“Namaste Pitta!” I would yell in my little girl voice. “Hello, Kelly!” my dad would yell back. It was one of my favorite exchanges; me speaking “Hindi” and feeling very sophisticated thinking that I was bi-lingual. Okay, so I only knew about three words of Hindi, but for a 4-year-old, that was enough for me to consider myself worldly.
While I am not the product of a bi-cultural marriage, I am the child of a multi-cultura life. My mom married my stepdad, Satish, when I was very young. They met while being pen-pals while he was a college student in India. I don’t remember him moving to the States, or into our house for that matter. My earliest memory is of him being my “dad.”
There was never an issue made out of us being from different places. When I took my crayons out and drew my family picture, I would use the peach crayon to draw me, my mom and my brother, and the brown crayon to draw my dad. I never thought anything of it. I remember holding my arm up to his during the summer, to see if I had reached his level of darkness yet. I never came close.
I do, however, remember people staring at us from time to time, and recall that when he would introduce me to people sometimes he would say, “this is actually my daughter.” I never understood why he had to use the word “actually,” as if no one would believe him otherwise. Was it because I had blonde hair and pale skin and surpassed him by three inches in height by the age of 12? All I knew was that he was my dad – he was at home, he helped me with my homework, tucked me into bed and took care of me when I was sick. What other clarification did there need to be?
I got the opportunity to travel to India with him many years ago. There were very few Americans in New Delhi where his family lived. I remember vividly that everywhere I went; people would just stop and stare at me. At first, I didn’t think much of it, but after some time, it got to the point where I didn’t even want to leave the house. I knew that I looked different than people from his country, but wasn’t prepared for all the attention I would get because of it. Looking back, I feel fortunate that I got to experience what it felt like to be a minority, even if it was just for a couple of weeks. I had never stopped to think about what it would feel like to be the one with a different skin color – like my dad may have felt around our family at times, or just from being in a different country in general.
As my husband and I look forward to having children, I realize the value in my multicultural upbringing and the cultural diversity. I want my kids to experience different music and different kinds of foods. In addition, when they sit down to draw a picture of our family; I will always remember to put different colored crayons in their hands.
~Photo Courtesy of Kelly Colbert