One of the most jarring differences about living in Nashville is the lack of ethnic diversity I have experienced. I by no means grew up in a cultural mecca in my suburb of San Diego, but both at home and in college, I was surrounded by a myriad of colors and cultures. In Nashville, I have frequently found myself to be the only person of color in a room, and if nothing else, it has been a disconcerting experience. However, living in the South has been a cultural experience in itself, so I’ve reconciled myself to the fact that diversity comes in many forms.
Perhaps the biggest difference I’ve noticed though is that I find myself missing having an Indian community in Nashville. This came as a bit of a shock to me initially, because in college, my lack of desire to involve myself in any Indian cultural groups on campus was often seen by my friends as a sign of disdain or dislike for my heritage. The truth is, I love my Indian culture – I love the history, the mythology, the people and the food and the clothes and the music. But I’ve never sought to surround myself with other Indians or to be friends with someone because of our shared race. In fact, I probably placed higher standards on my friendship with other Indians in an effort to make sure that the relationship was based on something other than race.
So, it’s been a strange experience for me to find myself wishing now and then that I knew some Indians in Nashville. This feeling mostly arises when there’s a Bollywood movie playing in one of the theaters in town or whenever an Indian festival rolls around. In college, I always knew where to go and who to go with if I wanted to attend an Indian event, but here, I find myself at a loss for where to turn. Earlier this month, I celebrated Rosh Hashanah with my friends instead of celebrating Dussehra and went line dancing instead of going to Garba. While I am always grateful for the opportunity to exchange cultural experiences, I realize now that I have always taken for granted the feeling of belonging that comes with having an Indian community. And as much as I’ve loved all of those alternate experiences, today on Diwali, the festival of lights, I find myself missing celebrating with my family and friends back home. Last year on Diwali, I microwaved some Indian food from a box and called it a night – not the most inspiring celebration. This year, I plan on lighting some tea lights at home, waiting on the package of sweets my mom is sending me, and going out for good Indian food with some wonderful friends who are kind enough to share this holiday with me. Diwali is an opportunity to celebrate the triumph of all things good, of the victory of light over darkness, hope over despair, and well being for the year ahead.
Today, I take this moment to share my culture and heritage with you, and to wish you a very Happy Diwali. May your year ahead be filled with light and love and happiness.
*Desi is a term for the people, cultures, and products of the Indian subcontinent and their diaspora – Wikipedia.