The year after I went on my first visit to India, I started school. In 2008, kids in New Jersey of AAPI descent had been raised to integrate into society, and barely any visited their home country. As we teens call it, I was practically “fresh off the boat”.
I remember the first day of kindergarten so clearly. I had 5 different tables I could choose to sit at. Some days, I look back and wonder what would have happened had I sat at the table near the door. But I instinctively chose the one with an Indian girl sitting at it. I thought we would click right away. Wrong.
Every day, I went to school and forgot who I was. I followed orders from a girl who told me I couldn’t draw. I blindly continued to want to please her. I was innocent and thought this would help us become better friends. Eventually, I realized she was doing this so she could gain attention from the popular girls and show them she had her own “clique” too.
By the time I finally escaped the endless cycle of torture, which took a very long 3 years, more Asians started moving into my town. I started to have two types of friends: my friends outside of school who were in-tune to their Indian roots, and my friends in school who were very Americanized.
I couldn’t fit into either of these categories, and it made me feel more isolated than ever. I didn’t know how to balance being a typical American kid in school, versus being as cultured amongst my friends outside of it.
I had two lives when I was younger: one which embraced my Indian culture, and one which tried to fit into the norms of school because of my experience with bullying.
I’ve learned to embrace both sides of me equally by talking about it and learning a lot of people go through the same experience. I’m happier than I ever could have been.
For most, this cycle of self-doubt never ends. Once you start becoming too much like your American counterparts, the friends from the temple start thinking you aren’t like them, and vice versa. It’s like treading eggshells.
The worst part was, I didn’t know who to talk to about it. I didn’t know if my friends would understand, because they were part of the problem. My parents defined struggle as moving an entire family into a whole new place, not social issues. So I ended up chained to a dark place inside of me, feeling like there was no way out. Even when I tried to call for help, my voice seemed to echo off of empty walls. Who would believe that I was getting bullied by another Indian girl? I couldn’t believe it myself.
I’ve noticed there’s a stereotype for bullying. People think of a white person making fun of someone from this community for how they look or their culture. It goes off the radar when members of the same community. It can even be scarier talking about bullies inside your own ethnic community because it’s so unorthodox. So as October’s Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, try to talk to someone if you’ve gone through something like this. You’re not alone.
Esha Peer is a fellow of the New Jersey Leadership Program, a non-partisan, nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to promoting South Asian American youth participation and education at the local level of government in the State of New Jersey, and a junior at the South Brunswick High School. She is the president of her class, editor-in-training of her school newspaper, and an active member of a cultural club in her school, the Asian Cultural Club. Esha loves to travel and travel vlog, write, dance, and watch movies. Esha also loves politics. She hopes to study international relations or business in the future.