Amelia Pinto, age 16
I wrote this for the screenwriting workshop for WriteGirl. It’s also a response to the recent anti-Asian hate crimes and reflecting on some of my own experiences as a mixed person.
I used to be embarrassed of my family’s accent. It was thick like honey in milk. Sharp and twisted staccato. We’d hear it in a movie during class and all eyes would turn to me, cheeks flushed red — my Asian-ness pushed deeper down in my pockets. It could’ve been a documentary on Third World countries or a caricature in an SNL skit. A debate resolution characterizing entire races of people as terrorists. A Punjabi grandmother killed at FedEx in Illinois. And I was taught all these things. But never pride.
When you’re the child of an immigrant, culture is filtered through 8,711 miles. It’s shifted and translated and torn up in pieces for you to pick up and tape together. When you’re the child of an immigrant, sometimes you forget. That among the white suburbs and wealthy friends, your identity doesn’t fit in.
A friend once told me, “Indians are funny.” I held my breath for a moment begging his reasoning to be Hasan Minhaj funny and not The Simpsons Apu funny. And instead, he plays a video of an exaggerated accent — loud and abrasive. I already know it’s a Bollywood villain, but if I told him, it wouldn’t make any difference. He hasn’t had enough conversations with my dad to remember his voice. To remember his native language carefully wrapped with the saris in suitcases. The biryani on the stove or my Indian middle name. Because even if I took him on a trip, brought him to our village, harvested the mangos and fried the fish, he couldn’t get past the introductions without judging.
The first time I got called a slur, it was chalked up to a joke. Model minority honeyed lies. It stung in my chest, pulled at my thick hair, whispered to my large eyes how I wasn’t welcome here. My chai and milk skin swirled, you’re not Indian enough to be offended.
It’s almost comedic how the mood shifts when you become enough. When sixteen years in the making of a mixed family and abandoned bilingual classes stop becoming defining factors of your identity. The poems I wrote in class taught India not by its cows and curry but through the history, hate crimes and hearth. And for a moment, I’m pronouncing the cities and foods with a little more sharpness and a singsong pitch of someone who wants to be listened to. Each word rolled like roti and thick like honey in milk. Sewing together the pieces of culture for something treasurable. Because I happen to be Hasan-Minhaj-hilarious. It doesn’t require me to mimic my uncles. I just need someone to hear my story.