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Chickpeas and Rice for Lunch: One Girl’s Immigration Story

by share

My life for the past six years has been Nepali on the weekends and American on the weekdays. My parents are, and always will be, convinced that if I follow a Nepali crowd then I will not care about my grades. That somehow I will forget the sacrifices they made for me, and I will put a cigarette to my lips and sprinkle disrespect over them. As a result, I slowly became detached from the people who felt like home. My family is still a vital part of the Nepali community. I mean, how can you completely let go of the only people who speak and look and party like you, especially when there are only a few in a place that is so unfamiliar?

I want to make my parents proud, and I know that the U.S. is the utopia of dreams and success. At age 6, with the only English phrase I knew how to say at the time, “Hi, I’m Grace and I love you,” I did whatever I could to get the grades I knew I needed. English proved to be easier than I thought since I watched so many Disney movies, where the princesses always got their happily ever after. Like them, I hoped to find my glass slipper.

I was soon getting honors and medals, but my biggest reward was my parents’ broken English smile. Somewhere in the process of trying to do well in school, making friends, and covering up my accent, I started to break apart from my roots. I made my mom pack me American food so I wouldn’t cry when kids made fun of my fried chickpeas and rice, the only thing that cured me of my homesickness. I didn’t want to attend Nepali functions or have many Nepali friends. I dressed like an American, and I talked like an American, until I felt fully American. It was like throwing myself into a dishwasher and cleaning myself of all the curry and rice stains I had until I was a new plate with no evidence that I had ever been anyone else.

For five more years I kept covering my roots with new soil. Some things wouldn’t go away, of course. Sometimes the roots peeked out. My words would be pronounced differently, my clothes would look different, and I smelled like the whole continent of Asia had dumped its spices onto me. I didn’t care for the dirt paths of my homeland I ran in, barefoot and free. I didn’t care for the houses that looked like everything and yet nothing at all at the same time. I didn’t care for the people and the land that made me. I destroyed my training wheels and left them somewhere, forgotten. For such a long time I cringed at the thought of someone mentioning my last name, a sign that I wasn’t American. Nevertheless, my family kept our language close and spoke it only at our house. With the cooker making our rice, the smells of khorsani and besar, and Nepali ringing through our house, I surrendered to my Nepali home.

In 2014 my American attitude changed when my mother’s side of the family immigrated to America. In less than a month I learned more things about myself than I had in five years. They brought our country with them, and instantly they felt like family. I visited them every day and started smelling like spices again. When we were invited to their home the first time, we stuffed our mouths with so much rice, curry, and aloo chop I thought we would turn into potatoes ourselves. Then, we danced to Nepali songs until 3 a.m., until I felt like I had burned off all the food. My stomach was hungry for more of my culture. Through them, I started loving who I am: a Nepali girl.

Homesickness rushed back into me, and the only nice memory from my childhood seemed to be when I lived in Nepal. I remembered the snow-stained Himalayas and the rice fields across from our home, the beautiful dry dirt roads and the disheveled houses, the messy streets, and me.

Homesickness ran over me like a bulldozer taking apart everything in its tracks. As I scrambled to collect all the pieces left of me, I just unclenched my fists and let it have me. I couldn’t pretend to be this American person I had created. I let the bulldozer take me apart, and with the roots I had broken I grew myself into a tree filled with leaves of my Nepali self and my American self. I learned to be unapologetically me and love each leaf. Since then it hasn’t mattered who I am on the weekends or the weekdays because I am the same Nepali girl everyday of the week.

Grace is a student at The Paideia School, in 9th grade.

Grace submitted this story as part of our Atlanta Teen Voices initiative — an invitation to all Atlanta-area teens to share their stories, poetry and art. You can submit your story by emailing (or clicking here).

Also, schools and organizations can partner with VOX to bring self-expression workshops to students and help them get published!


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