I am Indian, and I am American.
My name is Shweta Parthasarathy. I am South Indian by ancestry and American by birth. I am a Hindu who attends a Catholic school. I am a teenager who loves dresses and rompers and saris and anarkalis. I am an Indian classical singer and dancer who absolutely loves Taylor Swift and Lin Manuel Miranda.
It has always been a constant fight to fit in and feel ‘normal’. I brought dosa and curd rice for lunch, not Lunchables or leftover pizza. I celebrated Diwali and Navratri every year, but never Christmas or Easter. I grew up watching Chota Bheem, not Spongebob Squarepants. I sang songs in Sanskrit written by composers from centuries ago, but I didn’t know who Miley Cyrus and Selena Gomez were. I was just different. Too Indian.
My Tamil was too colloquial, my shorts were too short, my sleeves not quite long enough. I wasn’t good enough at math. I spent too much time not studying. I knew Western pop songs and celebrities, but not Indian athletes and actors. I was too American.
I am Indian and American, and yet I am too Indian for America, and too American for India. That’s often the nature of being the child of immigrants.
At the same time, being a woman makes things harder. Figuring out who we are is already such a struggle, and while that’s arguably the purpose of life, it can be even harder for girls to navigate that process. We are so often told who we are and what we can—or more accurately, what we can’t—do. Unfortunately, it is on us to change the narrative, push to be who we want to be and do what we want to do. Girls and women have to fight so much harder just to be themselves—to even exist. And that makes it a thousand times more difficult to truly discover who we are.
But there is one part of my identity that never changes: I am a woman. In the eyes of society, being a woman can overshadow any other part of my identity. Regardless of our differing races, ethnicities, and cultures, I am joined by billions of women in my struggle with discrimination based solely on my gender. Gender inequality is the one reliable, albeit frustrating, constant among my two identities. Temporarily ignoring the injustice and illogical nature of gender inequality, it allows me to unite the battling parts of myself against a common enemy.
Over the years, I’ve learned that discovering yourself is like peeling the layers off an onion, except, unlike the typical metaphor, the layers don’t represent who you are. Instead, the layers represent the labels, assumptions, stereotypes and unwanted opinions society throws at you. Strip those off. Relentlessly hack away at them, until you’re left with who you really are.
Your identity does not change because of what other people think of you. It changes when you change, when your self-perception changes, when your heart and mind change. So don’t let society be the thing that dictates who you are. Be who you want to be. Ignore the constant battle between the different parts of your identity and embrace them all, because every facet of your identity defines your strength, power and individuality.