“So What Do They Call You in School?”

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Saraswati, Lakshmi, Parvati, Satyanarayan. These are beautiful traditional Hindu  Indian names that, admittedly, are very difficult to say. As a result, a lot of us have English nicknames like Sunny, Sid, Fred, and Mo, even when these nicknames are no where near our actual names (trust me, there’s no Indian name that remotely sounds like Fred, and yet, that’s my father’s American name. Seriously.).

If you are someone who can’t say our names, don’t worry, we don’t fault you for this. We fully recognize a lot of these syllables are not in your vernacular. But we do fault those of you who don’t try or care that you are saying it wrong. These names may seem like crazy names with random letters that don’t belong next to each other, but they are beautiful names  that represent our religion, culture, heritage, and most of all, our identities.

Take my name for example, Avanti (English pronunciation: uh-van-tea. Actual pronunciation: Uh-Vun-Thee). I can’t tell you how many times an extra uh-van-TAY was added to my name, or Avani, not minding the T. Or the worst, E-VON-TAY. And that’s ok, trust me, I’m so used to it. I, like many other Indian people, have come to accept my English pronunciation and now introduce myself using this name to everyone except other Indian people. Why not just help people say my Indian pronunciation? Because it takes forever and it’s still said wrong. It’s just easier to accept defeat sometimes. And a lot of times I will get “oh wow, can you repeat that, that’s beautiful,” or “Ok. I’m just going to call you Avi.”

But what bothers me is when people just don’t care to say it correctly. No question, just assumptions. It puts me in a tough spot because while I want to be called my name correctly (at least in part), I almost feel bad inconveniencing someone into saying a name that is so complicated.

So, about a month ago I had decided I had had it. Every time someone said my name wrong, I corrected them. Seems like no big deal right? You’d think so. People actually minded. Someone actually said to me, “oh yeah, I can’t say that. It’s not in my vernacular.” I thought of saying to her that it was her vernacular that renamed me this heinous name to begin with.

This may not seem like such a big deal, but this brings us to the underlying issue that has swept the nation.

Ignorance.

Recently I saw a video on Food Network where Carla Hall dressed up as an Indian person for Halloween and it really upset me.

Indian is not a costume. It is who I am. I know if I dressed up as her race it would be politically incorrect, so why is there a double standard here?

It’s absolutely inexcusable. My parents came here in the 70’s because they knew America had become the melting pot of opportunities. It’s been over 40 years since they’ve arrived and the amount that people have learned about Indian culture is probably about the same. It seems like no body cares that we are here and what we stand for, even though almost everyone knows of at least one Indian person. Knowledge about our heritage and culture is learned from watching Bollywood movies on Netflix and Slumdog Millionaire instead of from actual Indian people. Because it’s so much easier to be ignorant and pretend all you know about us is what you see on t.v. and then think it’s ok to come up to us and ask if we eat curry and break out into song and dance every 10 minutes. (I know this isn’t everyone, as I have many wonderful friends who take a great interest in my heritage, but the frequency with which I am asked ignorant questions like these is astounding.)

We are not aliens! We have been in this country for generations now. We are as American as you are; which is why we all have incredibly good English, (so, please, stop acting surprised).

Because you know what’s on the other side of this ignorance? Completely innocent people, like Srinivas Kuchibhotla, being gunned down by a 51 year old man telling him to “get out of his country.” Little did he know, this was Srinvas’ country. It’s time for us all to open our eyes and our minds and learn a little something about our different neighbors before it’s too late.

This country’s not just black and white anymore. We are brown, yellow, green, purple, turquoise, and all of the above at the same time. America is a beautiful melting pot but ignorance is poisoning it, and now it’s just spoiled soup. There is still time to fix it though. A soup that’s too salty can always be fixed by diluting it. Dilute this world with understanding and love instead of indifference and we can have the beautiful America my parents came for 40 years ago.

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