I remember there was this kid, he would find a stick every day. He would poke me and when I would say something, he would say, “Oh Pav, he’s going to blow up.” And then this kid once asked me in front of the whole class if I celebrated 9/11 which put me in the awkward position of saying, ‘Yeah, cause it’s my dad’s birthday’. I was thinking about this the other day. Kids my generation, we wanted to be white. When you’re 7, 8, 9 you want to be part of the group. You want to be the same. So, you’re always observing – I’m not being treated the same, black kids aren’t being treated the same, Asians aren’t being treated the same. The white kids – that’s ‘normal’. That is what we convince ourselves as normal.
So, growing up wanting to be white, we experience through that lens. For example, I was always hesitant to invite kids over. They might hear my dad speak, hear his accent, and automatically equate that to Apu from the Simpsons. That’s something you could get made fun of for. My mom would pack my lunches and kids would say, ‘Ew, what’s that smell?’ Stuff like that limits your interactions. You don’t want them to see your ‘otherness’. It’s a shame that we’re never allowed to be comfortable with our own identities and that leads to an identity crisis. Growing up, I’m not white, obviously. I’m not black. And the word ‘Asian’ was hard as an Indian because in America there is an association with East Asia. So, it’s tough to come to grips with the fact it takes a lot of effort to identify with a certain group and own that identity while at the same time cultivating your own individual identity.
… Punjabi. I’m more comfortable identifying with that than ethnicity. I’m an American. I’m way more comfortable identifying as American now than I used to be. A passion of mine is helping people. I was always the empathetic kid and that has manifested into my career [as a counselor]. I hope to go back to my hometown and spread awareness in minority communities. And it all goes back to the fact that it’s okay to be different.
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‘Indivisible’ is an ongoing portrait and interview project, sharing the stories of racism and identity formation.
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