Others never understood how I could be allowed to go to Winter Ball or football games or why I would even want to. I remember one year being voted most social, to the dismay of my parents ("Really? Your best attribute is that you talk a lot?"). Being social in high school reigned more important to me than being the best in class. Looking back, that probably wasn't the best choice, but then again, I was a teenager. Rather than join academic clubs or be on student council, I spent my days with my friends, went to every dance, and had sleepovers. But not having Indian friends made me sad, because when I looked at my cousins in Canada, most of their closest friends were Indian. I wanted to be able to invite friends over for Indian parties or talk about how cute Shah Rukh Khan was in the latest film.
Despite this, I did appreciate how my closest friends always welcomed my culture. They would come over for dinner and drool over my mom's Indian cooking. They sat for hours listening to my dad's tales of India and Indian politics. To this day, I hear, "I can't wait for you to get married so we can finally attend an Indian wedding!"
There were times, however, that I did feel that my culture separated me from my friends. I always had to host sleepovers because my parents were not comfortable with me staying at friends' houses whose parents they didn't know well. There was a time I was grounded and snuck out to a dance under the pretense of "working on a school project." I was quickly caught and remember my friends saying, "Doesn't your mom understand it's homecoming?"
But for the most part, my parents were very understanding. They loved my friends and let me "do me" as much they could. Junior year, I wanted a job, and my dad didn't fully understand why; he thought that the time could be better spent working on schoolwork, but I wanted to be able to work at the movies with my best friend. My mom later told him this would be a good way to learn responsibility and that most kids my age had jobs. To him, he thought he had worked so hard so that I didn't have to, but he soon agreed with my mom and me.
I appreciate when people of different races celebrate our traditions. Some people call this cultural appropriation, which I understand is a sensitive topic, but I wasn't offended, for example, by Missy Elliott's inclusion of a Hindi verse in "Get Ur Freak On" or Gwen Stefani's obsession with bindis circa 1990s or Beyoncé's donning a sari and henna in Coldplay's "Hymn For the Weekend" video. On the contrary, I found it amazing and loved that people were embracing some of the coolest parts of being Indian. I get excited when I attend Indian weddings and see non-Indians dressed head to toe in our garb, taking a nosedive into our colorful culture.
So much of this probably has to do with the fact that I was born in the Bay Area in California, one of the most diverse places in the country. I am, not to quote Drake or anything, blessed for it. I'm eternally grateful for the way I was brought up, with a rich culture but diverse friends and the lessons I've learned along the way.