“Why do you do that?” 3 Tips on navigating questions about your culture
It’s exhausting to constantly have to explain yourself.
By Tanashya Batra, Contributor
Having grown up in India and then moving to the U.S. at 18 for college was not as much of a culture shock as people think. The thing I struggled with most was explaining my culture, particularly facets that have gained popularity in America. As an avid yoga fanatic, I have struggled to find spaces where I can speak openly about my practice and be authentic about it. Last month on Kulfi Beauty’s content platform Kulfi Bites, I interviewed Arundhati, founder of Aham Yoga, a fellow immigrant yoga practitioner and teacher about her experience in finding community and space to practice yoga in America. I felt heard and validated by that experience, because Arundhati found community and empowerment in embracing her passion and teaching yoga despite being the only teacher of color in her community. She was actively fighting against the norm.
It got me thinking deeply about the exhaustion that immigrants and minorities face in their everyday lives. So many of our health, wellness, and beauty practices are stolen from us — either by being ridiculed or turned into trends. We’re made fun of for turmeric-dyed fingers or we’re asked if we went to school on an elephant (yes, I was asked this on the second day of my college orientation).
We are constantly explaining our lives, culture, and places of origin.
Another conversation that comes to mind is my friend from boarding school asking me why it’s offensive to compliment someone’s English. This led to a 20-minute rant where I explained how immigrants and BIPOC folks are obligated to know everything about the West. Like, growing up in India, I knew who the U.S. president was, but people here don’t even know the capital of India, let alone even know that Nepal is a country.
I’m personally tired of explaining our English, turmeric, hair oil, and yoga to ignorant individuals who are engaging in micro-aggressions when asking us to explain our culture.
The more people I speak to, the more I hear about this exhaustion.
There has to be a name for this. I spent a couple of minutes trying to articulate my thoughts to even warrant a google search and all I found in the end was a term called cultural fatigue, which is, according to Vagabond Journey, “defined as a state of being where the small, adverse intricate [parts] of the culture begin to bother you out of reasonable proportion after living in another country for an extended amount of time." This definitely doesn’t explain the exhaustion of explaining your culture and identity. I still don’t know what this specific term would be to encompass the nuance of experiences and emotions, but I know a lot of us feel it.
When faced with these exhausting situations, here are some tips for navigating this and for self-preservation that always help me:
1. Call them out:
I know it can be hard to confront people, especially in situations where the power dynamic is skewed. I’ve been “complimented” about my English speaking skills multiple times while giving campus tours and have often had to stay silent, because the people touring are guests of the campus. However, more recently, I’ve politely explained that India has a significant English speaking population, second only to the United States. While that’s not pointing out the fact that they’re perpetuating false stereotypes, it’s the best I could do in a situation like this.
2. Or don’t call them out:
While calling out someone can be educational and important, sometimes it’s okay if you want to avoid conflict. If someone asks you about haldi or oil, you’re not responsible for their education and knowledge. A beauty ritual involving turmeric might be a part of your culture but you might not be familiar with the details of it. You’re not responsible for explaining every element of your culture, as it might not be a part of your lived experience.
3. Journal & share your experiences with your community:
Finding a community is so important in the world we live in. Whether it’s a virtual community or one offline, seek people who can relate and speak to your lived experiences. I’m grateful to have found two communities in Kulfi Bites and Parachute. Actively working to find a community is exhausting but with a little bit of effort, you’ll start to feel heard and seen.
About — Tanashya Batra is finishing up her last year at Brandeis University, in Global Studies and Business. Originally from India, she has lived in a bunch of places, currently in Boston. She loves writing about all things media, representation, and skincare!
About the Kulfi x Parachute Series — This article was written in partnership with Kulfi Beauty and Parachute Media. We are here to uplift narratives in the media that consider our lived experiences and allow us to feel seen in our complexities. For the month of April 2021, you will read articles and interviews on Kulfi Bites and Parachute that highlight BIPOC & South Asian perspectives on topics we’re curious about within beauty, identity, career, and media.