So I am 1/4 Indian. (My Nana is from India.)
That is an important part of my life. Even though I basically look 100% white. And I've had people tell me I'm lying when I tell them this. I've had to show them pictures of my grandmother to prove it.
And my Nana lived in a basically 100% white area since she married my grandfather. My mom and her siblings grew up as the only "ethnic" people in their school. The isolation probably helped contribute to the alcoholism that affected my mom's childhood. And that lead to differences and rules in how I was brought up. This is where the importance of keeping up appearances and the need to fit in comes so strongly from. The overwhelming importance of belonging and of making a good impression. (While at the same time, about being independent.) This family is the one that fiercely guards its secrets. Things are not spoken about directly but passed along in whispers. But I sit quietly and I hear whispers. I have good ears and people forget. And people just tell me things. And I watch. Even my family, my wonderful family. This is my safe family, where I am free to be strange and free to bounce and flap and dance happily. But only in private. Only with just family.
Because we are taught strongly the importance of impressions.
We are taught strongly about keeping things in the family.
To the world, we do not tell our secrets.
This is not the family that mingles naturally. At group events and parties we would be quite happy to hide in our group of cousins. But this is the family that is forced and taught to mingle. But it probably is because of this that we are the ones that are forced to mingle.
This is the family where there are rules about mingling and drifting and appropriate socializing (some of this is also because this is the lawyer-family). But we were taught the rules of this, as well. Because this family does not mingle naturally, but we all knew the need for it. The importance of it, the social effects on it. We were taught the rules of conversation. How to ask questions and answer them and how to direct a conversation.*
The Indian side of my family is almost certainly the side of my family where my autism is inherited from.
And then there are the traditions and habits we have. The way I pronounce "us" and "theatre". Always taking off shoes when we enter the house. Samosas as appetizers at every party. Late late late nights and dinners and start time. (Does thanksgiving dinner regularly start after 10 pm? Why I can't remember the last time it started earlier...) we grew up with stories of how delicious fresh mangoes were and stories of Hindu gods (even though my Nana's family are Catholic). The constant stream of visitors from foreign countries (a lot of them moved out of India) made me so used to a variety of accents that I never understood how my friends could have so much trouble understanding professors.
We always dressed up in the clothes brought back from India for Halloween. (And other times.) Because they were so beautiful. And we liked to pretend we were from India, where my Nana grew up and where we heard stories.
But is this cultural appropriation?
My nana is the most recent immigrant from any country. All the others have been here a while, many more generations. So I am a mix of American (made up of various European immigrants) and Indian.
So, on enrollment forms and stuff, I'm always a bit conflicted. I suppose I should choose white/caucasian for them, since that is what I mostly am. I look white. I get the benefits. I don't want to cheat.
My undergraduate school only had one option, once you were enrolled (which was strange because on the application, you could put multiple). So they chose Asian as the part for my enrollment (we were not a very diverse university). (Even though I had out both on my initial forms). And I always felt like a bit of a fake. Because I had all this clearly white privilege stuff because basically that's what I look like.
I was filling out enrollment verification and student information stuff for my graduate program AND they let me put UP TO 7 CHOICES under ethnicities. And they are specific, too, because I am always concerned if Indian counts as Asian, because sometimes it seems to not.
And that was exciting, because I am both. 3/4 and 1/4. And it has influenced my life and I do like having the choice to put down both.
Because I am both.
(And I am neither alone).
And I was glad to be at a school that lets me put both down on this probably small, unimportant piece of paperwork.
Kassiane A. Sibley's Open Letter to Identity Police
* I am not nearly as good at this as some of my cousins, but I think because we were specifically and concretely taught conversation rules as long as we could talk, this is one of the big reasons why I can function relatively well socially. (And probably a big reason for the delay in diagnosis.)
Labels: autism, cousins, me, my family, rules, tradition