When did my culture become cool?
I must have missed the moment it happened
Because I was preoccupied with erasing it.
When I hear them marvel at the beauty of Indian sculpture
I remember my six-year-old self
staring in the bathroom mirror during break
because they asked why I did not have blue skin too.
When I see the line outside the trendy Indian restaurant
I remember my seven-year-old self
watching a girl spit out my lunch on the cafeteria table
and frantically wipe the turmeric off her fingers.
When they tell me foreign accents are beautiful
I remember my eight-year-old self
practicing words like “pizza” and “can’t” in the mirror
so that my “funny” accent wouldn’t accidentally escape.
When I smell the incense in their salons
I remember my nine-year-old self
sneaking into my mother’s bathroom to steal her perfume
because a boy told me I smelled like a campfire.
When I listen to them rave about Bollywood songs
I remember my ten-year-old self
hearing my parents turn off their bhajans one morning
because the neighbors were uncomfortable.
When I help them plan looks for music festivals
I remember my eleven-year-old self
pleading with my mom to take off her bindi
because all the kids were pointing at it.
When they get their “henna” done at Six Flags
I remember my twelve-year-old self
deciding not to wear sandals to school
because classmates mocked my mehndi with brown markers.
When they swoon over Priyanka Chopra’s wedding attire
I remember my thirteen-year-old self
begging my mother to take down her Facebook post
because kids were laughing at my shalwar.
When they invite me to their hot yoga classes
I remember my fourteen-year-old self
dreading mindfulness every morning
because everyone laughed at the word “namaste.”
When they praise the beauty of my language
I remember my fifteen-year-old self
snapping at my parents to speak in English on the phone
because a man in the store was glaring at them.
When they marvel at the complexity of Hinduism,
I remember my sixteen-year-old self
avoiding the stares from my classmates
because I ignored the girl who said “so what caste are you?”
My seventeen-year-old self is left confused,
Because I erased myself for them.
Why is my culture only beautiful when I’ve already lost it?
Neha Saggi is a senior at the University School of Nashville in Nashville, Tennessee. In her free time, she enjoys activism, tennis, music, and quality time with family and friends.