8-18 MEDIA: Speaking from the heart
What it’s like to adapt as an immigrant
I was very young when I realized my manner of speech would be the best way to assimilate myself with mainstream American society. I was four when I moved to the United States. I attended preschool a year later in the small, southern Illinois college town my family and I lived in. I was small, I kept to myself and I was incredibly shy. I don’t believe I spoke one word that entire year of schooling. It wasn’t until I attended kindergarten that I realized if I wanted the kids to stop pushing me off the monkey bars, I had to actually tell them, specifically in a way that they would understand.
From there on out my English became a steady force I could always rely on. I became attuned with the way I spoke to others because even at such a young age, I understood that if I were to fit into this foreign country, I had to find a way that made me similar. I couldn’t do it with my skin tone, and I couldn’t do it with my name, so I figured out a way to do it with my speech.
It’s so crazy to me that even to this day, when I first introduce myself to someone, their surprise at the way I talk is present even when it’s fleeting. English quickly became my first language and so it’s amusing when someone will come up to me and tell me how good my English is. I tell them, “Thanks, so is yours!”
My well-spoken side comes with other downfalls as well, being told I’m whitewashed is a big one. I often remind myself that adapting to the culture I grew up in is not being whitewashed, honestly it’s an insult to white people, they are so adamant to downplay their own culture. There have been many people in the past who have looked me in my face and told me that I wasn’t Asian, or that being Nepali is close enough to being Indian. This has more to do with the way I look then the way I talk. Although the ignorance is present, I sometimes enjoy taking the time to teach worldly geography and point out how not every brown person is Indian and that Nepal is indeed in Asia. I like to say Asian instead of South Asian because then people won’t even ask where I’m from, they automatically assume India. If I say Asian, then we typically get the geography teaching moment rolling. I often compare being called “practically Indian” to going up to a Yooper and calling them “practically Canadian.” It just doesn’t sit right, does it?
I can understand that some of you may be wondering why I had to change myself to fit in, but I guess that’s my entire point. Being different is evidently not easy, it’s completely different when you put into perspective all the things one has to do to succeed. Like I said earlier, English made my life easier, it became easier to tell people the correct way to pronounce my name and it became easier to explain to them where I come from. I want to make it understood that adapting to America did not rid me of who I actually am. I am and always will be the girl who is the eldest daughter to immigrant parents, I will always be an immigrant myself. I am Asian, specifically Nepali. I was born in Kathmandu, Nepal. These things will always be the biggest parts of me.
I’ve learned, and am still learning, what all these things mean in regards to the society I live in. I mention all of this though to open your mind to a different perspective on a teenager’s life that you may not previously have been exposed to. Being a teenager is hard, but being a teenager who has to constantly explain her entire being is a different kind of difficult. Believe it or not, I really enjoy it. I love telling people where I come from, the different things I eat, how yes, my parents did indeed have an arranged marriage. So I encourage everyone to ask the questions, be insightful towards other people’s backgrounds, cultures and religions. Being open minded towards others’ way of life is so refreshing, it’s just important to be respectful. You might just find out that the language you have been speaking your whole life actually has had a big impact on someone else’s childhood and the way they live now.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Nistha is going to be a senior at MSHS and loves playing soccer, growing flowers, and reading fantasy.