Tonight, at bedtime, P pulled a book off the shelf that we hadn’t read before.
“Always Anjali,” I read. This seems promising. When I was a kid, I would have killed to read a book about an Indian girl.
I start the book. Anjali is a seven year old girl who gets a bike for her birthday. She goes out with her friends and they decide to buy personalized license plates for their bikes. But while Courtney and Mary easily find the license plates with their names, Anjali can’t find a license plate that says Anjali.
Boy can I relate! This was one of my greatest struggles as a kid. I look at P, wondering if she related as well. “Why don’t you think they had her name,” I ask.
P looks stumped. “Maybe because she just got her bike and they didn’t know she had a bike?”
“No…” I say. Hmm, I think, P has probably never seen a rack full of personalized license plates in her life. Also, now thanks to ordering online, she has a million items personalized with her name, so she probably wouldn’t even care.
I continue reading. The kids make fun of Anjali, calling her “peanut butter an-jelly,” so Anjali decides she wants to change her name to Angie.
I look at P. “Do you ever get made fun of for your name,” I ask?
P looks at me like I have two heads. “No?” she says.
“Do you ever wish you had an American name?”
“Mama,” P says flatly. “Can you please keep READING and STOP asking me QUESTIONS?”
I finish the book. In the end, Anjali gains pride in her name and her Indian identity and makes her own super cool personalized license plate decorated with bindis.
I may have teared up.
This book would have meant SO MUCH to six year old me. Six year old me would have felt so validated by this book.
My six year old daughter? Not so much.
Because, really, she can’t relate. Half the kids in her class wouldn’t be able to find their names on a license plate. “Non-American” names aren’t weird to her and her friends. They are just … names.
Ever since P was born, I’ve wondered how she, and her generation of mixed kids, would identify. Would she feel Indian? American? Jewish? Would she feel as conflicted and confused as I did?
So far, six year old P is blissfully unaware of the struggles that my six year old self faced. She lives in a world where a guy named Barack Obama was elected president. Where half her friends are also multi-racial. Where Holi is celebrated in city parks. She lives in a world where having a unique name is just cool and not cause for teasing.
So she gets to be proud of her name and proud of her Indian heritage without any of the ugly baggage.
We finish the book and P tosses it aside and gets into her pajamas. A book, that for me, would have been a revelation, is for P, just another night of bedtime reading.
And for that, I am thankful.