Culture Day

October 21st, 2009.


In first grade,

Aarti wore a sari to her school’s culture day.

She had never felt prettier in her life than

when she adorned the colorful bindi on the middle of her forehead

along with the ornate gold locket

that carried the image of the goddess of strength, Durga,

strung across her neck.


As Aarti entered her classroom that day,

her pillars of self esteem collapsed

as she received pointed stares from the rest of her classmates

who decided not to participate in culture day.


And as Aarti clutched her gold necklace,

She summoned all her strength

to not cry

a seven year old’s tears that usually surface

when she had fallen, cut, or bruised herself.


But saline tears did fall from her eyes.

Because her heart, her sense of identity,

her esteem

was injured.

And stayed hurt when seven year old boys and girls

pretended to trip over her sari

that she could feel every glittering sequin

bite into her coffee skin,

scratching the surface of her soon-to-begin journey

of finding the cultural pride that she had lost on

October 21st, 2009.

---

In sixth grade,

Aarti’s classmates called her

“Coconut.”

As a nickname to replace the fact that they

Could not pronounce the five letters

That made up her name.


And it is not because coconuts were Aarti’s favorite fruit.

It is because she was told

That her dark brown skin covered a porcelain white mind.

Just like the coconuts

That grew so abundantly on the palm trees in her home back in

Kerala, India.


Since Aarti was constantly told that she was whitewashed,

she started to believe that her American tongue belonged to only white people.

However, reminiscing on the events of culture day in 2009 made her sure

that she would rather assimilate than stand out,

as she tucked the golden chain of the goddess Durga

into her cotton made-in-India tshirt.

The necklace almost seemed strangle her as she

Heard her mother had not been accepted for a job

Because her Malayalam accent was

too

heavy.

---

Aarti always loved to read,

and in tenth grade,

Aarti started to write,

but she soon realized that

When she tried to write about her heritage

she had little to compose.

So she wrote about the gold necklace that had remained tucked into her shirt

since culture day of 2009.

She wrote about how the pendant was always warm when she touched it,

and how the goddess Durga dangled so near her heart

that she believed the goddess resided in the organ;

providing her the strength to write about

how she had suppressed such an integral part of her identity

in order to feel welcome in a foreign country.


Rereading what she had just printed on paper

Aarti suddenly gained a grain of what had been lost throughout the past ten years.


Integrity.


From listening to herself, to what she had written down,

Aarti understood that she was the protagonist of her story,

and that nobody was more aware of her existence

than herself.

Suddenly, Aarti’s ballpoint pen became her weapon against discrimination,

her medium of self-expression.

---

October 5th, 2018.

Aarti’s high school decided to host a culture day.

as she stood in a dark red kurti delicately embroidered with gold thread,

Aarti never felt more self-conscious in her life.

Nevertheless,

Aarti entered her school

and was met with a great surprise.


Every boy and girl was dressed head-to-toe in cultural garments.

in pleated skirts,

silk shirts

and the most wonderful accessories;

instead of teasing her patterned kurti,

Aarti’s classmates admired her outfit.

Their compliments not only made her feel appreciated but also empowered

with the knowledge that everyone has rich, cultural roots,

And that is not a reason to feel alien,

rather to rejoice and celebrate the beauty of diversity.


Although Aarti’s birthday was on October 19th,

she truly felt reborn on

October 5th, 2018.

---

As Aarti saw the colorful jewelry that decorated the bodies of students during culture day,

she decided to untuck her own gold chain,

only to find the picture of the goddess Durga timelessly peering up into her eyes.

And immediately she felt

strength coursing through her bones,

inspiration running through her veins,

culture on her fingertips,

and divinity in her mind.


- Prerna Kulkarni


Cover photo source: https://www.nusu.co.uk/news/article/28049/HOLI-FESTIVAL-2020/