I am Indian and I am Not Sorry

A few months ago on a beautifully rare sunny day in Chicago, I was out with my camera, when a man walked up to me asked me if I was from India. Assuming he wanted to strike up a conversation, I replied that indeed I was. His expression changed immediately, and something akin to sheer disgust took over his once seemingly affable face. “You are ruining our country. Get out!”, he shouted.

I was taken aback and found myself incapable of talking. Within a few seconds however, the irony of the situation dawned on me and I could not help but smile. For while I was being subjected to xenophobia, about hundreds of people walking on the opposite side of the street, were shouting slogans pertaining to women and equality. It was March 8.

A few days later, an African American woman I ran into on my way to school, pointed at me and accused me of being a bitch. A week later a white man in an expensive car threatened to shoot me if I did not leave “his country”. The scariest part was that he had a smile plastered across his face throughout. Did he actually find some kind of sadistic pleasure in this?

Since then everywhere I went, I felt as if I was being watched or followed. Even when a person smiled at me on the train, I looked away for fear of being insulted again. But I am a journalist. I could not shy away from the mass. I convinced myself that it was just a phase — the after effects of electing Trump as the president.

Just after Donald Trump won the election, there were reports of people from the minority groups being constantly abused on the streets. I remember reading about them, but for some reason, it never occurred to me that I could face something similar. So, imagine my surprise when I did, and that too so many times over the course of two months!

It seemed like a certain section of the people had not gained a new president — they had gained the right to display xenophobia, racism, sexism and homophobia under the garb of patriotism. I was afraid. I was Indian and a woman. The odds were against me.

However, I did not let that deter me. How could I? My parents had spent a fortune trying to send me to a school in the U.S. and no matter how excruciating the circumstances, I had to complete my education. I did not want to let them down. More importantly, I did not want to disappoint myself.

A month went by and I applied for an internship at a news organization through my school. The application process clearly stated that they were looking for international candidates as well. I cleared the first round and was selected for an interview. It was an exciting opportunity and I spent the entire weekend preparing to the best of my abilities. The night before the big day, I received a mail from my interviewer. She did not want to waste her time interviewing me as there was no guarantee that I would even get a work visa once the internship was over. I was shocked. I had not been rejected because I was not good enough, but because I am not American.

It is easy to ignore snide comments from people because it actually does not affect you, except for hurting your sentiments. But how can you ignore being deprived of opportunities on the basis of your race?

I mailed a few other organizations. Some tried to be sympathetic and said they would consider my application and give me a fair shot, and some very blatantly declared that they can no longer accept international students as the visa situation seemed dubious and they were not willing to bear the cost. Never in my 24 years of existence had I felt so disheartened. I could not fathom why the schools here accepted us if organizations are iffy about hiring us.

The day I got my offer letter from Northwestern University last year, a friend of mine had told me that there would be guys lining up to date me because I would be the exotic brown-skinned beauty. But here’ the thing, I don’t want to be treated that way. I don’t want to be exotic, I want to be given a chance to prove myself. I want to show that I am equally (if not more) capable as compared to my American peers. I want my talents to be recognized and acknowledged. I want to be respected and loved not because of my skin color, but despite it.

Even though I had such experiences, I remain thankful for one thing. All these made me value my status as an Indian even more. I was never patriotic and detested standing during national anthems at movie theaters. I still don’t think I am drowning in nationalistic pride, but, every time I got called out for being Indian, my pride in being one, increased. Initially I cried and whined and wished I belonged to another country, because the people here made me believe that it was a crime to be born as anything but American. But today, I can proudly say that I am Indian and I am not sorry.