Imagine you’re at a table that stretches the length of a room. On one end is the version of yourself you display at home and with your family, the one you still cling to even though on most days you’re not sure it quite fits you anymore. On other end is who you are after you’ve assimilated to your new country, the one that you show to the rest of the world. And in between is the place I sit, just outside of my identity as an Indian and as an American.
On most days I sit on the American side of my identity. Other days I scoot my chair to the Indian side. At all times I am trying to balance the two.
Being a part of the diaspora often feels like you’re walking a tightrope. One with a sharp drop off that has the potential to leave your body and heart bent and broken. The balancing act can wear on your emotions, and take a toll on your mental health.
Being a part of the diaspora means you’re not quite sure where you’re allowed to sit at the table. It means compartmentalizing these versions of yourself so they don’t bleed into one another. It means always being ready to pull off the current mask you’re wearing when the situation changes.
It’s disconcerting at times how I can shift from one identity to the next, the mask always on hand. I’m never quite sure if I belong at either place, but I’m very good at appearing at ease, at appeasing the people I’m with, because admitting that I don’t know exactly where I fit only causes discomfort, and that’s the last thing I want to do. For me being someone caught between two cultures has taught me to be, well, nice. To put the comfort of others before my own.
I have spent so much of my life trying to fit into that chair that moves from one end of the table to the other. To make myself a version of myself that will please others. So, imagine my distress when I decided I was tired. I didn’t want to force myself to squeeze into that chair pinching at my sides anymore.
For me this journey that caused my desire to shed my old identities began when I started pursuing a career in publishing. After writing a few manuscripts with either white main characters or ones with ambiguous identity, I decided it was time to finally write an Indian character. Publishing has never been the most welcoming place for brown and black writers, which is why I was hesitant to explore the complexities of my own identity, but things were beginning to change, slowly, and I realized I wanted to be a part of that change.
Despite the courage I’ve found to write these characters, I’m still hesitant, because as a writer I’m often straddling the line between identities. How much of my experience am I allowed to put on paper? How much of my culture can I share before someone begins to question whether or not it’s authentic?
Authentic. A word that I used to grapple with, because I didn’t know what it entailed.
Am I being authentic, am I being true to myself when I write about characters who are struggling to find their place in the world? Am I being inauthentic when I write stories about people who know exactly who they are when I myself am still trying to figure it out?
Here is what I’ve learned: there is no such thing as inauthentic when you’re writing your own experiences. Not all of them will look alike, because we all have our own stories, and that’s okay. What matters is finding common ground. Finding a way to relate to one another. When I write stories close to my heart, the ones about Indian boys and girls navigating their lives, my hope is that at least one person will read it and say, “Wow. I guess I’m not alone after all.”
So, what does that mean for us in between two worlds? Who aren’t sure where to sit? It means that we make our own table. A table that is open to everyone. A table where we can take off those masks and toss them to the sides, because we can finally be ourselves.
Prerna Pickett believes in magic, fairytales, and unicorns. Writing was always her dream job and now she gets to live the dream. When Prerna isn’t writing, she can usually be found daydreaming about writing, or at the library helping her five kids choose books.
You can order her debut novel, If You Only Knew, here: http://bit.ly/2JBXONj
You can find her on the following social media sites:
Her website is: https://prernapickett.com/