“Do you like (insert hard to understand Indian food dish)?”
She hurriedly shot at me as she started to strain the boiling water out of a black pot she had just taken of the stove. She asked me expecting I would know, since I’m Indian.
I couldn’t make out the name of the dish she had said but caught a glimpse of a red box siting on the counter that read rossogola (or something). The box had a picture of a few white dough balls in a stack together. I hurriedly glanced into the pot as the murky water streamed into the sink and steam billowed out burning her hand causing her to let out a yelp. Not recognizing the white dough balls on the package or the ones in the pot I reluctantly responded knowing the criticism that would follow, “I don’t even know what that is”.
“What!?!?” She exclaimed and gave a rare look up from her cooking to gawk at me in disbelief.
“Here it comes” I thought preparing myself for the barrage of questions concerning my obvious Indian origin given my name and my just as obvious lack of knowledge of all things Indian.
“What kind of Indian are you!?” She exclaimed incredulously.
I let out a ruckus laugh trying to avoid having to defend myself. Defend that I was indeed Indian even though I possessed absolutely no knowledge of the place where I was born.
“My parents aren’t Indian” I said as she rushed back over to the stove to tend many other gurgling and boiling pots. She obviously hasn’t heard me and once again became preoccupied with her dinner preparation. Every once and a while she would let out a shriek followed by a short recoil from the stove as another one of her dishes scolded her.
Siting there, at the island counter watching her cook, not knowing any of the ingredients of foods so dear to my birth land began to make me feel less and less Indian, not necessarily more American, but more Indian.
She was making dinner for a bunch of friends and along with the five I’d so Indian dishes she was preparing she also wanted to make a cake. One if our friends, Elise, well actually the girl who got me into this ordeal pulled out a Betty Crocker chocolate cake box. “Shit” I thought “I can make that!”
I laughed to myself realizing how amusing my personal frustration really was. After being adopted I spent over 20 years trying to talk, eat, look, smell and be like a ‘real’ American. Now sitting at this counter in her kitchen I’m frustrated that I’m not Indian enough.
What else can I really expect after living in the US for so long? Having only been back to India once and having a non-Indian family. It is sort or ironic that I was brought to the US to have a better life and here I am wishing I had spent more time in India. That may, in fact, be a definite indicator of someone who had loved a privileged life. Wanting a less prosperous life.
Over the years I’ve come to think of this internal dilemma of not feeling truly Indian and feeling American by default… Or the other way around as always half way there. Meaning I don’t ever feel fully like either identity. Which is no surprise nor is it very unique. But nonetheless I do find it frustrating. The feeling of wanting to identify fully with one group, but feeling pressure internally and externally to gravitate towards both.