Reflecting on the Consequences of a Dual Identity on Halloween

I made a questionable choice to lead a women’s liberation demonstration on my college campus after experiencing yet another incident of sexual harassment by male peers. I was tired of feeling objectified and helpless, and I had experienced sexual abuse a few times before, so this time I was ready to act. Thinking I would be safe from the scrutiny of my family and their traditional views of women, I participated in the event wholeheartedly and even allowed a friend to post a picture with me.

It turns out that the photo went viral and began circulating on social media, to the extent that my sisters in other states called to tell me they had seen it. Although they were in support of my activism, they were worried our parents would see the photo as well. After a few months, and no angry phone calls, I figured I was safe.

[Read Related: A Letter from the #MeToo Movement]

A year later on Halloween 2016, my sister called to tell me my parents had seen the photo and they were enraged. After carefully and safely living my double life, as many young South Asian women do, this event brought my two realities crashing together. Learning about my activism on my college campus called into question all aspects of my identity, and my parents lost their trust in me. This was not the daughter that they knew.

I also began to question who I was, what parts of my identity I wanted to celebrate, what my role was in my family, and the validity of living as whitewashed Minnie and culturally-appropriate Manmit. My parents were furious, and it took me a while to understand that anger was their manifestation of sadness, hurt, and betrayal. Anger was the only way they could express to me their pain. They asked me, why didn’t you just tell us? Why did we have to find out this way? I thought we were your family.

[Read Related: Brown Girl Apologizes to Goddess Serena]

I suddenly felt ashamed and guilty for something I had been proud of for a year. Who was right and who was wrong? Who do I validate, myself or my parents who had built this life for me? Should I have just told them? I had become so comfortable with living my double life that the notion of allowing those two worlds to intersect in any way felt absurd, but now I was facing the consequences. While being a senior in college, and trying to maneuver my now very complicated relationships with my family, my friends at school, faculty, advisors and my self-perception, we were also preparing as a country to decide who would become our next leader. Election night was devastating for two reasons: We elected a misogynistic, racist president and immediately after I received a phone call informing me my father had experienced a stroke due to increased levels of stress.

Luckily he is healthy, and over Thanksgiving and winter breaks, I was able to repair my relationship with my parents. This event sent me on a journey to learn more about my cultural roots and inspired me to live a more authentic life in a white America in which I was no longer hiding behind a disguise of assimilation. I have learned to find strength and power in my name, and hope to continue exploring the intersectionality of my own identity.

[Read Related: For Two Months, Three Years Ago, But You Come Back: A Poem on Sexual Assault]

Abandoned Mask

i had painted a cat on to my other masks
a bili painted on
painted on
so long as Manmit stays hidden

i knew better
after they took a bite out of me and decided it was too intense a flavor
my culture too rich the colors too bright the smell too strong the women
too loving
i was too much thought I was enough
they drowned from my incense smothered
sad they left sad they escaped
Manmit was too much
minnie my new face

Are you sitting down?

i wasn’t
i felt the blood drain or rush either or it doesn’t matter
was my heart in my throat or my stomach? was it pounding or did it stop altogether?
not where it was supposed to be
not what it was supposed to do
well isn’t that new

Our parents saw the photo.

her voice is shaking it sounds like she’s going to cry or hasn’t cried enough
neither of us said anything for a while
eyes closed body floating losing myself in the sensation until the words really
hit i sink to the floor
i should sit

her words
his hands
my thoughts
the sounds

Aapne aap nu ki somajdiya?

who do i think i am?

too common
too familiar
too much

we marched outfaced the large crowd
there to witness
either in solidarity
or for their viewing pleasure
bare women’s bodies
standing vulnerable
demanding humanity

read the message on my bare body
understand me
accept me
ask me the right questions

Tenu aiho cheez sakundeya?

is this what i’ve learned in school?

i supplied the masks
providing choice for those who participated
offered safety with anonymity
last minute decision
left my mask behind
stood with them in silence
Nothing to hide

Hoon tenu koon chaugaa? Sare dhooniya tenu dekay haata

who will want me now that the world has seen me bare

am not
an object

Tenu sharam ni oondi?

am i ashamed?

the minnie mask dissolved
forced to confront Manmit
on halloween night
i’ll deal with this tomorrow
i still have tonight
come november
the next battle i’ll fight

Tere daddy nu koch hogaya naa, teri galati ya.

if anything happens to him
it’s my fault

he didn’t eat barely spoke
red in the face
pale as a ghost
too much minnie for my parents
i was too much
i wasn’t enough
which one
too much
not enough
how much minnie
how much Manmit.
will i ever be
just enough

Mein tere naal ney gal karni. Baas.

they don’t want to speak to me
they’ve had enough

i cannot be her.
i have not been her.
i don’t know who she is.

the country elects locker room talk and grabbing pussy over a woman
i was asked again

Are you sitting down?

i wasn’t

she tells me the minnie he had discovered was too much
my father had a stroke as a result of stress
to his perfect daughters

halloween night
we all paint new masks on top of existing ones
that night mine were ripped from me
only Manmit was left

[Read Related: How I’ve Relearned to Love My Body]

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By Manmit Kaur

Manmit Kaur is a special education teacher and a second-year TFA Corps member in the Bay Area. Writing has been … Read more ›