Sari not Sorry: Tracing My Roots

In my family we still get married in a sari or saree. Usually we will have a Christian wedding dress and use a sari for the reception. The picture on the left is of my mother in her wedding sari. My mother made my sari when I got married and it was a very special time for us. My great-grandmother was from India and she was the pillar of our family. She raised her kids to be Christian and I know nothing of her ever actually converting although I do believe that Christianity and the Western world changed her thinking about how women should be treated and the rights they should have. A dark-skinned Indian woman she came to the United States in the early 1900's and was constantly confused for an African. "Let them think how they want, you do what you have to do." she would always tell me. As a kid I think this felt like regular advice from old people but as I grew up I discovered how deep those words were for her. 

I remember going to my great-grandmother's yellow house and being excited to see her. She was meeting us and my mother and I had arrived a few minutes early. "She's coming around the corner soon. There! Granny's coming, now see." My mother said to me. I lifted my head and searched outside of the window but I didn't see anyone. Suddenly there she was, in front of me, in jeans and a white men's button down shirt. It was the first time I had ever seen my grandmother in western clothes. I can't remember another instance of it either. We went back into the house and she quickly changed back into her sari and I felt relieved. Things were back to normal. 

I have always identified with my Indian heritage having been raised with this powerful and traditional woman in the most formative years of my life. Indian food is still my favorite food, and a year after my great-grandmother died I stopped eating meat, perhaps to be closer to her in some way. I've even taught Bollywood dance to middle-schoolers. Unlike most black Americans I listen to Hindu bhajans in the morning instead of Christian gospel music. I pray to Ganesha, not Jesus.  However the truth is I'm only 1/8th Indian and I look much more black-Cuban like my father. An all American first generation mash. These things always made me feel ostracized from the both the black-American community and the Indian community. No matter what you look like, it's very hard to leave behind a culture that is the first culture you ever knew. Before I could begin to know what American culture was I knew about daal, and naan and incense and ganesha in the morning. 

Let them think how they want, you do what you have to do.

Having met and worked with and lived with many Indians over the past 14 years I know that there is zero acceptance waiting for me as part Indian in India. Pressed for time I was desperate to experience an environment with dark-skinned Asian people without so much concern about safety and racism so I chose to come to Sri Lanka for two weeks instead of India and I'm glad I did. I found exactly what I was looking for. The cool black skin of the people reminds me of my family. The sweet nature of the people and genuine warmth I've felt here has felt like coming home. I bought a sari while here and at least have some ideas about what life was like when my great-grandmother left this area of the world so many years ago. Although I still plan to go to India to study yoga at some point for now I feel fulfilled and for that I am grateful.  


Below are some videos on how to tie a sari. If you haven't worn one I suggest giving it a try.