America is a melting pot of cultures -- but it seems like not all cultures and ethnicities are welcome. Unless, of course, their clothing is appropriated for profit or racial jokes are made at their expense for entertainment. It seems as if some Americans love everything about us... except us.
South Asians have been living in the United States for over a century now. Currently, we make up less than one percent of the total American population. Generations of South Asians have attended American colleges and continue to live in and serve American communities. Despite all of our contributions to American society, such as making up a decent portion of the workforce in the engineering, medical and computer fields, South Asians face harassment and bullying for various reasons. And with high-profile events like the crowning of Nina Davuluri as Miss America and the seven-year streak of South Asian students winning the Scripps National Spelling Bee, a new disturbing reality of racism and bullying has become more apparent via the Internet.
These two momentous achievements have attracted an onslaught of terrible comments aimed at the accomplished Davuluri and the hard-working South Asian teenagers. Why? Because apparently, these people are not American! Being born in the United States of America totally does not make you an American citizen. Neither does being legally naturalized. Not at all.
Are we, USA-born and naturalized citizens, not American? Even when we speak the same language, wear western clothes, and follow American laws, we are still considered outsiders. Often we are told to go back "home." Home? Where? The New York hospital I was born in?
Why can't all of American society accept us with our hyphenated, intersectional identities? Growing up in Louisiana I was told to leave America and was labeled as "other," but then my peers also wanted me to give up the little pieces of culture my parents passed on to me simply to fit in with them.
In middle school, I was constantly taunted for having long, unshorn hair as a part of my Sikh religious duty. At some point, I refused to bring paranthas packed from home for lunch because students snickered at me.
In eighth grade, I wore bangles from my cousin's maiyaan ceremony -- it is a tradition to wear them for a few months after a wedding -- to school, the teacher joined in with my classmates laughing at the bangles and my mehndi. Sometimes, kids would purposely ask me what music I listened to, although I already told them I listen to Indian music. Students did not miss a single chance to pick on me in front of an audience and point out how different I was compared to them.
It seems like anyone who happens to be different causes great discomfort to some people. And even if we do manage to fit in, we are not immune to ostracism at even the most random moments in daily life. There are still some days when my younger brother comes home and tells me how some kid muttered racial slurs at him the hallway.
If you want to win a beauty pageant, work at it. If you want to win a spelling bee, spend months studying for it. But please don't belittle the achievements of immigrants' children by telling us to "go back to our country" and labelling us as non-Americans.
Bangladeshi-Americans, Indian-Americans, Nepali-Americans, Pakistani-Americans, and Sri-Lankan Americans: We were born here, and we are here to stay. We want to be accepted, not merely tolerated, for who we are.