It was an eerie feeling. I was sitting in my third grade classroom learning about Thanksgiving with my second grade peers. In my head, I was preparing answers questions I continuously heard in the past couple years:
Gaurav do you want to be the ‘Indian’ in our Thanksgiving play?
Do you live in a tipi?
What kind of ‘Indian’ are you?
It didn’t bother me, I was used to it. Thanksgiving was always a weird time for me. As a kid, it was hard for me to explain the difference between Native Americans and East Indians to my classmates who hadn’t really interacted with an Indian kid before. Not many people looked like me, and I was used to answering questions about how ‘different’ I was.
[Read related: Post-Thanksgiving Delusions Shed With Support of Standing Rock]
To me, something that definitely felt different was the “traditional” Thanksgiving visualization versus what I experienced as a vegetarian kid of Indian immigrants. All the TV specials, school parties and my friends stories all had the same Thanksgiving imagery:
Turkey, mashed potatoes with gravy, rolls and apple pie all laid out on a big family table.
Everyone in class always shared stories about their traditional Thanksgiving. And I—feeling like an outsider—would always avoid speaking about what I was doing. Comments like, “You can’t really have Thanksgiving without a turkey” didn’t really help either.
I remember one particular evening after getting picked up from school, I asked my mom, Why are we so different? How come I can’t be like everyone else?
It’s not that I resented who I was, but I thought it was always annoying being the one kid who brought his own lunch during our class Thanksgiving meal (trust me, my parents made sure I wasn’t going to eat 4 rolls for lunch!).
Like most kids, I didn’t like being left out.
She consoled me and she asked me,
Do you think Thanksgiving is about the food?
Well, that’s what everyone is talking about.
Why’s it called Thanksgiving?
I guess it’s because we’re enjoying a day of giving thanks for what we have.
She went on to explain to me that yes, as Indian Americans who were vegetarians, we did not fit the traditional mold for what a Google search of Thanksgiving produced. But, sitting, with a large group of family, enjoying a meal (which is a potluck of Indian, Mexican and Italian food in my family) is exactly what Thanksgiving was meant for.
As an eight-year-old, I didn’t give much thought to Thanksgiving being a day to check in and give thanks to the things in my life. Instead, my time was occupied with thinking about how ‘different’ I was made to feel around this particular time. I realized, it’s not about what you do or what you eat; giving thanks is the universal reason we have the holiday. We spend time with the people we love, and my parents who put blood, sweat and tears into achieving their American Dream were thankful for their own opportunity.
I realize now, that I was blessed as a kid to be ‘different.’ We weren’t unAmerican, we were just embracing our culture and our own twists while still giving thanks the best way we knew how to.
And now, 18 years later, I’ll be eating samosas on Thanksgiving while making jokes with the aunties and uncles about school. We’ll also be watching football, but I may be playing bukhaar with my Motimummy while doing it. There may not be a grand turkey, but my mom’s tacos, which will be eaten while sitting on the floor, will satisfy me all the same.
Growing up, there have been so many times where I felt as though my mom didn’t understand me. But, I can’t deny, that in my own times of personal growth, she was always there to help me climb every step of the way.
And for that, Mummy, I am thankful.