by Sona Patel
You are getting ready for school. As you are eating breakfast, your mom decides to do your hair at the same time to not waste any time. She starts combing, then opens a jar of coconut oil. She takes a little, applies it to your hair, and continues combing through. She repeats this a couple times. “Mom! Why are you putting coconut oil in my hair?” you say. “Oh it makes it smooth and silky. Ba used to put it in her hair and mine too.”
You get to school and head to class. Later, your teacher announces that for the rest of the class period you will have free time to work on anything that needs to get done. You sit down quietly at a computer to finish your english homework. All of a sudden, one of your classmates leans back to stretch. He accidentally touches your hair, yanks his hand back, and says loud enough for the whole class to hear, “Ew, why did I touch something wet?” You look at him for a split second with a blank face and quickly turn back to your computer. You feel your face getting hot. You make a decision to never put coconut oil in your hair again.
In your next class, you sit in the spot you always sit in. But today, an irritating classmate decides to sit right next to you. His friend who is even more irritating as well as troublesome scoots his chair to the other side of you in order to talk to his friend. It’s almost time for the bell to ring to let the students know that class has begun, when the troublesome boy exclaims, “You look like godzilla!” Now, your legs have always been extremely hairy, thanks to your dad and ethnicity, but no one has ever said anything up to this point. You’ve always worn shorts exposing your legs, yet no one seemed to care or have the audacity to say something so hurtful. All the kids in your area of the classroom hear him. Not one person sticks up for you, not even your friend. You decide that once you get home, you will demand to your mom that you want to start shaving your legs.
It’s lunch time. While you are walking to the cafeteria, you remember that today your mom packed you Indian food. You get to a table and sit down with your friends. Everyone’s unpacking their lunch - you see PBJ sandwiches and lunchables almost everywhere. You start to unpack yours, a bit conscious of your food because it doesn’t look or smell like everyone else’s food. You open up containers and start to eat. You notice that kids from across the table start to stare at your food, some whispering comments to their friends. You start feeling ashamed, and try to hide your food behind your lunchbox. From now on, you decide to never have your mom pack Indian food for lunch again.
In the next class, there is a substitute. It’s clear that the substitute is Indian, like you. She is on the older side and can not hear very well. She starts taking attendance. As she reads names off, everyone becomes aware of her accent. You start to hear students snicker and laugh at the substitute’s accent. Then the worst thing happens: you hear students mocking the accent. It not only infuriates you, but also makes you feel embarrassed. Students are talking in the accent, exaggerating it and making fun of how it sounds. You want to speak up, but you don’t. You don’t know what to say. You kind of feel scared to speak out against your peers.
During your last class, you take a test. The teacher passes out the test to each person. He says you have the entire class period to take it, so don’t rush. You begin to take the test, and realize it’s a bit trickier than what you expected it to be. You get stuck on a question when you hear a whisper coming from the left of you. “Pst! What’d you get for #8?” That turns out to be the question you are stuck on. You say back, “I have no idea. I’m stuck on that one.” “Oh, I thought you would know like all the stuff on here.” This isn’t the first time you’ve gotten asked for answers or been told that you seem like you know everything in classes. You get annoyed that so many people stereotype you.
The goal of this point-of-view story is to allow non-Indian readers to experience the challenges of an Indian girl growing up in the U.S. The story is based on true events that have happened to me. It made me sad, recollecting all the bad things people have said or done to me. It’s even more sad that these things still happen today. I hope for all my non-Indian readers to learn that racism, stereotyping, and making fun of an ethnicity’s aspects are definitely not okay. I encourage you to call people out, even if they’re your friend. For my Indian readers, no matter what gender, know that embracing your culture will only make yourself feel better. I have had thoughts to myself wishing I were not Indian. You shouldn’t ever think that. Our culture is beautiful and worth learning about. Even if you are not Indian and have experienced events like these, know that your culture too is beautiful. Embrace who you are and speak out against those who put you down.
a message from the author:
Sona Patel - Executive member, country rep. India & state rep. Florida
"I am Sona Patel, a sophomore in high school. I live in Florida and am AHEO’s country representative for India and a state representative for Florida. What inspired me to join the organization was that I’ve never come across an organization like this. It represents hispanics and asians while also educating others about all races. Being a south asian myself, I immediately wanted to join. Before I came across AHEO, I was already promoting racial equality. This organization takes it to the next level and allows others to educate - in person - even more people than just my platform. It’s global - so anyone anywhere can join, teach, and participate. In-person teaching about these topics, especially in schools, is necessary. Additionally, I joined because the organization represents me, an asian. I can relate, and being able to teach others about my ethnicity and the racism we’ve faced is so important to me." -Sona Patel