Yale Common App Essay: Indian American Identity

Yale Common App Essay: Indian American Identity


Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

Since my childhood, I wanted success in America, a desire shared by many first generation children of immigrants, but as an Indian male I convinced myself that the only way to attain this was through complete assimilation. I found ways to pick and prod at some of the most unjust aspects of Indian society and used that as enough justification to reject my culture altogether. I wanted to be American and I felt that the Indian accent, the Indian food, and just about everything “Indian” about me had to go. In my quest to become “American”, I almost lost a sense of who I am.

Throughout elementary school, I was identified as Indian, yet I tirelessly attempted to prevent this. On cultural awareness day in first grade, when asked what nationality I was, I proudly proclaimed “American,” to everyone’s surprise. By this time, I had lost the accent entirely, yet there was still enough “evidence” that I was Indian. My mother packed me a traditional Indian lunch every morning and every afternoon I would bring home untouched food. After enough scolding from her, I would make sure that I brought none of the food back by tossing it in the cafeteria garbage. I look back and wonder why I was so obsessed with destroying every tiny bit of “Indian” in me, for none of my peers nor my teachers recognized nor congratulated my efforts. I was locked in an identity conflict. There was no denying who I truly was, but I felt that I needed to change that in order to fit in.

In middle school, I had gained the reputation of being the most “Americanized” Indian in school. My friends would marvel at my complete detachment from my culture. I would pretend to not understand my parents when they spoke to me in Gujarati in public. I would always mark English as my first and only language spoken at home. I would always express my distaste for Indian dishes when engaged in conversation about ethnic food, although I secretly devoured the traditional biryani and makhni chicken whenever my mother would prepare it.

During the summer of 2012, my family and I travelled to London to attend a relative’s wedding. To my surprise, I was introduced to my cousins, who although possessing respectable educational degrees, speaking with a British accent, in interracial marriages, and mingling with British friends, embraced the cultural richness of India. The wedding displayed all the cultural rites and rituals with traditional Indian food and delicacies, while the reception that followed had a totally westernized flare. All the guests had a great time and I realized that there was a creative way in which the two cultures engaged in conflict within me could integrate.

Another turning point for me occurred during my research internship at Yale’s School of Medicine. There was a great amount of cultural diversity that existed in the research atmosphere and I found myself meeting people of various nationalities. Obviously, people of similar cultural backgrounds tended to aggregate, but I found it amazing that during lunch hour everyone, regardless of nationality, would socialize over the various ethnic foods available from street-side vendors. This epitomized the “melting- pot” of cultures that America is. I met highly regarded professors, doctorates, and medical students who despite their successes in America still relished in their cultures openly and even embraced each other’s cultures.

It was at this point that I realized that there was no embarrassment or shame in expressing my culture. For too long had I suppressed my culture due to my flawed interpretation of how success is attained in America. There was nothing advantageous in trying to fit the portrait of a “generic” American, for such a portrait is a fallacy. My identity is Indian and American – in fact, I now like to think that I’m the best of both worlds.

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