‘Dont pretend to be something youre not’: a letter to my teenage self
In an exclusive extract from gal-dems new book, three twentysomethings revisit their diaries and reflect on identity, sexuality and cultural heritage
Samanthi Theminimulle, 24
Diary entry, age 14
Today at school everyone laughed at me because I said pomangranate. Apparently its pomegranate. Ammi and Appachchi say pomangranate???? So embarrassing.
Ive always said it wrong.
Hi, 14-year-old me
Do you remember when you pronounced pomegranate wrong in front of the entire class and everyone laughed? All eyes were on you as you stuttered your way through. You came home, fuming and self-conscious, and looked up the spelling. Of course it was pomegranate! How could your parents have got it so wrong? You said pom-e-granate one hundred times, until you were certain it would come out right.
Its tough being the child of immigrant parents; lets not pretend that pronouncing pomegranate as pom-mang-granate is the only questionable thing your Sri Lankan parents do. Their own traditions and traits live on through you, whether you like it or not, and these arent always easy to explain. Especially when theres no one around who looks like you, eats like you, or lives like you.
But you try to explain if people dont get it. Everyone says your hair is greasy, but they dont realise it just has coconut oil in it to make it healthier. You have to ignore people at school laughing at your very full eyebrows and sideburns, or because your packed lunch smells funny. You feel forced to lie to your friends about not being able to hang out in the evenings and weekends, to hide that your parents are way stricter than everyone elses. (That last one will go on for a while, by the way.)
Well, 14-year-old me, Ill let you into a little secret. Yes, you do learn how to say pomegranate correctly. But 10 years on, after all that time, you will still always say pom-mang-granate in your head first. Occasionally it slips out when youre with friends, but instead of furiously blaming your parents for your embarrassment, you tell a story about how your Ammi and Appachchi moved to another country and achieved everything they wanted to.
They did it to put you through one of the most enviable education systems in the world and set you up for the rest of your life. Youre luckier than you currently know.
I know it doesnt seem like that now. You dont realise you need to defend all the weird and wonderful habits youve inherited and practised in the privacy of your home until someone starts calling you out on it. Yes, I do eat rice and curry with my hands. No, I dont celebrate Christmas and Easter. Yes, I wash my hair only once a week, because thats all it needs.
Youll blame your parents for being too different. After all, they are meant to teach you how to navigate the big wide world. The pomegranate mishap is just one of many that make you think that all the Sri Lankan things about you are uncool or a burden. Youll try to distance yourself so youre more like everyone else, but please, oh please, dont.
Fine, sneak out, shave your legs and go to art school, but dont pretend to be something youre not. I know at the moment you think fitting in is the most important thing, but youll come to appreciate all those little differences as quirks that make you the person you are. Hang tight and believe in who you are and where you come from.
On the other side of that, dont mindlessly be what your parents want you to be, just because its easier than telling them, Sorry, but I dont want to be a doctor or, Yes, I do have a boyfriend. Try to see things from your parents point of view and learn how to balance that with yours. If you dont, it could cause a continuing rift.