An essay by Vashnee Ramharak

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To purposely forget your culture is like living in a sin. It’s the part of you hidden from everyone except your family. You can’t help that your parents are immigrants who don’t feel ashamed to speak whatever language they want, who don’t feel ashamed to eat their native dishes, and proud to listen to their cultural music while dancing in the kitchen singing on the top of their lungs. The traditions your family have brought from their homeland, the stories, the songs, and the food has been hidden in a box where no one can find it. It’s the one part that makes you special, unique, different, and gives you a sense of belonging that you can’t recreate in other circumstances.

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But the word different has morphed so people react with disgust when they hear it. That one word has the ability to cut you like a knife, because you let it. “She’s not like us, she’s different” is what you hear when you go out sometimes. It’s disgusting, it sounds like someone’s spitting it at your feet and accusing you for being yourself. Why can’t I be myself? Why do I need to fit in? But most importantly, why do you judge me for it? I don’t care about you, so you don’t deserve to look at me like I’m a cockroach that crawled on the table during a fancy dinner party.

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Of course, you never say these things out loud. You give a fake smile and duck your head while your cheeks heat up with embarrassment. You can feel your heart hurting and wishing your mother was here because she would never stand back while someone talked about you right in front of her. The need for acceptance amongst those who shun you blankets the feelings of homesickness, and you try harder to be someone you’re not, in a place where you don’t belong, with no one willing to help you.

So when your mother calls this weekend and asks if you’re okay, what do you say? The words are at the tip of your tongue filling up your mouth with all the hateful words that have been directed to you. Instead you forcefully swallow them, and down they go to the depths of your stomach, hitting the bottom like a large rock.