When I was eleven years old I remember riding in the car with my mom and saying something a long these line, “Mom sometimes I feel so weird. Like…I think to myself Who Am I? Then I feel strange inside because I don’t know…Who Am I?” Being the teacher I am today I can look back on that conversation with my mom, and I can see how profound that level of thinking was for an eleven year old. The part I find the most astounding though is that I find myself still asking that question. Today when I ask myself “Who Am I”, I don’t get the insecure feeling that follows a deep silence. I have many answers to who I am, but I do not feel any of my answers are complete. I believe this is because who we are is constantly evolving, we may not change drastically but parts of who we are will change. Not all of my the experiences in my life up to this point were positive, in fact while taking this course I am beginning to see how negative many of them were, but they still contributed to shaping the person I am today and I believe should be examined due to this reason.
I claim to be a southerner because I was raised in Charleston, SC. Some people in my family say Supper instead of Dinner, and we all say y’all. However, I do not have what I consider to be a southern accent. I choose to claim being a southerner because I appreciate the values along with being southern and because it made me feel closer to my mom whom I look nothing like. Yet, if someone met me, they would and normally do immediately believe I am from some place far away which they have never ventured. Every time I meet someone new the first thing out of their mouth is, “AND where are you from?” “Well you see dear stranger, I am from The United States, born and raised in Charleston, SC.” Usually, they look very confused about this and when I was younger the confused stare was enough for me to give in and tell them a long explanation about how my Daddy is from India originally, but my Mother’s family ancestry dates back to Ireland, and SO I have dark hair, dark eyes, tan skin, but not a single Indian facial feature. I think this explanation makes people feel safer somehow, but I don’t normally offer it anymore, because the truth is I am from America and that is all you need to know.
I went to a prestigious all girl school from kindergarten through fifth grade, and I hated it. I hated it because although my family was wealthy we weren’t wealthy enough, but even if we were I still wouldn’t have fit. The special girls were blonde, and had creamy white skin. Another memory of mine is coming home in first grade and crying to my older brother (half brother) who IS creamy white, how I wanted to have his skin, and be pale like him. Fortunately, I was blessed with an amazing older brother who at the age of fifteen had sense enough to tell me I was beautiful and one day I would realize how awesome tan skin was. After all, those girls I went to school with were going to grow up and spend lots of money trying to make their skin the same color as mine in a tanning bed. I couldn’t see that though…all I could see is that I was different and different had to be bad because they wouldn’t accept me.
At school we would open our textbooks in Social Studies and there would be some small paragraph about India and the only picture would be a very scrawny dark woman with a big red dot on her forehead in the middle of a very dirty road. This was the representation. We talked about how poor it was and oh Mahatma Ghandi was from there, and the Taj Mahal…and moving on. I used to feel angry inside even as a little kid because this was wrong. I had been to India three times from the time I was born until age ten, and I had never seen this. Not to mention, my grandparents came from India often and they weren’t skinny at all. They also didn’t wear dots, and not to be rude or anything but grandma was a CLEAN FREAK. What was this India they were talking about? It wasn’t my India and I really hated my teachers for telling all my classmates that stuff, because then they thought that was me and hello I am clean, I don’t wear a dot, I believe in Jesus not many gods, AND NO my parents do not run a gas station. I received every slurpee joke, every “Thank You Come Again” joke I could stand growing up. I hated being Indian…until the day I loved it.
One day the pale girls realized they did not have a colorful culture to call their own, and I did. And On that day…I realized I loved who I was. I am American, and Indian, and Irish, and probably a bunch of other things too. I am intelligent, fun to be around, and passionate about so many things. These are the important details I have to remember about my students. As I sit here and type this I feel guilty because I think in the rush of the school day I forget to stop and LOVE my students for who they are. I’m so afraid I won’t teach them what needs to be taught in the time period I’m given, but now I’m sitting here realizing that if I spend some time just appreciating them for them perhaps my time would be better spent, and maybe I would be able to teach them better. I know I was disadvantage in school because I was different, but at some point being different became my advantage. How can I change my students’ lives so that their disadvantages are suddenly advantages? How can I make them love coming to my class because it is a place of acceptance, and love, but at the same time demand respect and responsibility? This is what I am working on every day. It is a journey, perhaps one of the hardest I have ever undertaken. I have never before felt so motivated to not give up, because now when I look at my students I see myself 15 years ago…wishing I could be pale and blonde. I wanted to fit, and now I want my students to KNOW they fit.
I turned the above in as an assignment for one of graduate classes. When I actually have the time to sit down and do some school work for me, I truly enjoy it. It is amazing what an hour of reflection can do for your motivation and confidence.