Stories of Resilience:

Growing Up with Multiple Identities

Her Story:

Name: Lahari Rao (she/her)
Born: Dallas, Texas
Lives: Oakland, California
Handle: : @lalalahari (Host & Creator of the podcast @downtobrown_)

You know when people who find their partners say: ‘When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible? I felt this way. But this isn’t a love story between me and another person. (Sorry to my fiance!) It’s between me and, well, me.

Growing up with multiple identities, I felt like I was staring at the most complex mix of IKEA furniture pieces. I was holding different pieces, all representing a different aspect of myself: woman, cisgender, South Indian, Hindu, first-generation, first-born, PCOS, masculine-feminine, trauma healing…and I had no idea how it all pieced together.

“Easy,” I thought, “I’ll just downplay the Indian and strive for white acceptance! That’s the dream.” I started to disguise myself. When white people welcomed me as the ‘exception’ to my people, I felt proud. Being accepted by “cool” white girlfriends validated me. I spoke loudly in an American accent when I was with my parents to show others I wasn’t ‘one of them.’ I dated men that looked like the mainstream American ‘heartthrobs,’ even though I’d flinch when some of them would say things like “I don’t think racism exists anymore.” I pretended I thought arranged marriage was weird so that people were reassured that I was ‘one of them.’

This plan…failed miserably. I had fooled them, of course, but I felt hollow. Looking back, I wish I could tell my younger self that the more you distance yourself from facing who you are, the longer it will take to return home. You will become lost. You will fall in love with the wrong people. You will make decisions that leave you unfulfilled. You won’t feel seen. You will fail to grasp what you are worth. (Spoiler alert: everything.) Your own body will feel betrayed by you.

Now, I can’t wait for the rest of my life to start. I’m a hopeless romantic for myself. I wish I could go back and tell myself in high school: you’ll waste your life if you deny yourself.

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