brought us together. Or maybe it's because I'm so used to being "exotic" to other people that I find comfort in those I find to be "exotic."
We shared commonalities; there's something about them that's worldly. Because as I said, as a first-generation American, it's hard to find a place in this world.
Every now and then, I choose to channel my inner Indian -- you know, wearing saris, seeing what's up with Bollywood celebrities, trying to learn how to cook Indian meals by watching YouTube videos. But for the majority of the time, I channel my American side. I wear American clothes, am very much in tune with Hollywood more than I am Bollywood and can cook more pasta dishes than I can curry dishes.
I'm so used to being "exotic" to other people that I find comfort in those I find to be "exotic."
One of my boyfriends was a born-and-bred American. Coming from the Florida panhandle, he was very different than I was and there were times I just felt I couldn't connect with him, despite having recruited white Americans into my social circle growing up.
I've always sort of been typecasted by the men I've dated -- that is, unless they came to this country from somewhere else, like my parents. I don't know what it is about them. I mean, it's not like I have a cool, edgy accent like they do; I sound just like my white American friends. All I know is when I'm with men who come from halfway around the world, I feel a sense of solidarity, of belonging, of home.
When you don't identify as fully American, you just feel... unAmerican. Fellow Indian-American writer Nikita Redcar writes,
Assimilation into Western culture seems to demand all or nothing.
And she's right. If you can't find a home in the company of white Americans and you can't find a home in the company of those with the same skin color as you, then you end up feeling so lost that you find company in a different group of people entirely.
Minority crossover is kind of a thing when it comes to Asians and dating. In her piece, "What's With The Jewish-Man/Asian-Woman Connection, Anyway?" Deborah Jiang-Stein points out the following phenomenon:
While there's no proof or evidence for the Jewish-Asian affinity, and no one seems to know the why and what about Jewish men and Asian women, many acknowledge that it exists. On the dating side, some men may fetishize women of Asian heritage, and this may fit into a standard patriarchal presumption that women in general are subservient.
As she argues, there's no real proof as to why certain groups of minorities get along so well with each other, but she cites "similarity in family values and upbringing" as a possible explanation.
I've always seemed to get along really well with British guys. And I'm going to guess that's because there's a pretty significant Indian population in Britain (remember imperialism?). All of those fun little historical facts circle back to me feeling like in some weird way, I know British people, even the ones I don't know personally. Brits are, like, in my blood.
I often wonder what kind of man I'll end up with. But I suppose I can't know for sure until I've completely figured out how Indian I want to be and how American I want to be. I'm still trying to figure out if I can be both at the same time.