Black Mom + Indian Dad = Search for Identity

Posted in Articles, Asian Diaspora, Identity Development/Psychology, Interviews, Media Archive on 2012-12-24 01:40Z by Steven

Black Mom + Indian Dad = Search for Identity

Ebony Magazine

Sharda Sekaran

Sharda Sekaran can’t deny her East Indian roots, but she can’t find them either

It was my senior year of college. I sat at the end of a long oval table in a meeting room in one of the academic buildings. Surrounding me on either side were professors from different departments. Some of them I’d taken classes from, but most I had not. They were interviewing me for a fellowship for which I’d been nominated. It was a very selective process, and only three other students from my school were up for it.

I’m generally okay speaking under pressure in front of a group, but I was absolutely terrified. The professors asked my about my identity—my understanding of who I am and where I came from. I felt paralyzed by fear, and stumbled like a desperate entertainer trying to keep the audience on her side.

I could see the crestfallen face of a religion professor whom I knew wanted to like me. She watched helplessly as I spewed out one badly composed thought after another. I knew what I was saying was complete junk. I tried to distract them with academic buzzwords: “dichotomy,” “paradox,” “equilibrium,” “organic…” Nothing. All I conveyed about my identity was that I had no clue about it.

It was my own fault. The fellowship was based on self-discovery through theme-related travel for a year. The subject was meant to be of personal significance, but maybe I’d taken it too far. My topic was the gaping hole of my family grief—a search for the missing half of my cultural ancestry.

My proposal was to examine my hybrid African-American/Indian identity by studying the impact of Bollywood on the Indian Diaspora (my personal connection being, my father’s from India and my mother is African-American). I’d go to countries with Creole Indian/African mixed populations to observe how popular cinema impacted people’s idea of what makes them “Indian.”

I thought it was a good idea for a project; so did a lot of others. Thus, I found myself at the end of that table of professors. But when the panel asked me questions about Indian culture, basic things that any person with an Indian family should know, I drew blanks.

I might have saved myself by admitting that I had no relationship with my Indian-born father. He abandoned our family when I was a toddler and left me without a dad or any ties to his family. All I inherited was an Indian name and physical features that could belong in South Asia. My family history had ambiguity, but also enough clues about my origins to constantly leave me answering questions and explaining a story that’s sensitive as a wound whenever I’m forced to recount it…

Read the entire article here.

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