Popular cliches about "appearances being deceiving" are particularly relevant to those of multi-cultural heritage. By appearance, I am a stereotypical Indian male, with dark hair, olive skin and a lean, athletic build. Yet my childhood in Barrington, Illinois has been decidedly "American", providing a powerful contrast to my parents' native Bangalore. I've spent nearly eighteeen years bridging the gap between two very different cultures and carving out an identity that is uniquely my own.
After leaving their native India, my parents embraced life in the United States for the myriad educational and professional opportunities it affords its citizens. From my earliest memories, my parents encouraged me to do everything possible to succeed. Yet their unfamiliarity with American culture placed me at a distinct disadvantage when I started elementary school. Guided by my strict Indian upbringing, I had a difficult time finding my place in a culture that celebrates sports icons and MTV.
With a burgeoning Indian and Asian population, my community eventually became more tolerant of ethnic diversity. Yet, throughout my early childhood, my parents and I simultaneously struggled to integrate ourselves into mainstream society. My greatest challenge was gaining acceptance into a peer group whose values were inherently superficial. Even as a young child, I knew that other parents did not share my family's passion for education.
Academia became my salvation. With a natural proclivity for math and science, I became one my school's most popular "computer jocks". I brought honor to the school, winning second place in the national competition in Technology Concepts, sponsored by the Future Business Leaders of America. With my participation on the school newspaper and Model UN, I found my niche among a group of academically-gifted students. Ironically, as I became more confident of my identity, I was more selective in seeking friends. Several...