Being a POC in America

by Randhika Aturaliya

Ever since I was a little girl, I was always searching for my place. I searched for the people I would click with, as if I were a misplaced puzzle piece. Wherever I go I never quite feel like I belong. In school or back in Sri Lanka, where my heritage lies, I somehow manage to feel foreign. This is the difficulty with being a second generation immigrant: there isn’t any place in this world where you feel like you are truly at home in. 

A girl once told me that my arms were so hairy that she could probably make a fur coat out of all of my hair. Looking back, I can't help but laugh-- but as a child it was absolutely devastating to hear. It made me realize that as  a second generation immigrant, I would never be able to fit in in America.  Thus, I rejected my culture, protested against my family's traditions, and refused to speak or read Sinhalese. 

Of course, rejecting my culture wasn’t the most successful course of action. People still made jabs at me for the hair on my arms or my appearance. As the years went on, I never felt like I was beautiful. I was continuously comparing myself to Eurocentric ideals of beauty that I could never achieve.

Aside from the issues with my appearance, making friends has always been a bit challenging for me. Despite the fact that I am a relatively kind and friendly person, in a room filled with people that are different from me, I always have felt a little out of place. 

I always thought that going back to Sri Lanka to visit my family would be a harmonious experience. I would finally be around people who looked like me and for just a moment I would feel secure in my skin. But that was not the case. I felt like a foreigner who just so happened to have the same skin color as everyone else. 

With my broken Sinhalese and American accent, it is painfully obvious that I am not a native Sri Lankan. It is so shocking to me how easily people can discern me from the natives. I have often tried speaking to my grandmother in Sinhalese, but she looks at me as if I am speaking a completely foreign language.

I clearly remember a day when I realized matter-of-factly that I didn’t belong. My mother’s side of the family hosted a birthday party for my mother and the house was alive with action, my grandmother hastily whipping up various dishes and my uncle calling the store to cater some biriyani. At the end of the day when the party had started, I sat on the couch with a drink in my hand blankly watching the television. Everyone around me was animated in conversation while I sat there in front of the television trying to piece together words that I understood. I rendered myself silent and let that question reverberate inside of me: will I ever belong? 

It is extremely difficult for children of second generation immigrants to find a place in this world. In America, you are scorned for your heritage; but when you go back to your country of origin, you are scorned for being too American. But it is still possible to find peace in yourself. 

I still often feel out of place, but I have learned to accept the good qualities I have acquired from both cultures. 

I have recently took it upon myself to start learning Sinhalese. 

Whenever my dad tries to speak to me in English, I shush him and ask him to continue in Sinhalese. When I speak broken Sinhalese, I ask my parents how to say the words I don’t know. The results have been showing! We have get togethers with Sri Lankan friends who go to my temple and they have complimented me on my Sinhalese. It feels truly rewarding and now I know I must continue practicing. 
I am proud to be a Sri Lankan but also I am proud to be an American. I am so thankful to live in a country where I am able to pursue academics freely and to be graced by the presence of people from all over the world. I am so fortunate to live in a country with open-minded and driven people, where I am finding my place.



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