Growing up Hindu in a Non-Hindu Country

by Amber Sukumaran

Trying to be Like Everyone Else

For all young people, all over the world, fitting in and being like your friends is very important. Kids can be cruel and will find anything at all to use to pick on you. When I was growing up as an average American kid, I tried my best to fit in, but as hard as I tried, I could never be exactly like everyone else. For one thing, I was very thin. For another, I had asthma, which earned me the name, "Wheezy" because when I ran too hard, I would make a wheezing, whistling sound. After being teased for getting the highest grade in my class, I came home crying.

Finally I realized that I could never please everyone, and I started to be true to myself. After all, what did those kids know about who I was inside, what I liked, and what I wanted to be when I grew up? Once I stopped trying to be like everyone else, I had more confidence in myself. I even made some very good friends, who liked me just the way I was. If everyone in the world was exactly the same, liked the same thing, or looked the same, it would be a very boring place to live!

The funny thing is, as soon as I was true to myself, people didn't tease me as much! They respected me!

As a Hindu growing up in a place where everyone else goes to church or to the mosque, you must feel a little lonely at times. You may even look different, or have a different name, or wear different clothes than your friends. Your mom may pick you up from school in a Sari. People may tease you--but that's only because they don't know who you really are.

This American Hindu family lives in India.
The children are bright and happy
being who they are.

A Country of Immigrants

There is something that I am going to tell you that many kids don't know: Most countries are made up of immigrants from different countries.

America is a new world for these early immigrants!

In 1863, a young man named William Lennox McMaster came all the way across the sea from Scotland with everything he had packed into a wooden trunk. He stayed in New York with friends, then moved to Ohio, married, and had a family. He spoke with an accent and didn't do things like the others. His son, Lennox McMaster, was teased as a child. When Lennox grew up, he bought a Mill and became a very successful businessman. Later in life, he became the govenor of Illinois. His children married and had children and they had children.

I am the great, great, great, great, great grandaughter of William Lennox McMaster. One day last year, my grandmother took out his old trunk with the iron hinges and told me the story of our ancestors. It made me proud of who I am. My grandmother has shown me old photographs of my ancestors and I can see my eyes, my ears, and my lips in the faces of my ancestors. I can't wait to tell my children about their heritage.

In the United States, every family has a story like mine. Except for Native Americans, who were already here, every family immigrated to the United States. Each had an accent, different clothes, and different churches where they went to pray. Each of them was made fun of at one time, but they didn't care. They went on to build their own places of worship and continued to cook their own kind of food and play their own kind of music.

A boy finds the name of his ancestor
on the Ellis Island wall of names.

That's why today, there are so many kinds of food in the United States. And on every corner is a different kind of church. Some immigrants came so long ago that their ancestors can't remember where they came from. Others, such as your parents, just arrived. Even today, there is a family stepping off a plane and into this country.

If You Were Adopted

If you were born in India but were adopted by an American family, then that makes you extra-special! Your parents waited a long time for you and went all the way across the world to get you and bring you into your family. Your parents already have their own traditions that they will pass down to you, like what church you go to, what you do for the holidays, and other fun things. But you also have to remember to be proud to be Indian. You can study about where you came from and tell people about such a rich and beautiful place.

I once heard a story of a little boy who was teased at school because he was adopted and did not look exactly like his parents. He came home crying that he didn't fit in anywhere. After talking to his parents, he went back to school the next day. When the kids started teasing him again, he said, "At least my parents had a choice--and they chose me! Your parents just had to take what they got!"

If you want to read about other kids from India who have been adopted into loving American families, see theI-Child page.

Wanting the Best for Their Children

All parents want the best for their children, including you. They want you to be healthy, to learn your lessons, and to someday go to college and succeed. They want to you be a good, kind, and fair person. Most especially, they look forward to the day when you get married and have children of your own.

There is an American saying, "The family that prays together, stays together." If more parents would worship together and celebrate their heritage, there would be less confusion among today's young people. Of course, that also means being able to answer a child's questions about their faith so that they are satisfied with it and understand.

This Hindu boy went through the sacred thread ceremony.
Now is all grown up and just recently married
a Hindu wife. They both look forward
to passing on their culture to their children.

Many American children get into trouble because they are confused about where they are in the world--where they belong. Their parents did not teach them to be proud of their ancestors, or their faith. They don't even know if they are German, or Irish, or English. So when they grow up, they wonder, "Who Am I," and "Where do I belong?" Their parents can't always answer those questions because they don't know, either. Their parents didn't tell them.

When these kids are having a hard time, they don't know how to pray to ask God for help. When they go to a large gathering, they don't know how they fit in. So they join gangs, saying "I am a gang member, " or they start to do drugs so they can feel that they belong with the other drug-users. It's kind of like a family to them.

Knowing Who You Are

When I was growing up, I had friends from many different families. One girl, named Maria, was Italian. Every Sunday after church, her family would have a big Italian dinner. She even knew how to speak Italian. Another friend, Rebekkah, was Jewish. Sometimes she would take days off school to go to the synagouge on special holy days. Every Thursday night she and her brother learned Hebrew so they could read their holy books.

My best friend in 9th grade was Sunita. She was Hindu and wore the most beautiful Salwar Kameeze outfits to school. People teased her because she was different, but she was a really sweet person inside. She even invited me over once for spicy Indian food. When we had award ceremonies at school, everyone would admire Sunita's mom's saris. Each one of my friends was proud to be who they were. They all knew the answer to the question, "Who Am I?"

Being a Hindu American means that I'm not like most other Americans who go to church on Sundays. But I'm happy being who I am. To me, there is nothing like praying to Lord Ganesha. My American friends often ask me questions about Hinduism because they are curious. When I tell them about what I believe, their eyes light up and they see that Hinduism is a very special and holy culture.

This Malaysian girl lives in the United States.
She is learning traditional dances of India.
and gave a dance performance recently.
She has many American friends.

Many Hindus living outside of India, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka can answer that question. They are proud to be Hindu. They are proud of their beautiful names, their long, flowing clothes, their colorful and loving gods. Many Hindus in America take dance and music lessons, speak their native language at home, and learn many things about being Hindu from their mom and dad.

At school, these Hindu children explain to their friends about being Hindu because they know the answers to their friend's questions, such as, "What is that red dot on your mom's forehead?" If they don't know the answer, they ask their parents at home. In talent shows, they dance for their classmates. On holy days, they make garlands and go to the temples or to people's homes for prayers. Most of all, they learn how to be kind and good souls, to not cause harm to any creature, and to always be open to telling others about Hinduism.

A Glowing White Seed

As a Hindu, you know who you are--a beautiful soul-body. You have lived many lives and had many experiences. Perhaps in one life you were a boy and in one, you were a girl. Perhaps in one life you were living in Ireland, and perhaps you once lived in South America. But inside you have a glowing white seed--your soul. If you look through your mind's eye, you can see that same glowing white seed in your classmates, your teachers, and your family. Each of those seeds is part of God.

In God's eyes, he does not see our bodies-he sees straight through to our hearts. So don't worry about what others think. Be true to yourself. Be true to your family. Be true to God. As long as you know who you are, and you are proud of it, you will have a fulfilling and joyous life.

Copyright 1999 by Amber Sukumaran. All rights reserved, except where sited. This may be distributed freely intact if author's name and this copyright are attached.

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