Outsider. That one word captures a lot of my experience growing up.
There’s a scene in My Big Fat Greek Wedding that is at the heart of my conflict. If you haven’t seen it, don’t worry I’m not giving any spoilers (but why haven’t you seen it yet?). Toula, the main character, attends college and is scoping out a place to eat lunch. Initially, she planned on sitting on her own, but decided to sit with others, happily fitting in with her brown bagged sandwich. That’s me. I want to belong, yet I don’t want to let go of my background. For better or worse, it is a part of me. One that I’ve denied instead of embracing because I didn’t want to be different.
It wasn’t until I was older and wiser, as they say, that I started coming around to and appreciating my background. This distinction made me unique and I felt like I lost something by “disowning” it. Yes, I shouldn’t be hard on myself as kids can be cruel, and most do grow up.
Childhood experiences stick with us. Any negative associations that stem from there are difficult to break. Sometimes it is easier than other times. This need to belong disassociates me. As a first generation child of immigrants, I felt alienated on two sides-at school and at home. I wanted to eat what my classmates were eating, not the “smelly” meals my mom prepared for me. At home, too, I would request meals like macaroni and cheese, pizza, and pasta in my attempts towards what I perceived as “normal” at the time. As I think back on it, I probably drove my poor mother insane with these requests. This was new to her too, but I didn’t see that. I only saw my needs. She did her best, often creating dishes that would bridge both food worlds.
Now an adult, I find myself more open to bringing foods to work that my younger self would cringe at. I’m working on reclaiming a part of myself that I think was lost along the way. Just like everything else, it is a work in progress.