First generation American children. The children of immigrants. A topic that is rarely discussed but that is on the forefront of all American minds now that Kamala Harris is making history as the FIRST black woman and first generation American daughter of Indian immigrants to be elected Vice President of the United States. Yup. You heard right.
This kind of representation is irreplaceably valuable to millions of people, but the only person I can speak for is myself. As someone who is also a first-generation daughter of immigrants, I intimately understand the struggles that come with being raised by two human beings who have completely different upbringings than you do. Before I was born, my parents came to California for the purpose of forging a new, better life for me than the one they experienced in communist Romania. On the last day of his college trip to New York, my father skipped the bus that would carry him back to the airport and spent months traveling across the country to get to The City of Angels, telling my mother to meet him there. This immense sacrifice that shaped my entire life is one I will never fully understand.
There is a sense of duality that comes with being raised by foreign parents in what is not their native country, but what is yours. There is a sense of being separated-yet-connected from your peers and surroundings. Because of the language we spoke, we stood out like sore thumbs everywhere we went. It was impossible not to notice people speaking to my parents differently because of their extremely heavy accents. When people inevitably asked me why I'd never seen [insert a movie everyone has seen] or been to [insert a place everyone has been to], I defaulted to telling them, "I was raised in mini-Romania." That's what my childhood home was like - a Romanian vortex in the middle of Southern California. We spoke Romanian, ate Romanian food, learned Romanian customs, celebrated Romanian holidays. That's not to say my parents didn't do their best to integrate me into American culture, but you can't help but raise your children by the things you were raised - and my parents were definitely not brought up watching Star Wars and taking trips to Disneyland.
As I grew older, I quickly realized there were very few people in my inner circle who could relate to my family experience. The only family I ever had were my parents. The rest of my family was in Romania or scattered across the globe and, aside from my very small immediate circle, I'd never met any of them. To this day, I don't even know their names. There are parts of myself I still don't understand. There are aspects to my being I am still discovering. The feeling of uncertainty used to be overwhelming, leaking into countless other areas of my life. The bright side is: As I've continued living, I've learned to interpret this duality through a different lens - freedom. The freedom to choose to become any aspect of who you are.
Every person's experience is unique. When I asked Sam to do a photoshoot with me, I knew she could offer her own perspective on what it was like for her to be raised as a first generation Indian-American woman. Keep scrolling to read her words, hear her story, and see her beauty (inside & out)!
"I remember commenting on one of Lorraine's stories that 'I wish I could be cool enough to model' and Lorraine immediately replied wanting to do a shoot with me. Awed, humbled, and blown away, I accepted her offer. We made a date and she asked if I would wear any type of Indian clothing. I looked in my closet and realized I had only some Indian tops but no saree or kurta or even dupatta to wear. I realized how not-so-Indian I was raised to be. How my closet reflected my upbringing. I never celebrated any Indian traditional holidays. I never learned to speak any kind of Indian language or dialect. I barely started learning how to cook Indian food. I was very lost when it came to 'what is my culture?' or 'if I'm not American or Indian, who am I?'
I'm too brown for American people and I'm too white for Indian people. I still have days where I don't feel like I belong anywhere.
I have come to learn I am both, an American South Asian Indian. I have learned to be a bridge for Americans and Indians. I have learned that even though these two cultures are different doesn't make one superior or inferior than the other. They are both beautiful and unique in their own away.
America is my heart and India is my soul. Both are vital for life to exist."
- Samantha D'Costa