“Hey, look,” one of my classmates said, pointing at me. “That Indian is working with the Americans.”
His comment made me feel like I was in the middle of an emotional monsoon, drenched in indignation and soaked in disgruntlement. I had previously dreamed about giving people who had deeply insulted me and my identity a piece of my mind, even if doing so scared me. But this was no dream, and I wasn’t scared.
“I’m not an American, too?” I shot back at him. “I was born in the U.S. and am an American citizen. I’m not white, but that doesn’t make me any less American than you.”
This wasn’t a dramatic scene from a telenovela. This wasn’t a line delivered in a Bollywood movie followed by a dance led by Shah Rukh Khan. It happened at school, during an ordinary school day. I had sat down with two Caucasian friends to work on a group project when the boy across the room decided to speak about me.
After I yelled at him, he just sat there. He didn’t say anything. I couldn’t read his expression, couldn’t tell if he felt defeated or shocked. Quite frankly, I didn’t care what he thought and still don’t. I don’t care what anyone in that room who heard what I said thought. I don’t care if they told others, I don’t care if they gossiped about me. I. don’t. care.
It’s not as if this was the first time anyone has ever said anything that implied (or even blatantly stated) that I’m not American. One time, the same boy illogically told me that I’m not American because my parents are from India. In elementary and middle school, the boys in my class would make fun of my name, and every time they did I felt so embarrassed I wanted to dig a hole for myself and crawl in. “Why is your name so weird?” they would ask. It’s not — my name is fabulous (and, come on, you can’t expect a Hindu to be named Brittany). I can’t just suddenly forget all the times I’ve been called a “terrorist” before being physically pushed. Even today I still get the occasional, “Hey, ISIS.”
Comments and queries like these have been building up for years. While that boy’s comment may seem like nothing to some, for me it was yet another reminder that I can barely even blink without someone asking me something ignorant or offensive. What that boy said that day was just the not-so-sweet cherry on top.
There’s only one other Indian-American kid at my school, and everyone mispronounces his name. He can learn their names, but they can’t seem to learn his. It's just one example of how white Americans seem to constantly complain about how people of color don’t conform to American customs and culture (like only knowing English and eating bland food, apparently). It’s not that I don’t like being an American. In fact, I feel very blessed to have been born in a country where I have the rights and freedoms many others aren’t as fortunate to have. But the expectation of some Americans that I denounce my religion and culture in order to prove that I am part of this nation is nothing less than ridiculous.
This attitude is not just present in my own community, either. Remember when Nina Davuluri won the title of Miss America and became the first Asian-American to win the competition? It was a huge celebratory moment for Asian-Americans everywhere, and an even bigger one for people like me who are, like Davuluri, of Telugu descent (people from the region of Telangana or Andhra Pradesh in South India). But while we were excited, scorn occupied the minds of many. People took to social media platforms to publicly display their ignorance, voicing their opinion that Davuluri’s ethnicity made it impossible for her to be American and therefore she shouldn’t have won. Some called her an Arab, others a terrorist, and still others had the audacity to say that one of the other contestants — a blonde with an interest in hunting — should have won because she’s a “real American.” Yee-haw.
Were any of the statements made about Davuluri even close to true? Nope, not at all. Indians are not Arabs, don’t you dare call us terrorists, and if you feel that neither Nina Davuluri nor other Indian-Americans like myself are truly Americans, might I recommend taking a peek at our Constitution?
No matter if you’re white or not, of Indian origin or not, I hope that Americans realize that no matter where our families come from, no matter what struggles we’ve overcome and what we’ve been through, at the end of the day, we’re American. Nothing — and I mean absolutely nothing — will make us any less American than any other. Not the color of our skin, not the music we choose to listen to, not the food we eat, not the clothes we wear. This is a nation of diverse people and cultures, and that is what makes us so great. That’s what makes us American.
My name is Janvi Sai, and I’m just one of the many faces of America.
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