Being brown is freaking awesome

Indian students at Normal Community High School talk about the similarities and differences from white Americans in their day-to-day lives.

Bloomington, Normal is home to an array of diversity and inhabits a multitude of ethnicities. Among these, the Indian Community is notable not only for its abundant population, but also for its unique characteristics and lifestyles.

So often we are able to see only from one lens – that of our own culture, our own lifestyle. It is difficult to understand and empathize with someone from a different culture, due solely to the dramatic differences in daily life.  Your next door neighbor may go through an entirely different routine than you, starting with a special prayer, offering, song, or tradition. Indians in Bloomington, Normal testify to this difference, describing the variances in daily life and living that a typical Bloomingtonian probably wouldn’t understand. However, perhaps we could take a look through a different lens, with help from Indian Juniors and Seniors at NCHS.

Prudhvi Kalla (12) says that everyday, his family does “poojas: acts that worship God.” They visit the temple on weekends, much like Rish Chalam (12), who says that his temple “has a lot of programs happening,” and although he isn’t particularly active in them, his dad attends a lot of the events. Oviya Sougoumarane (12) says that her family practices Hinduism and also visits the temple “on occasion,” but they are “not by any means strictly Hindu.” She says that they “don’t practice on a daily basis nor do [they] follow all the rules.”

The close Indian Community in Bloomington, Normal is prevalent and in some cases beneficial, according to Prudhvi. He acknowledges that this community of people with a similar ethnicity and culture creates a close-knit group. Through this unique group, Prudhvi has been able to “find a lot of friends” and “gain new opportunities.”

Oviya described the “Indian parties” that she attends, where they “dress in Indian clothes and eat Indian food.” She says that “these are the places that Indians in an American community can gather together and share their connection with India.” She also explains the closeness of this group, saying that “while most kids call their friends’ moms Mrs.— or Mr.—, Indian kids are expected to give respect by calling everyone ‘auntie’ or ‘uncle.’” It’s almost as if they are all one large family, connected by their common culture.

However, this close community also has faults. Prudhvi says that people in the Indian Community “tend to judge [other Indians] the most for every action,” and he adds that this judgement is strict, and “from that they decide if you are a moral person.” Prudhvi says that based on everyday actions, the Indian community will judge each other from a religious perspective, deciding whether or not they are sufficient in their following of the rules and traditions of, in his case, the Hindu religion.

Oviya notes that “some Indian kids are really competitive nowadays, especially in our community.” Based on the strong emphasis placed on education, many Indian students are encouraged by their parents to participate in many extracurricular activities, and take difficult courses. She says that she wishes she “could convince their parents that unless these kids want to do 10 different extracurriculars and do 5 APs as a junior, they don’t have to.” Oviya’s parents aren’t what she’d consider to be particularly lenient, but they are significantly less strict in comparison to parents of her Indian peers.

With each group of people comes a different set of expectations. Junior Pavani Nukala says that “Indians expect you to work hard if you’re in America.” Each person interviewed mentioned the emphasis put on education, and Prudhvi explains that as Indians they are “strictly told that education is key.” Rish adds that “children have to do well in school,” and oftentimes “students have to work hard to get straight A’s.

“However, this is an expectation that varies in harshness between families. Oviya says that while her parents aren’t, in her opinion, as strict as the common Indian parent, “they do suggest that [she] push[es] herself.”

Rish explains that there is such an emphasis on education with grades, getting good ACT scores, and going to good colleges because it leads to “better opportunities in the future.” Especially as a group coming in from a different country, it’s important, as Pavani said, that “Indians work hard.”

With these expectations, many Indian students have restrictions in place to enforce or promote focus and lead them in certain directions. One of the most notable restrictions is that Indian students “shouldn’t be dating or in a relationship,” according to Rish. He says that if he becomes “too close” to someone, it “would be a distraction from studying and focusing on grades.”

Oviya agrees with this, saying that she’s “not allowed to date until [she’s] out of the household.”

Pavani adds that this is also partially due to the fact that it’s typically expected that Indians “marry someone of the same cultural background.”

Rish says that it’s also common that Indians of certain religions “can’t eat meat on some days.” Oviya opposes this, saying that her family in particular “[eat] food like pork even though it’s prohibited, but [she] personally choose[s] not to.” The Indians who practice Islam would be religiously restrained from eating any pork, but the Indian culture doesn’t place any specific restrictions on diet.

Some students believe that due to their ethnicity, they are missing out on some things that a typical American would have in his/her life. Oviya says, “sometimes I feel like I don’t have the freedom to learn new things and explore what I want, it’s more about studying and going straight to college.”

Rish concurs with this, saying that since his family focuses on doing well in school, “parties and the whole teen life of going out with friends” is not possible. He says “I want to have that kind of fun, and I feel like I’m missing that opportunity.” Prudhvi says, similarly, that in his religion he is restricted and this can sometimes “take away from the social life that [he] want[s].”

Despite generalizations made in this article, the Indian-esque lifestyle varies with each family, each next-door-neighbor, just as with any other culture. Prudhvi says that notwithstanding certain “drawbacks” of being his ethnicity, he “love[s] being Indian.” Pavani adds that despite what people might think, “[her] parents are very accepting.” She adds, “I think that’s what being a true Indian is, being accepting of other ethnicities…” Oviya provides a consensus that we can all agree to: “being brown is freaking awesome.”