Thoughts While Putting Away Butter Chicken Leftovers

When I was little, I would emphatically insist that I hated Indian food. I’d say it was too “muddy”, no singular flavor stood out, and it didn’t taste like “anything.” (lol, oh sweetie.)

But ultimately, I wasn’t taught how to appreciate my heritage and cultural vibrance. And where cultural appreciation lacked, I internalized all the negative, spiteful, and ignorant things I heard about my country and people and decided a full rejection of any and all things Indian was the safest way to go in order to win the approval and fit in with my (⚪️) peers.

It’s weird, teaching yourself how to appreciate your roots as an adult. There’s no formula. It’s all trial and error. Lots of trying to understand the references I see on my favorite South Asian social media accounts in the context of the Wikipedia articles I read. Duolingo is pretty unhelpful for conversational language learning (although I can read Hindi fluently now). Watching Hasan Minhaj and laughing, fully aware you’ll never truly know on an experiential level why the joke is funny. It’s knowing that the first place I can go to see what my first parents and ancestors looked like is in the mirror, but any other attempts to fill in the blanks are conjecture and fantasy. It’s being aware that my child most certainly exhibits physical and personality traits from my kin and having no clue what they are.

Being a transracial and transnational adoptee with zero connection to family roots means I experience the world from the outside looking in the majority of the time. Never fully accepted in one culture because I’m not “from here,” never fully accepted in the other because I’m “too white.” It’s a double-edged sword of cultural rejection that affects how you identify nationally, ethnically, where/if you see yourself in history, and more.

I don’t know if I’ll ever feel fully settled in any specific national identity. But I do know I’ll keep carving my way towards home. Listening to South Asian voices as I learn my country’s history and current socio-political issues. I cherish the gift of generational connection as I look at my son’s distinctly mesorrhine nose, passed down by his Bengali ancestors. Oiling my hair. And yes, learning about and cooking the classic foods of India such as murgh makhani, dal, and biryani.

It’s true, “home” isn’t limited to a location. And yet, as adoptees, without a tethering of location and culture, we are often left rudderless – having our adoptive parents’ cultural roots be the defining perspective of how (or if) we learn our own. Sometimes I feel pressure to have my cultural identity figured out before my child is old enough to start asking questions. I don’t think that’s going to happen.

But I do trust that with each personal choice to elevate and amplify the voices, history, traditions, and language of my people, I am honoring my heritage. I am slowly and presently journeying home.

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