a lesson i learned about being desi and american is that boundaries are made up…

Sehba Sarwar

Zarana Sanghani, who recently returned to Houston after graduate school and working New York, talks about the issue of “home” – a subject that’s close to her heart:

Feeling at home is where I can turn off and don’t have to think of presenting; home is when you don’t have to think about what you say. In many ways, home is with my parents: I didn’t have to dress up around them. I felt at home with them and didn’t have to filter too much. But there were certain conversations I reserved for my friends, talk about romance, ambitions… And in the end, there’s no one place for me that’s home.

I get attached to places. The first space I think about when you say “home” is my parents’ living room. And then I think about Alief where I was born and the people around us, my neighborhood, and then I think of every neighborhood I’ve ever lived in.

When I was living in Brooklyn, I would always tell people about places in “my” Brooklyn neighborhood and I’d say: “You gotta check it out.” But I would also come back to my first home: “In Alief there’s this special place and it was so awesome…!” And even when I was just working in the South Bronx, I got so attached …I would tell people the best place to eat tacos there. If I adopt a neighborhood, it stays with me.

I always feel refreshed when I have a new environment. In a weird way, I’d gotten into a rut in New York, and so when I got back (to Houston), it was good to have a fresh perspective. I like new places and new changes.

My parents are living in Sugarland now and I’m staying with them. But I don’t yet think about Sugarland as home. I’ve found a few special places that I like. And I’d show those to you. But I haven’t adopted the neighborhood. The things I like about Sugarland is that it’s child-centered and it’s green. But as a single person without kids, I do ask whether I fit into the neighborhood.

I haven’t given the ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) label much thought. What’s more important are my values and principles and what is important to me. As far as identity – it’s more about love – whom I love and how I love. It’s personal and I never got into the identity question.

And ultimately, home is more private. I feel at home when I’m with my friends – who are Indian, black, Latino/a and everything else. If I go a week or two without meeting or talking to some, it makes me feel not at home. From time to time, I let them know how much they mean to me.

And though I don’t think about the Indian label, I do talk about being Indian. A lesson I learned about being desi and American is that boundaries are made up. The more I can wear different identities the more I can be free. I like not being bound in labels. That’s what makes me feel at home, basically having the freedom to just be myself. So don’t make me choose one identity!

The question of home…? It’s difficult.—Zarana Sanghani

This conversation is part of my What Is Home? project.