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America, My Home Essay Contest

Audio Essay Winner

Sejal Patel
Mt. Vernon Township High School
Mt. Vernon, Illinois

Note: This is a multimedia entry that also includes an audio essay and a collage.

"An American is anyone who lives in the United States of America. Whether it is an immigrant or a natural born citizen, they are an American." My second grade teacher used to say this to us when we were in our Social Science class. When I heard these words, I felt an unusual joy. But this joy was not for me, it was for my parents. As I am a natural born citizen, my parents are immigrants. At a young age, I could not quite make out if I was an American or an Asian Indian. My life would always go two ways. When I was at school, I felt like an American. I spoke, dressed, and acted like my classmates. But at home, it was a different story. We spoke a different language and my grandparents always wore different clothes.

At school, I always got along with the other students and as far as I can remember, they liked me. I was treated just like everyone else and everyone, including my teachers, was nice to me. Sometimes I am put in the 'spotlight' when someone asks about my culture and traditions. It is no big deal because it does not bother me. If I am from a different nationality, I will get questions asked about my culture. Sometimes I like it when others ask me about my culture. It shows individuality in me. I do not think there is anything wrong with being different or individual. I am glad that school is not a problem for me because education is important to my family and me.

I often ask my father many times why he came to America. He always says the same thing — for better education and more opportunities. Whatever he has done till today and will ever do is for my siblings and me. Because of that, I do not ask him anything else. This way I do not feel guilty of reminding him of his homeland, India. After a hard life in India, my father came here so he can give his children a good education and not give them hardship. I know there is no way I can pay him back for all he does. That is why I want to fulfill his dreams. He wishes to see all his children happy and well settled after we start our careers. And, I know I can make him happy in many other ways, but I want to make him very happy by becoming a doctor. After he knows we are successful, he will be relived and I will be too.

Education is just one area in which America has opened its doors. America is full of different kinds of people and nationalities. I feel as if I am not the only one from a different culture. Along with me, there are millions of other people who live in two worlds. That is the good thing about America. This country gives chances to people to find their spot in this world. I am just one out of a million. In America people can practice their traditions as individuals, rather than just one nationality practicing the same tradition.

In my family, we have many traditions that are not like the traditions of other people. A common tradition is taking off our shoes when entering our homes. When I go to my friends' homes, I sometimes forget they leave their shoes on, and so I start to take off my shoes. Then I remember, so I just follow them into their homes, like everything's okay, nothing went wrong. But when they come to my home, they always take their shoes off, because it is our tradition. And, for that, I respect them. Also, every night we sit together at the dinner table where homemade Indian food is served. We are vegetarians, so there is no meat in the house. Every night, after dinner, we sit in front of God and pray to him for safety, happiness, and for him to always be with us.

Then there are those special days, the holidays. Unfortunately, our holidays do not consist of Thanksgiving or Christmas, but consist of the holidays celebrated in India. Such holidays include Navrati, where we dress up in our cultural costumes and dance a cultural dance all night long at a community gathering. A holiday that follows Navrati is Diwali. This is a five-day celebration for the New Year. Then there are colorful holidays, like Holi. This is when everyone dresses in white and throws around forty different colored powders or colored water at each other to show the absence of darkness.

Here in America, we celebrate Navrati only on weekends. We call up friends and relatives on Diwali to wish them a prosperous New Year. On Holi, if we get lucky, we get to go to a temple close by to celebrate for an hour or two. This is because we do not have off for such holidays here. It is usually on weekdays, some people have to go to work, and others have to go to school. When I was young, I did not know why we got off for holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, but not for holidays like Navrati and Diwali. As I grew older, I came to realize the differences and learned to adjust to the circumstances.

Although there are so many differences in my two cultures, I never let myself mix them up. I leave my American culture outside my home and I leave my Indian culture inside my home. Sometimes I find it hard when I am stuck in the doorway. I remember what my father said once at the dinner table. He said, "Yes, I grew up in India, and all my childhood memories are there. If something happens in India, it will upset me. But I am also living in America. America has also given me a home, so now I must worry about America more than India, as I live here." So, just as my father has accepted America, I must accept my American way of life, but I will never forget my Indian customs.

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