Finding an Identity
a short story by Prerna Kulkarni
Dear Asian Youth,
As a teenager, I get into a lot of arguments. All of the fights that I have gotten into have thankfully resolved themselves, whether it be altercations with close friends or quarrels with family members. Thinking about these fights, I realize that we all have unique perspectives on how we view situations. You might be the protagonist of your story and the antagonist of your enemy’s story. When we start to understand the history of the people around us, we begin to comprehend how each person formulates their opinions.
Growing up, I saw that many people bore different beliefs than I. It used to upset me when their beliefs did not agree with mine. However, there is one thing that has enabled me to keep an open mind: while I do not have to agree with other people’s opinions, I should respect them. And with this, I cultivated the art of listening. As activist Bryant McGill once said, "One of the most sincere forms of respect is actually listening to what another has to say." From this, I gain footing for how I approach situations I come across every day.
Although I am not a religious person, I do believe in the power of energy; I believe that if you put good energy into the things that you do, you will receive back the same amount. Because of this, I strive to live my life in goodness and by being true to myself. I feel as if a big part of growing up is comprehending who you are, above all other things. And while I cannot say that I am the most open of all books, I attempt to understand myself before I start to understand others.
I gain a better knowledge of who I am through the ways that I express my true colours. As I have learned throughout my life, I am painted by the colours of my environment and by the people who surround me. My parents have encouraged me to never stop being curious and to always strive to do better. I best express my curiosity in my writing, and I derive inspiration from the books that I read. As Faber said in the book, Fahrenheit 451, “The things you’re looking for, are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine percent of them is in a book.” Humans live for an average of 71 years, and that is not nearly enough time to explore the entirety of the world. However, through reading books, we are enabled to delve into the unexplored, evaluate the unprecedented, and breathe the enlightened air of proficiency. My sentiment for literature is unmatched by any other passion of mine. Through my words, I am able to breathe. When people discriminate against who I am, the only things that save me from drowning are my words. When I am held underwater by my discriminators, fury burns inside of my body, and through adrenaline- I break the surface of the water with my pencil, and I shoot up into the air like a rocket ship traveling at the speed of light- and I keep going; for me, the sky has no limits. I imagine. I think. I write. I say. And what empowers me the most is that I know that I am unstoppable. It is so important to understand what you want to do in life and what you are working with. Then, you can draw your capabilities into achieving your goals and fulfilling your purpose- because you are unstoppable too.
When I am writing, I write about the here and the now. Every word that I write down is a product of what my brain feels in the exact moment of writing it. Whenever I set out a plan on what to write, it usually ends in a whole different product than what was originally expected. For example, the topic of this week’s letter was supposed to be about plastic surgery in Asia; however, my mind drifted to writing the letter that you are reading now. There is a sort of spontaneity in my writing, which enables my pieces to have a signature, heartfelt style about them - and this reveals more about myself than just signing my name at the bottom of a document.
Whenever I look into other people’s eyes, I see my reflection. And I understand that I am a character in the plots of all the lives that I have touched. I recognize my identity in the actions of those around me - in the bad jokes that my dad tells or the hugs of reassurance from my mom. Whenever I see my parents, I see a warm orange - a soft, sunset orange - that comforts me into believing that everything will be okay. And it also reassures me, because I know that I am capable of loving.
I derive my beliefs from the philosophies of my parents, who are the most spiritually grounded people I know. They have taught me to make use of my ears more than of my mouth, and that, when I do decide to use my mouth, I should use it to advocate for myself and what I believe in. My parents had to do this when they arrived as immigrants from India to the United States of America in the 1990s. They immigrated here with the purpose of pursuing careers that they were passionate about. On top of starting a new life in a completely foreign country, they made sure that they were financially stable before having a child so that they could give their child the best life.
As their daughter, I am now fifteen years old and I have learned to cherish the opportunities that I have been privileged with. In India, females were expected to be subordinate to their male counterparts. After moving to a more progressive country, they raised their daughter with an education - an uncommon sign for girls in their hometowns. They raised their child with the freedom to speak, express, and live out her beliefs.
An easy life is unusual for minorities. My choice of weapon against discrimination will always be in the art that I create. In the words that I write, the words that I speak, the paint that dries on a new mural, or the graphite of a quick sketch. These are the ways that I express myself - and I believe that throughout the course of my life, leading up to the point of writing this letter, I have not unlocked any new part of my story. Rather, I have painted a new picture, deciding my own future as I continue.
I disliked using my physical traits to define who I was. I tried not to associate my race, gender, or age on how I acted - and now I disagree with what I had done. Because when I write a new piece, I write with culture at my fingertips and femininity in my mind. I am proud of who I am not just mentally, but also physically, for I have accepted my difference — instead of rejecting it, I celebrate it. I celebrate the darkness of my skin, the broadness of my shoulders, and lean stature of my body. I like my hair, my style, and my brain.
My motivation is fueled by what I feel needs attention. And through this, I know that I have a fire burning inside of my body, and flames that run through my veins. I am alight with the passions that I have cultivated over my life, the achievements that I have reached, and the goals that I have set my mind to accomplish.
I gain comfort in the knowledge that I am aware of my own strength and capabilities. I pride myself in my ability to formulate thoughts and humble myself to the opinions of others. Notice, I said ‘humble’ instead of ‘submit’. As I have alluded to before, I do not find the need to agree with the opinions of others, rather I should acknowledge them. I understand that although higher mental capacity is required to have a growth mindset, it has the ability to excel farther than that of a fixed mindset. This does not mean that I will change my opinions to that of others, but I will have the ability to discern what I believe is ethical from unethical.
I find peace in knowledge. When I start to comprehend, my ignorance dissipates. I know that I will not be able to gain all the knowledge that has been passed through history, and I have given myself years of dissatisfaction with this. However, I believe that I have found a solution to this predicament of mine. I maintain the belief that if you keep a growth mindset, the knowledge that you come across will enter and find a home in your mind. If you keep yourself open to advice, your levels of observation will increase; and therefore, you will become more intelligent and aware.
My life is so similar and so different from your life. We might be learning the same subjects, but the way we learn is very different. While I use the letter ‘u’ in “colour”, you may spell colour without a ‘u’. The purpose of this letter is to bring to surface my philosophy on life- and to highlight my differences, which has shaped my identity, and who I am today. However, the goal of this letter is also to enable you to dive deeper into your identity and figure out what makes you YOU.