After middle school, my parents sent me to boarding school which they thought would reduce the amount of ongoing change in my life. In the end, boarding school perpetuated my feelings of being the odd one out. The kids from Indian society were so different from me and while I tried to mingle with the kids from other foreign countries, there were so few of us that it was impossible for us to build a true community. I decided that I’d had enough and begged my mom to let me leave India for California. Once we arrived in Southern California, I started attending high school in Glendale. People may not know this, but Glendale has a very large Armenian community. Many people living in Glendale have an ethnic background, bringing in a medley of cultures from Armenia, the Middle East and parts of Asia. It felt like everybody shared an experience of being from different heritages, which allowed us to connect.
There weren’t many Indians living in Glendale at that time and so people would come up to me and ask, ‘where are you from? Which festivals and holidays do you celebrate’? For once, people were curious and wanted to know more about my heritage. It was through those conversations with my Armenian and Middle Eastern classmates that we realized how similar we all were. Even though we came from different countries, we shared similar family dynamics, dishes and even our languages had shared words across them.
It was in Glendale that my confidence levels really grew and everything became better from there. I recall my brother inviting me to an Indian film festival in Los Angeles and the rush of familiarity and acceptance as I met with the filmmakers. That one film festival changed my entire outlook on the possibility of finding community. All of a sudden, I had a desire to share my story and grow my network. Then, college gave me the chance to meet more people and I finally became comfortable putting myself out there. I realized that the more people I met, the greater the chance I would find someone else like me. And maybe, just maybe, I wouldn’t always have to be the odd one out.