When I was a child, I brought handvo, a Gujarati lentil cake, to the school cafeteria for the first (and last) time. You guessed it — the kids made fun of it and their reactions amplified after I explained what it was. I threw the handvo in the trash and only drank my juice box, which matched everyone else’s. Growing up, I learned to hide parts of myself so I could blend in with the dominant culture. This resulted in a subconscious cultural retreat that would happen so automatically that it became effortless.
The downside of the dance of two cultures — besides exhaustion — is the loss of one’s personal power. I was apologetic when I stated my opinions or expressed my power in a fulfilling way. My internalized racism fueled my imposter syndrome as I moved along in life.
The irony is that no matter what I try to hide, people will always see my skin color, and with it, they form their notions of who I am and whether or not I belong in their space.
For me, Kamala Harris’ vice-presidential win goes beyond playing identity politics. After years of trying to fit in, I feel validated knowing it was the fact I tried so hard to make it work that took me out of my own present moment. Seeing Vice President Harris gives me the visceral feeling that I do belong. Watching her in the highest levels of power in this country makes me feel that I am not stuck between two countries, having to choose one over the other. Instead, I picked my own destiny when I grew to accept myself and understand the power behind my voice.
My poem, “Now that Kamala Harris Will be VP,” not only commemorates her momentous inauguration but also reflects my own personal growth.
Now that Kamala Harris Will be VP
I used to wish that I were white,
Or that I could wipe
Away the dirt from my skin,
Because I didn’t fit in.
Sure, I can serve you Indian food,
But when the smell becomes too much, I know how to pack it in.
I am expert at dicing up my Indian-ness before letting it all out.
When you pull up a seat at the table for me,
I don’t get comfortable;
You may ask me to teach you something
As if I were a visiting lecturer;
Or play show and tell,
So I have to explain myself,
And then hide it again, after the game is done.
These chairs you named for me were never really designed for me.
Like a game of musical chairs, your songs will start again,
And I will race again for a new place,
Carrying around all my stuff.
Now that Kamala Harris will be VP,
The White House
Will have someone,
Who looks like me.
In her reflection,
She will always see the color
Now, when people ask me, “Where are you from, originally?”
I think of the White House instead.
I am a part of the American equation.
Inclusion is no longer selected stories boxed up like pretty saris,
My skin is no longer a marketing campaign seeking out buyers,
When the truth is, I grew up in Jersey.
Now, when you pull up a chair—
I can take my shoes off,
Put down my bags,
Bring the whole Taj Mahal
To the table.
Soon, we will dissolve
Your table altogether,
And sit on life’s clean floors,
Where earth’s gravity will center us like never before.