I sometimes think of myself as a product of assimilation. When researching the definition of “assimilate” for writing inspiration, Google informed me of this: “to bring into conformity with the customs, attitudes, etc., of a group, nation, or the like […] to assimilate the new immigrants.” I was immediately frustrated.
Let me be upfront – I am so incredibly thankful for the sacrifices my immigrant parents have made for me, for the life I have lead, and for the woman I am today. However, I often reflect on the shadows of this statement.
The concept of assimilation has greatly affected my horizontal perception and emotions. Throughout my upbringing, I often found myself surrounded by whiteness and by secular circles. I also found myself feeling more comfortable in Desi circles, but not feeling quite like I belonged. Both circles shaped my identity and my choices. I don’t butcher the Urdu language when I attempt to speak it; I hold dear my Ismaili Muslim education and lessons; I struggle eating spicy dishes; I wish I had reasons to buy a new shalwar kameez; and I look forward to my daily chai when I’m home with Mom and Dad. Both circles termed me an American Born Confused Desi (or an “ABCD”), or an oreo, coconut, or whatever other item is physically brown but not internally so.
I don’t recall when I started reflecting heavily on my racial identity and when it became so salient to me. I would imagine somewhere between 9/11/2001 and when I made the intentional decision to join a Panhellenic sorority rather than a Multicultural one. I do know that the second I met another Desi higher education professional, my heart secretly leaped with joy. I know that the second I meet someone who knows what “Desi” represents, my heart secretly leaps with hope. And I know that every time a Desi student tells me how grateful they are to have an administrator that looks like them, my heart, again, secretly leaped with pride. When moments like these occur, I am reminded of the pride I have and the message I send to students every day just by being me.
I also looked up antonyms of “assimilate.” Dictionary.com then informed me that the opposites are to differentiate, to not adapt, to reject, to misunderstand, to disagree, to mismatch, to disembody. Frustration.
I’m certainly not perfect. I wake up every morning with a conscious decision to choose my attitude, to fight for the experiences of marginalized students, and to show up exactly as I am, with every layer. We are all different, we do not need to match, we don’t need to embody anyone but ourselves, and we make choices to accept or reject whatever we choose. We find comfort in spaces, and those spaces should welcome us as individuals with unique narratives.
This post is part of our #HigherEdDesi series, which aims to share the stories of what it means to identify as “Desi” and working in higher ed. We hope to provide a context of how we came into Higher Education and what that journey looked like for each one of us. For more information, please see Juhi Bhatt’s intro post. Be sure to check out other posts in this series!