Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Tricolor Identity

Sometimes slipping effortlessly in and out of different cultures isn’t exactly effortless. You travel and try not to get too comfortable in any one skin for fear that the others won’t recognize you when you return. Hindi accents meld with Spanish syllables and the States confuse both. Can you keep that many languages straight in your head? I can, but I risk skepticism by those who don’t believe that a white girl can speak gutter Punjabi. So you’re half Indian -- what’s your other half again? No, I’m fully Indian and I’m a linguist so I know that “Punjab” means “five rivers” but I couldn’t care less what five rivers that refers to.

Bhangra and Salsa are strikingly similar but it’s tricky when your feet can’t tell the difference and you risk seeming rusty at both at parties. Sometimes you want to stay in one place for four years and not move for fear of shades of morality that can’t be blended, or because each language comes with an affect that isn’t easy to imitate. You’ve internalized them all but you never used to stumble over words before (in any language!) so maybe it’s the conjugations flying past that distract you, or the disbelief. 

Or mockery. You don’t understand India at all. You never will. No, I wasn’t raised to gossip and laze and be constantly frustrated with those poorer than me so maybe I won’t understand your India. I’m listening to Colombian music on my iPhone as the driver drives us by a pair of beggars, under the age of five, grossly neglecting their job. They stand in the middle of the road and throw back their fearless heads and laugh with one another instead of approaching our car and tapping on the windows. Maybe they don’t understand India either. They think they’re free to be irreverent and when they’re asked, maybe they say they’re majoring in “nothing” too, because they haven’t figured it out yet.

But hopefully at the end of the day when they say they’re going home, they at least know where that is.

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