Right before I attend a big event, I have a conversation with my mom or my husband about whether I should wear Indian clothes or Western clothes to the event. It takes a lot of time and some serious decision making to come to a conclusion based on practicality, representation, and the type of event it is. Sometimes, my husband asks me why I don’t rock a bindi like other Indian women on a regular basis and I just brush it off with “it’s just not me.”
Every time I put on a lengha, spend 3 hours trying to wear a sari, put a tika in my hair, or put a bindi on my forehead, I’m putting my culture on display. A culture I no longer actively live in. With that salwaar kurta, I’m also wearing my ancestors who created these traditional garbs centuries ago, I’m wearing my mother who is my most solid connection to home, I’m wearing my aunts who carry these traditions with grace, I’m wearing my cousins who wore their beautiful lenghas with pride as girls then marked their womanhood with their first sari, I’m wearing my father who instilled in me the ancient values with which these clothes were sewn together.
While you might accessorize your outfit with shiny earrings and a cute clutch, I accessorize my anarkali with an ancient family legacy that can be traced down to the beginning of civilization and the responsibility of carrying that legacy with grace. So, yes I’m proud of where I come from and I don’t take it lightly. The next time you ask me why I don’t wear my traditional clothes more often, know what you are asking of me. You are asking me to carry thousands of years of culture and traditions on my back in a foreign land almost completely wiped clean of its own ancient cultures through genocide, so I can look cute at someone’s party. You are asking me to replace my Western clothing with an entire country of over a billion people of varying traditions and languages and be the spokesperson for all of them.
I am the bridge. I belong to two cultures, but I don’t fully belong to any one culture. I have one leg of my salwar in America and the other in India. Sometimes I put on a pair of jeans and blend into American society to take the burden off of me. Other times I reveal the full depth of my identity by ripping of my jeans and replacing them with clothing sewn specifically for me by hands that hold ancient secrets in my place of birth. My true identity is not a secret. I just chose how much of myself to reveal and when based on my ability to carry the weight. As an immigrant, it is my burden to explain to others and validate for myself that I where I come from is just as important, if not more, than where I am going.
I don’t take this responsibility lightly. There is nothing light about my mom’s pure silk turquoise sari with gold borders. There is nothing light about my beautiful pink embroidered lengha choli decorated with mirrors, beads, and ancient wisdom.
Yes, my traditional clothes are beautiful to look at. I carry them as well as I can with all the pride with which I carry my culture. Maybe, in the future, I’ll start wearing a bindi more often when the burden and responsibility of carrying my ancestors on my body feels lighter. When I am able to pass this great responsibility down and share it with my future generations like my mother did with me. When the foundation of my bridge grows stronger to fully support the weight of the two worlds I carry.
Thank you for reading! Please feel free to share your perspectives on this topic in the comments below. I’d love to hear your experiences with carrying the responsibility of being the bridge of multiple cultures.
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