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Being a First Generation in the United States

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My parents immigrated to the United States long before I was born. I was born in the '90s in New Jersey as an American citizen. I grew up in a town in Northern New Jersey with some diversity. I was raised in America living a very American lifestyle, but I also was raised to keep my culture. So why is it that despite every single aspect of me being American, that I am still targeted and considered not American?

For some reason, we live in a society where if someone is not white, it is assumed that they are not innately American. We are labeled as Asian Americans, African Americans, etc. However, if you are white, you are just simply American. This is something that bothers me to no end. People ask me where I was born all the time, and when I simply say "New Jersey," I get looks of confusion. The thing that bothers me the most is that people say that there is no issue. But I'm going to tell you all of the issues that there are that people really do not recognize when they aren't of color.

I am completely American. I went to school here. I got my license when I was 17. I have an American passport. I love going down to The Shore. I think I eat more Italian food than I do any other kind of food. My friends even say my mom makes the best Ziti they've ever tasted. I speak English way better than I speak Bengali. I go to football games, baseball games, and basketball games all the time. I celebrate Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, Fourth of July, and Halloween. I even celebrate Christmas with my friends, even though I am Muslim. I have a tattoo. I go to concerts. I wear clothes that I like. I drink a lot of Starbucks. I like taking pictures. Everything about me is what any normal girl in her teens or early 20s does. I love being American.

Still, I'm too "foreign" because I fast during Ramadan. I wear traditional outfits when I celebrate Eid or go to family parties. I was raised to always have both cultures as a part of my life. But for some reason, me showing my Bengali and Muslim side is "weird."

People would especially think it was weird when I would tell them "I'm not allowed to wear shorts." Isn't that oppressing women? No actually. When you think about it, it's actually empowering. Women should be allowed to still be powerful and strong wearing whatever they choose! I do wear shorts more often now, but when I was younger, it was the biggest deal that I didn't. I just grew up thinking I wasn't good looking enough because I wasn't wearing certain clothing. Ironically now, people tell me how great my fashion sense is. It's quite funny when I was judged my entire life for choosing to follow some cultural aspects of what I could wear.

I live in a predominately white town. The only thing I could do was lose my culture and myself to be accepted. I regret that now a bit. I shouldn't be ashamed to walk outside of my house in a traditional sari. It should not be a joke when I take a picture of myself with a covered head before praying. Me being "brown" really isn't a joke. I play it off that way, but it's really not funny. There's such a negative connotation with being from Southeast Asia and being Muslim. I really feel like I can't embrace my culture, which is why it annoys me when there are people that talk about how "cultured" they are.

Around the holidays, I will get questioned on why I don't celebrate Christmas. Christmas is literally the birthday of Christ. I am Muslim, but for some reason, people do not understand that. When it is Eid, I have to request off from work and school. Many times, the absences are not excused because for some reason Islamic holidays are the only ones where schools aren't closed. People question why I celebrate this holiday and what is the point. It is literally the same thing as Christmas where we spend time with our families and give/receive gifts. We just happen to live in a world where people do not understand that holidays can be different, too.

I see people wearing hennas and bindis because they think it's hipster. When I was in third grade, I had henna on my hands and someone came up to me and asked me why I had orange marker on my hands. The best part? It was a teacher. I know the harem pants especially are really popular in fashion today. I have so many, merely because traditional outfits are harem pants! It's suddenly acceptable to wear things of my culture, just as long as you're not brown. If you're brown you probably smell like curry and have an accent. For me personally, it was just that I'm trying to fit in and follow the latest trends. In fact, I'm actually the "most-white-brown person" people have ever met. WHAT THE HELL IS THAT SUPPOSED TO EVEN MEAN? They say it's because I like One Direction and drink Starbucks - but in reality, why would that make me "white" versus my own culture?
The other day when I was at work, a customer described me as "the dark skinned Indian girl in the front," when saying who helped her. I was literally the ONLY person in the front of the store, so it bothered me, not only because I am not Indian, but because she described me as dark skinned. Why couldn't she just say "the girl in the front"?

Another story that really has bothered me was from when recently I flew to Los Angeles. I was flying by myself, and I was going through security again because I just had an 8-hour layover. I was tired, irritable, and needed to go to sleep. I was wearing sweatpants, my hair was up, and I had a long sleeve shirt on. Now, I've done security multiple times. But the thing that really got me here was after I walked through security and was clear, the lady stopped me. Want to hear why? She wanted to check my ponytail. She wanted to make sure I had nothing in my PONYTAIL. I have really thin hair, so this just made me angry. It reminded me of the last time I was flying home from Los Angeles. The woman insisted I had something in my purse when going through security. I allowed her to check through all my stuff after ensuring her I had nothing. She asked me why I had three cases of glasses - I had two pairs of sunglasses and my prescription lenses. She asked me why I had two cameras- I had one digital one and one Polaroid camera. After 10 minutes, she finally decided there was nothing in my bag, and she let me go. It is just infuriating that because of my religion or my name, I am ostracized. I'm the most American a person can get, but I am held at airport security because I am Muslim. Maybe the reason this makes me so angry is because people who don't understand why this makes me angry constantly surround me. I guess it is just society though.

My favorite though is when people say they do not like Bengali food because most of the time, they haven't tried it. I'll hear everything from, "It just looks wrong to eat" to "Something about it is off." I'm sorry, but I've never heard you say that while you stuff raw fish in your mouth while eating sushi? It's just a ridiculous notion.

All of the things I have mentioned are just things that have forever bothered me because I was born and raised in a small town in America, but there is still such a divide in culture just because people want to judge or they don't understand. For some reason, we just live in this society where we are judged when we have darker colored skin and believe in something different. I am as American as it can get, but I am also Bengali and Muslim. I love being American. I love embracing all sides of my culture. It will forever irk me that people do judge, but in this world, there is nothing we can do.
(Cambio Col[lab] is a lab for young creators to showcase their passion and develop their voice. Like what you're seeing? Share it to support their effort!)

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