There was a hole-in-the-wall Indian buffet we used to stop by almost every Sunday on our way home from church. The kids would order the mango lassi and my husband would eat samosas and tandoori chicken with warm soft naan till he couldn’t move. But one day, everything was different. It looked the same, but the flavors and spices were off as if they had poured water into all the curries. I was disappointed and frustrated. In fact, I didn’t understand why it bothered me so much until much later after marinating on it. To me, most buffets adulterate the authentic flavors to make dishes more appetizing for the general public. They water it down to make it consumer-friendly. But that is misrepresenting the food of my country — for profit.
I realized the reason I was so angry was because that was what I had to do to myself for most of my life. I had to water down the Indian part of my identity to make everyone around me comfortable. I would avoid my culture, get rid of my accent, and cater to the dominant or majority culture that I was immersed in. A part of me had to stay hidden so I would be welcomed and given space at tables where I was the only one who looked like me. Personally, I think the hardest part of being an immigrant was giving up so much of my cultural identity to fit into the majority culture but still remain an outsider.
It was only in my thirties that I realized this transformative and liberating truth: God made me Indian. My cultural identity was chosen by the Creator on purpose. It was not accidental. My skin tone, my cultural heritage, my mother tongue were all handpicked for me to display to the world — for His glory and my good. All this time I had been trying to cover it up to make everyone like me, yet it is when I embrace all of me and show up fully and authentically that I don’t simply impress people but I get to influence them.
In 2020, God placed a burden in my heart for Indian women. As I told a friend about this new passion, she immediately responded, “You don’t ever really talk about being Indian.” Without even thinking, I said, “It’s hard when I tried to hide it for so long!”
Esther in the Bible was in a similar place. She was a Jewish girl, but no one in the palace knew. She was now queen and had grown comfortable in the new identity she had adopted so she could belong. But she had hidden her Jewish identity for so long that she didn’t see her people’s struggle. She had to be reminded that she wasn’t safe simply because of her status as queen and that perhaps it was a setup for her to save her people. When it was time to step into her God-given purpose, Esther had to be fully authentic and honest about her cultural identity, even if it meant rejection and death.
I had to do the same. God spoke to my heart, People need to see Jesus in someone who looks like them. So I decided it was time to talk about Jesus but in my own voice as an Indian American woman. I began to share about my struggles with finding identity and what it meant to live in this third culture and raise children in it, which is not always easy. I shared about my love for Indian clothes and food. All of a sudden, women who looked like me from all over the world began to reach out to share their struggles, asking for prayer and advice.
Friends, we don’t need to hide or water down any part of us to fit into culture. God intentionally made every part of us and wired us together. Nothing was accidental. The way we walk and see this world is unique in the same way He made us unique. Therefore, our reasonable act of worship is to surrender every part of us to bring Him glory because the things that make us different are often the very things that point others to the Divine.
To begin the process of authentically showing up, I urge you to invite the Holy Spirit to convict your hearts as you ask this question to yourself: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man?” (Galatians 1:10 ESV)