A Journey to Becoming
Written by: Chandra Persaud
I grew up feeling quite confused. Secretly eating hamburgers and pepperoni slices with friends at school, while following Hindu practices at home. Eager for the freshest pair of Nike high tops, while just as drawn to the pricey saris and lehengas that occupied a special section of the shops on Liberty Avenue. Enunciating my words according to standard American English when handling mini-crises with telephone or electric companies for my parents, while dropping syllables and using words my American friends would never recognize as I gyaf with my aunts and uncles at family gatherings, the Creole smoothly rolling off my tongue in the accent of the country I was born in, but cannot remember.
I grew up feeling quite conflicted. With a longing for sleepovers and birthday parties at bowling alleys, while relishing in the sounds of Bollywood and Chutney music that forced my body to move in ways that Jay-Z and Britney Spears could never do. Intimidated to talk about my religion with classmates and name the Gods my grandmother ardently worshipped every Sunday morning, while taking comfort in the smell of agarbatti and the ringing of a handbell as she chanted her early morning prayers.
I grew up feeling quite embarrassed. Curious and drawn to conversations with my parents about their childhoods in Guyana, but uncomfortable with my teachers hearing their accents at school conferences. Proud of the popularity and legacy behind my last name, yet cringing each time its pronunciation was butchered in a classroom, over the phone, or in an office. Overhearing friends condescendingly talk about seeing people eat with their hands as they passed by an Indian restaurant, not wanting to admit that sanaying a meal makes it more flavorful.
I grew up feeling quite annoyed. Sinking into comfy couches in the homes of friends reminded me that ours were protectively covered in plastic, my legs sticking to them on hot summer days. Lectured and encouraged to earn the highest marks in all my classes, while also expected to master cooking and cleaning at home. Observing the teenage behaviors of my male cousins written off as “Yuh know bai story", while I was held to a standard of perfection, requiring me to control my body in ways boys in my family didn’t worry about.
I grew up feeling misunderstood. As the influences of American culture inevitably showed in my mannerisms and ideas, family members would mockingly say, “Da gyal American", causing a wave of heat to wash over me as if I did something terribly wrong. Choosing to read a book instead of cooking or cleaning rendered me lazy. Publicly acknowledging a boyfriend instead of sneaking around earned me the title “wild gyal", as though I was a thing to be tamed.
I grew up feeling robbed. Navigating life knowing that teachers understood my realities better than my immigrant parents. With no academic or career path established before me that I could look to as I paved my own. Finances limiting the opportunities I could take part in, even if that meant a talent would be left unexplored. Mental anguish being met by calls to a pandit, leaving me with the impression that I must simply pray for the well-being of my mind rather than work for it.
I grew up feeling quite angry. Despite my academic and professional achievements, the question that seemed to weigh most heavily on my family was when I was going to get married. Wanting an apartment of my own was equated to freedom to live a “wayward” life. Before making any decision I thought about my family’s image or reputation, while friends from other cultures happily booked vacations with boyfriends, moved in with their partner, or stayed out until the sun came up.
I’ve grown up to be quite brave. Choosing a path that bears no imprints, but which makes my heart sing. Realizing that my true measure of success is inching ever so closer to the light, unshackling myself each day from cycles of darkness and pain. Pushing for acknowledgement, representation, and respect for my people and for the rich culture embodied in my very flesh.
I’ve grown up to feel quite empowered. Realizing that I descend from women who learned to conquer themselves without turning a single page in a self-help book. Celebrating my ability to traverse cultural lines with the fluidity of a skilled actress. Becoming the captain of my own ship, the same way my parents did when they decided to leave their homeland, the same way my ancestors did when they survived in a foreign land.
Yet, I am still becoming. Unweaving the story of my life to find the strands that are authentically me. Combing through the many identities I’ve worn to find the one that fits. Refining and even redefining my voice to continue my story in one that rings true. Ending the chase to be someone else, someone I’m expected to be, someone I thought I should be, and finally becoming me.
Chandra Persaud is a New York State licensed speech-language pathologist. When she is not improving the communication abilities of her clients, Chandra enjoys writing poetry (IG: @pieces_of_acp), short stories, and reflective pieces on topics such as identity, trauma, love, and self-actualization. She was born in Guyana, immigrated to the United States at the age of two, and raised in New York City.