Namaste. Tu kaise hei? Me teek hu. Dhanyavaad.
So I had to learn how to say some basics in Hindi because it seems that, for almost everyone who meets me by the first time, I am Indian. People literally have come to me and said “Namaste,” or suddenly start speaking in Hindi. I usually said “Namaste” as well, but then I explain that I am not Indian, that I am Colombian. Then they apologize, but what they don’t understand is that there is nothing to apologize for. For me, it is a pleasure to be call Indian.
With this, I do not mean I am not proud of being Colombian. In fact, I am a proud Latina and I would not have wanted to be born anywhere else in the world. I just like the fact that people think I am Asian. By the way, Indian girls are beautiful, why would I be upset by that? Haha!!
Before coming to USA, I was already really interested in Indian culture, traditions, religion, movies and music. I remember taking dancing classes where the music was Indian and watching movies of this handsome guy who cooks delicious Indian dishes. I never thought I was going to meet real Indians, and that I was going to be taken as one.
Each October, the Indians and some Pakistanis Celebrate Diwali, the festival of lights, one of their major festivals. Since my friends knew I love immersing in new cultures, they planned to invite me to go with them to the temple. I delightedly accepted, I love the idea of “the victory of light over darkness.” But, they not only took me to the temple, they also made me look just like one of them.
The preparations started about three hours early. I first did not understand why would it take that long, but then I came to know. Nilo, from North India, provided me the Sari, some Jewelry and a matching yellow Kum Kum (that I still have kept in a safe place). Nimmy, from South India, took me to her room and we started the complicated process or making me look as close as a real Indian. Some baby powder here and there, little perfume, a nice makeup and pink lips, smooth hair and all the jewelry on. The Sari was the hardest part; I will try to describe it in two words: safety pins. Nimmy spent like 12 safety pins in my Sari, but she is just so good at it that she made it look perfect. It had some folds in one of my shoulders that fell down to one of my hips. After the Sari, minimal retouches were needed and we were ready to go. The night before,
Nimmy applied Mehndi in one of my hands.
While Nimmy, Nilo and Naveen (who is from Pakistan), were helping me to get ready (or basically doing everything for me), I felt like I was part of something bigger. They made me feel like a part of their cultures, they taught me how to behave, how to move, how to act. They told me stories of their lives and their cultures while we were alone. I felt really close to them, and the feelings I experienced are hard to describe: I was just so special but so common at the same time.
Then, the guys came to pick the three of us up. I was concern about how people were going to react. What if they did not like me acting like one of them? My anxiety was getting bigger the closest we were to the temple. Once there, we removed our shoes at the entrance, washed our hands, and went inside. I never saw anything like that before. It was full of colors, people wearing beautiful and elaborated clothes, smells, and representations of different Gods.
My friends always indicated me how to act, how to pray and what to say to people. I think anybody noticed that I was not and Indian, thanks to my friend’s instructions. We went to each God, we prayed sometimes and we sat on the floor for a while. I was feeling delicate and protected. I was comfortable with myself. Indians and Pakistanis are friendly and kind, they gave us sweets and a lot of smiles.
Once in home, they cooked some Indian traditional food. I did not want to remove the Sari, I wanted to keep it on because I was feeling so different; out of my comfort zone, but I was enjoying it. Eventually I did, and the process of removing was almost as hard as putting it.
I am sure my Indian and Pakistani friends do not know yet how meaningful that experience was for me. It was a real immersion. I am glad they made me feel one of them, because sometimes is good to be someone else. I feel bless to be able to discover and experience all these different traditions, and to learn from them. If you are reading this guys, thank you! That day was unforgettable, you may not understand how much, but it was. You taught me how big and open-minded love and friendship can be. This festival truly brought lights to my life.
We do not have to forget who we were to learn who we are, or to leave an open door to who we would be. I am Colombian, I like to be Indian sometimes, and I have no idea what would I be tomorrow. But I am willing to discover it. And my mind is as open as my heart.
Post written by Vanesa de la Cruz, CCI participant at NOVA 2016-2017, Colombia