My last post was about freedom and patriotism, but it was so full that I did not get a chance to share with you about my end-of-the-month events. Keep reading!
I had the honor to sing the Indian National Anthem and the American National Anthem for the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, chief guests, and Mori villagers at the Smart Village Open Innovation Forum Hackathon.
Carly and I tagged along with the Smart Village team for these events in both Vijayawada and Mori village. We listened to intriguing presentations, met representatives from global corporations and start-ups, and talked to university students about their ideas on how to make villages “smart” using open innovation business models. It was motivating to hear creative ideas on how to make a sustainable impact on rural communities.
During the official ceremonies, I sang the Indian anthem with humility and the American anthem with pride. Following both performances, I received many compliments on my pronunciation and tone (yes!) and my new saree (double yes!) It was truly a unique experience.
“When your meetings start in English and end in Telugu…and then they conclude the meeting with ‘Everyone understand?’”
“When you let one person take a selfie with you, then you get swarmed by 20 people who also want a selfie.”
“When you catch someone staring and you stare back…but they don’t look away.”
“When you’re standing in a long line at the bank, but get pushed to the front because you’re white.”
Our highly desirable "light" skin tone and American citizenship make us undeniably privileged. Some of my girl students will stroke my hair and touch my skin and say, “So nice, miss! Such fair skin! Nice hair!” Similar to what I noticed in the Philippines, convenience stores are stocked with “skin whitening cream” and every other youtube ad is about “fairer, healthier skin.” It feels somewhat uncomfortable and silly. It also makes me notice to what great lengths that light-skinned westerners go to get “tan, exotic” skin. In the village, I stand out. My ambiguous ethnic features from being mixed-race prompt questions like, “Where are you from?” “Do you speak Hindi?”
Being in American in India is unlike anything else. No one can truly understand until they’ve lived it. My Indian friends and colleagues could never know what it’s like, and I’m unable to capture the experience in words to share with you all back home. I’m blessed to have Carly as my American partner here, because we can easily laugh, joke, and complain to each other about things we go through.
Singing the two national anthems was symbolic for me, because it represented a blending of my American life and my India life. It was a salute to America, and a gracious nod to India for allowing me to call this place my home.