Tag Archives: identity

Language and Identity

By Sara Malik

Recently, I was asked about my ability to speak my parent’s language and the conversation led to a discussion about my relationship to my parent’s culture. I immediately wanted to explain all of the layers, the reasons why I do not speak my parent’s native language fluently and how it is not born out of embarrassment or dislike, but mostly out of lack of confidence and practice. My parents are from Pakistan, a country born out of a split from India with a religious foundation in Islam. I was born in the United States of America, a country with no singular identity, with core values of individuality and freedom.

My parents speak Urdu and Punjabi, two languages with their own cultural contexts and attitudes, but both spoken in Pakistan. While I was growing up, my parents would speak to me in Urdu at home, but would not expect me to respond in the same language, so I responded in English instead. I grew up learning words and phrases from both Urdu and Punjabi, being able to understand the language when spoken to, but being unable to respond with confidence in my pronunciation. Even around my Pakistani-American friends in our local community, I would be told that I had an American accent when speaking Urdu, or that I was the “least Desi” out of the bunch. “Desi” is a term used by people from the Indian subcontinent, from countries such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, etc., as a means of collectively identifying via our similar cultures. “Desi” should be an inclusive term, but somehow, I was not “cultured” enough, or did not speak the language well enough to feel as though I was a part of that community.

Growing up with this feeling of being too American to fit into my parent’s culture, but not American enough to fit into the culture of my peers at school, resulted in a sort of blurred and unclear identity. There are parts that fit and parts that don’t. In America, children of immigrants navigate these complex layers of our identity as we develop our own beliefs and values while also remaining connected to our parents heritage. We want to be able to connect with those with similar backgrounds, but also want to belong as Americans. We want to participate in normal American pastimes like school dances and sports games, but we also want to retain the traditions, food, clothing and culture of our parents. It is a balancing act that we do not realize is happening until we are older and able to reflect. 

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Dreaming of Tanzania

By Ashna Tanna

I come from dark nights without electricity, to vibrant fireworks. From scorching heat, to shivering showers. From 20 people crowded around a tiny 1996 Samsung television watching Manchester United play Chelsea, to the largest screen in East Africa. From arrogant mosquitoes, to twirling palm trees, from skin burns, to cooling coconut juice.

I come from an international school with “Twiga” domes, swimming pools, music rooms, a couple of holes in the ceiling, stacks of year books, heart-warming teachers, and a bunch of completely strange teenagers. I come from sleeping with rats when climbing Mount Kilimanjaro with 24 of my friends, while also listening to the stories of the porters who have been climbing the mountain for 20 years.

I come from literature that has been shaped by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, and I come from a severe case of eye-rolling from questions like “OMG if you’re from Africa do you have elephants in your backyard?”. The ironic compositions of my environment, and the contrasts that continue to lace my life have given “my world” diversity that extends beyond diverse ethnicities, but stem from a diversity of opportunities. I have seen young girls walking with broomsticks to school, and I have seen students go off abroad to study. With two ends of an incredibly large spectrum, I have come to understand that opportunities are scarce, and that one should always be ready for them, and that no matter how hard your life is, there is no such thing as a life that’s better than yours.

I come from split cultures that have been merged through history. The cultural foundations of my life have influenced how I understand people, how I make decisions, and how I continue to try and break stereotypes, defend authenticity and truly value the cards I have been dealt. I have been privileged enough to have a sheltered, but exposed childhood, where I have had several opportunities and international experiences that allow me to thrive in any global environment.

Despite my “global” exposure, moving to LA for college was something I initially struggled with. I missed the warm ocean water, I missed my amazing friends, I missed the food, I missed the music, I missed the people, the language, the sunsets, the sunrises, the humidity, I missed everything, and I still do. At first, swimming amongst a sea of blonde hair was overwhelming, and I became so attached to what I had lost, that I forgot to live and enjoy what I was so blessed to have. I didn’t bother to meet new people (how could I possibly find better friends than the ones I already have?), I didn’t explore LA (because what could be better than my city), I didn’t make any effort to embrace anything. Eventually however, with time, I changed my perspective.

I made it a priority to explore as many opportunities, places and food as I possibly could. Embracing change, and adapting to change is a skill, and I envied people who mastered the ability to change with time, because I really struggled with this. However, I have finally realized that change is less scary when you understand that you have control over how you are going to react to that change. Your attitude can shape your relationship with change and lead to an abundance of fun times, stories, and opportunities if you allow it. I have made some really great friends here, met some really inspiring professors and have accomplished things I never would have dreamed of. And of course, I still miss home, but it’s comforting to know that my relationship with my friends back home have strengthened over time despite the distance, and I haven’t really lost anything, but instead, I have gained so much. I love LA in all its basic-ness, and you may just catch me chilling on the beach, dreaming of a Tanzanian sunset while sipping on some Starbucks iced coffee with nonfat milk.

Featured image from Wikipedia

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A Bite of Culture – Food as a Reflection of the People

By Emily Kim

Every country has its own unique cuisine. This is why, often enough, one of the first questions we ask someone who has returned from a trip is, “How was the food?” More than visiting a country’s famous sites and attractions, I like to travel to new places to try their food. Throughout my life, I have realized that food is so much more than delicious substances that fill one’s stomach. Rather, just like language, music, or any other aspect of culture, food can reveal so much about the country from which it originates. Three cultures (and therefore food) have dominated my life and, together, they have defined my identity. Allow me to explain.

Whenever I return to America after travelling, I am always shocked by the enormous portion sizes. Everything is unnecessarily huge! In addition, there are always so many choices on the menu that it is hard to decide just what to order. On top of all the choices, there are also so many sides as well! Salad, soup, and fries, just to name a few. There are so many elements, but they are all clearly separate entities. And while this nature of American food may be overwhelming at times, I think it sheds light on various aspects of American culture. We Americans like things big and feel constrained by limitations. It also reveals our individualistic nature as well; we like the power to choose and respect the boundaries we establish between things like work and play, friends and acquaintances. Lastly, one cannot forget the diversity of American cuisine. In the States, you can find authentic food from everywhere! This is only fitting, for America is a melting pot, home to people from all over the world.

Korean food also reveals so much about the Korean culture, the culture of my ethnicity. In a traditional Korean meal there are usually one or two main dishes accompanied by numerous side dishes. Instead of each person ordering their own dish, the whole party will share all of the food on the table; it is too much for one person to enjoy all by him or herself. This manner of eating reveals the communal nature of Korean culture. There is great emphasis on generosity and hospitality, and one of the biggest ways this is expressed is through food! Korean food can also be very interesting and creative. On the streets of Korea, you will find traditional foods transformed and adapted into dishes you would never expect. Take the french fry battered corn-dog or bulgogi pizza for example. It mixes old with new, often producing a combination that makes both even better. This reflects a progressive side to Korean culture and its emphasis on innovation.

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