Each year, ever since I was a young girl, I sit down to a table of hot Indian dishes for an Eid celebration. In the middle of our table is a big bowl of spicy rice and meat, biryani. Pickle is always served alongside this, not to mention crunchy Indian crackers, papad. Everything is spicy and warm, just the way I liked them then, and just the way I love them now. My cousins, aunts, and uncles crowd around the table, eager to get that first bite of the steaming food. In my mind, homemade food, joyous celebration, and people I love are the three most perfect things about an Eid night.
Throughout the month of Ramadan, us Muslims work on bettering our character, improving our spiritual selves, and forging better relationships with our community. Eid is celebrated as a happy end to the holy Islamic month of Ramadan. It acknowledges our strength throughout the past month, with delicious feasts, gift exchanges, and warm gatherings. Growing up with these aromas, tastes, and the feeling of togetherness has shaped who I am today.
I recall a night when I was about six years old. My mother was cooking dinner in our kitchen, working tirelessly to create this very ethnic dish. “Mother, why do you cook every night? Why don’t we just buy pizza like Amelia (my best friend)’s mom does?” I asked her. Amelia had told me her family hosts a pizza night for dinner every week. To her, it seemed normal for her parents to spend money on pizza, while my parents insisted that the more home-cooked meals we ate, the better. It was my one wish that we ate out more so that I could fit in, like Amelia. My mother let go of the ladle she was using to stir and sat by me at the dinner table.
“Saaniyah, I cook because it reminds me of my home, India. Here in America, we are blessed to be able to live the way we want, express who we are without subjection. We are Muslims. We are Indians. What makes us different is what makes us special. Be who you are, a very Muslim American girl in a very Indian household,” she replied. My young mind was beholden to this concept from that point on. This statement remains one of the few notable things I recall from my childhood.
My Indian, Muslim, and American identity has been challenged a few times during my teenage years, and it still is. My hijab, or Islamic headscarf, occasionally gets stares at the grocery store. My covering outfits at parks stand in contrast to others’ more exposed clothing. My piquant food receives curious stares at lunch. And to be quite honest, these experiences sometimes leave me feeling self-conscious. I begin to question my clothing, my food, and my way of life. Is this really who I want to be?
But thankfully, these thoughts don’t linger for too long. My mother’s advice replays in my head: “Be who you are, a very Muslim American girl in a very Indian household.” And she’s right. When I stay loyal to my faith and my culture, I find a firm ground to stand upon. In the end, it doesn’t matter what others may think of me; it’s who I am and how I identify myself that is valuable. With confidence, I can show the world who I am and how tangled my roots are, but that I still stand like a flower, leaning towards the sun.